Okaloosa School District partners with University of Florida on new Artificial Intelligence program for the State

The Okaloosa County School District will be working with the University of Florida to plan an Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Data Science (DS)/Machine Learning (ML) program. 

  • The program will be available to school districts across the state of Florida.

To help make this program happen, the University of Florida will be writing Florida Department of Education Curriculum Frameworks for a new AI/DS/ML program that will be submitted to FDOE in the Fall of 2022.  

According to April Branscome, CTE Director for the OCSD, the idea for this program came directly from Superintendent Marcus Chambers.

“This was Mr. Chambers’ wonderful idea,” said Branscome. “He wanted to bring something different into our community, something that’s not being done anywhere else in the state. If it is being done somewhere in the nation, we’re not aware of it and we want to be the first.”

Branscome says there are no frameworks available to be able to teach this type of innovativeness inside the classrooms.

  • “We have to start somewhere,” she added.

The actual program will start next year and will be offered at 8 middle schools along with Choctawhatchee High School. The students will learn all about artificial intelligence, data science, and machine learning.

  • Choctaw’s Engineering teacher retired and the position was not filled, so there is a void.
  • For the 2023-2024 school year, Crestview High School will be added.
Okaloosa County School District Admin Complex in Fort Walton Beach

What the program looks like:

The proposed framework courses would be programming-focused and hosted in the Informational Technology Cluster.

  • Python: The gateway course will be an introduction to programming in Python leading to certification.
  • Create 2 follow-on courses that expand students’ skills in employing machine learning tools as well as expose students to ethical and social impact of application of these tools.
  • Create a capstone/internship course for the Data Science Frameworks.

Additionally, the OCSD will also ensure that the first 3 courses have industry certifications attached to them. They will work with the state, and any credentialing providers, to ensure that that credentialing aligns with the course frameworks for high school programs.

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“We really feel like this is going to bring an innovative aspect to our classrooms and working with the University of Florida is going to give us some mileage with that,” said Branscome.

  • To prepare for the upcoming year (2022-2023), the District’s local instructors will undergo a week-long boot camp in May 2022, led by the University of Florida and hosted by the Doolittle Institute.

“Our students are excited about this program and the parents that we’ve talked to are really looking forward to this for their students,” she said. “It’s going to be challenging. It’s going to be rigorous, but we feel like this is the direction we need to be going with all of our CTE programs.”

“We used to talk about Career & Technical Education at the middle and high school levels,” said Superintendent Chambers. “Now, we talk about elementary through the workforce.”

According to Chambers, as part of the agreement, 4th and 5th graders will eventually be allowed to be part of this program too.

“The elementary piece is really exciting because what we’re wanting to do with the University of Florida is make it seamless, so that every fourth and fifth grader has the opportunity to learn AI in the way that it needs to be taught, that’s within the curriculum,” added Branscome. “It’s not a pull-out program. It’s within the curriculum but we have to write the state frameworks, or get the state frameworks rewritten, to make it feasible for us to be able to do that in the curriculum during the day.”

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Branscome says that while it is going to be a hurdle, it’s something that is achievable, espcially if they do it for every student in the State of Florida.

“We will continue to track industry-defined needs as we build the program backwards to elementary and further through high school,” added Branscome. “We are excited about working with other districts throughout the State following our implementation.”

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