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Chicago Public School Students Explore AI with Argonne National Lab

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Argonne's Azucena Rodriguez teaching at Kenwood Academy High School

Azucena Rodriguez, Argonne Learning Lab instructor, teaches an introductory AI class to Kenwood Academy High School students in Chicago.

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs and Outreach department hosted Computer Science for All–Coding and Beyond, in December. This event is part of the Argonne National Laboratory initiative where Argonne will offer programs that will add value to Chicago's South Side communities by building awareness and increasing interest in computer science. This was the first event of its kind in Argonne's new Chicago office in UChicago's Harper Court building located in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Approximately 170 students from Kenwood Academy High School, a Chicago Public School, attended this interactive event that showcased the ubiquitous nature of computer science. "I'm excited about the partnership with Argonne and its efforts to educate underrepresented students about the various areas of STEM," said Charity Freeman, computer science instructor at Kenwood Academy. "I work really hard to ensure my students are exposed to various opportunities in computing."

Students spent two hours rotating through workshops that included Exploring Computing Careers, a career panel of Argonne and University of Chicago computer science professionals, You as a Computational Thinker, a hands-on activity center where students demonstrated computational thinking skills, and Computing for Good: The Power of AI, an artificial intelligence pop-up computer lab.

Students enjoyed the Robots to the Rescue activity when they worked with various robot building blocks called cubelets and learned how they function. They also learned about the human component of AI. Students trained IBM supercomputer "Watson" to create a model for autonomous vehicles to correctly identify red and green traffic lights through image recognition.

A new appreciation for coding and deeper understanding of how computer science is applied to real-world problems was a big take away of the event. Students connected what they are learning in the classroom to how computer science, specifically artificial intelligence, is a problem-solving tool.

"This is a great program, because we learned that computer science is more than just coding — it also involves strategy," said Amaria Mitchell, a 16-year-old junior. "Before today, I wasn't aware of the concepts or where the science came in. I think other students will enjoy participating in this program."

Jesse Florell, a 16-year-old sophomore, said, "I liked working with my peers and learning new things, developing strategies and analyzing the results. I think a computer science program like this is very beneficial, not only for learning about computing and code, but also about world issues and collaborating on different ideas."

"Students hear computer science and immediately think coding; they lose sight that coding needs to have a purpose. At Argonne, we don't just write code for code's sake — we are usually trying to solve a problem or address a need," explained Meridith Bruozas, manager of Argonne's Educational Programs and Outreach department. The event was intended to provide "a glimpse into the discipline of computer science and to focus more on the application of computer science and less on the mechanics of coding," Bruozas said.

About 15 Argonne and University of Chicago postdoc and staff volunteers offered their time and contributed to the success of Computer Science for All–Coding and Beyond. This was one of two events the Lab hosted to celebrate both Computer Science Education week and the annual national Hour of Code initiative, a partnership among Argonne, the University of Chicago, and Fermilab (also a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory), where 40-plus computer scientists visit schools in six Illinois counties and teach at least two hours of code.


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