Gwinnett County Public Schools, in its quest to place students in the workforce and college with cutting edge concepts, announced its newest concept in February — a cluster with curriculum themed to prepare students for careers in artificial intelligence.
GCPS Executive Director of Innovation & Program Improvement Babak Mostaghimi said Seckinger cluster schools’ curriculum is not the precursor to Skynet and a generation of Terminators. The study of AI, in a broad sense, deals with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers, including robotics. Mostaghimi said the Seckinger curriculum is focused on practical preparation for students who will be graduating into an AI-driven world in 2030.
The first class of freshmen at Seckinger High School is also the first to graduate college in the Year 2030 when a projected 59 million jobs related to AI will exist.
“We’re not just creating a bunch of computer scientists or professors,” Mostaghimi said. “We’re really looking at people who are going to be engaging in everything from agriculture to healthcare, literally every segment of work.”
Schools of Study
Mostaghimi said Seckinger High School will offer four schools of study: advanced sciences and technology, international and civic leadership, art and design or a personalized course of study.
The advanced sciences track includes artificial intelligence as it relates to environmental engineering, mechanical engineering and sustainability.
“All areas that we see a lot of growth prospects for in our area and beyond,” Mostaghimi said.
Students focused on the international business and diplomacy track will engage in courses centered around leadership. Students in art and design tracks will be focused on visual arts and graphic design.
For students wanting to opt out, there is a personalized course of study that provides a traditional high school experience, Mostaghimi said.
“We highly doubt that too many students will be in this category, because (alternative schools of study) are just so interesting and we’ve had such a demand for it,” he said.
Students will be zoned to attend Seckinger High School, unlike GCPS’ two previous theme schools. Students in Meadowcreek and Norcorss clusters were given the option to attend McClure Health Science High School and Paul Duke STEM High School, respectively.
Students in the future Seckinger cluster are currently zoned for Mill Creek, on the Buford side of Interstate 85. Seckinger isn’t an option, it’s their designated school without a permissive transfer.
Associate superintendent Steve Flynt maintained that choice of study is not lost through the cluster-theme model because of the introduction of the personalized course of study track.
“If (students) don’t want to do that, they’ll have the option of having a typical experience,” Flynt said.
Preparing for the future
AI components of Seckinger’s theme model are preparing students for the job skills necessary to make an automated world spin in 2030.
“We believe being AI ready is being future ready,” Mostaghimi said.
Relevant skills are both technical and conceptual. That includes a familiarity with coding tools and languages and an understanding of the applications of AI, machine learning and data science. Students will also study the ethical reasoning and philosophy of AI.
“These are things like, how do we get a drone to look at a field of crops and see if there’s a disease in a certain area?’” Mostaghimi said.
Mostaghimi said data science and computational thinking concepts will be critical to future careers in AI. He said GCPS developed the central concepts of AI readiness with input from the district’s team as well as industry professionals and university professors.
What does a themed cluster model look like?
All Seckinger cluster students will be engaged in AI learning experiences which will occur at all grade levels.
While redistricting is unofficial, Jones Middle School and its cluster elementary schools have already taken steps toward adapting students to AI-centric curriculum. Jones Middle School’s class of sixth graders will be the first to spend four years at Seckinger High School when it opens in 2022.
Some Mill Creek cluster schools are already integrating AI curriculum to students. Elementary schools in the Mill Creek cluster are introducing coding to students in specials. Kindergarteners use a program called Code Spark Academy that shows them how to put together pieces of code like a puzzle. Over time, students solve more complex tasks. By fifth grade, students are masters of beginner programing in Scratch and are introduced to Python.
“To begin, we know that simply explaining the concept of AI and identifying examples does not enable our students to understand it at a deep level,” Jones Middle School Principal Memorie Reesman said. “The best way is to have our students first learn how AI functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with them.”
There are components of AI curriculum that are introduced as early as pre-kindergarten. From pre-K to fifth grade, students are introduced to block coding. Block coding, at a basic level, shows students digital puzzle pieces that fit together to make a device or computer perform a specific task. The idea is that elementary students understand that pieces of code combine to form outcomes and reactions.
From there, middle school students will be introduced to text-based languages such as Python. High school students will be applying robotics and sensors for real world applications.
“This is no longer something off to the side, like a keyboarding class,” Mostaghimi said. “It’s really something where everyone needs to understand these technologies. Not everyone needs to be a computer scientist, but you need to understand what it is and how it works in order to be successful in the 2030s.”
What was clear in the district’s explanation of the Seckinger themed cluster is that the future is now. GCPS began planning for Year 2030 before the world ever rang in 2020.
“This is not a pie in the sky, theoretical school, these are skills that every student is going to need to know,” Mostaghimi said.