Canonsburg Middle School Partners with CMU to Bring Artificial Intelligence Curriculum to Eighth Graders

(Pictured: Mr. Herrig and his CS Academy students.)
Posted On: Thursday, September 8, 2022


(Pictured: Mr. Herrig and his CS Academy students.)

In the spring of the 2017-18 school year, Carnegie Mellon University reached out to area school districts about information on partnering with high schools for a new computer programming curriculum.  On a whim, Dr. Greg Taranto, Canonsburg Middle School Principal, sought out Mr. Brian Herrig’s interest to see if CMU would be willing to partner with the middle school to offer advanced computer programming to advanced students.  Mr. Herrig, CMS Technology Education teacher, has incorporated a number of initiatives in the middle school’s technology education program.     

Mr. Herrig soon after became a pilot partner for the Computer Science (CS) Academy for the 2018-19 school year. The course that he would be piloting would be CS1, which is a high school level course in computer science using the Python programming language. Despite the course being designed for high school, Mr. Herrig was confident that the CMS advanced math students could handle the advanced level of computational thinking.  Since Canonsburg Middle School already had a strong foundation in programming/coding, and this new course would be offered to a select group of 8th graders who were taking Algebra 1, a high school level math course, the middle school was allowed to participate.  At that time, Canonsburg Middle School was one of only a few middle schools participating as  most were high schools.

In preparation for Mr. Herrig’s  first semester teaching CS1, he attended professional development on CMU’s campus over the summer. The 18-19 pilot went fantastic with valuable feedback from the students and their parents.  Over the course of the year, CMU continued to develop and add content to the CS1 high school course and continued to support schools who were piloting the content.  

During the 19-20 school year, Mr. Herrig continued to offer an elective course with the CS1 course from CMU to a select group of eighth graders taking Algebra 1. When schools were shut down in March of 2020, Mr. Herrig was able to continue offering this course because the interface and content were completely web based, no installation necessary.  When it became obvious that the shutdown was going to last longer than the initial two weeks, and the Distrct was planning to make the shift to remote learning, Mr. Herrig’s relationship with CMU allowed his entire building level department to continue offering quality Tech Ed programming remotely. 

In the spring of the 20-21 school year, CMU offered a one-day course in Artificial Intelligence (AI), a topic that Dr. Taranto and Mr. Herrig had previously discussed. They agreed that AI was something that middle school students should be exposed to, but were not sure how to implement it. During the 21-22 school year, Mr. Herrig was invited to a week-long course in the summer on CMU’s campus covering the topics of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.  In addition to being able to cover the topics in more depth than the one-day remote session, Mr. Herrig attended previously, one of the stated goals of this course was to help teachers develop short demonstrations for their classrooms to show students AI and some of its applications.  As a result of attending this course, Mr. Herrig is currently developing an activity involving Artificial Intelligence that he plans to implement in his eighth grade Creative Design class (This is a graphic design class that currently has no programming/coding in it and all eighth graders take at some point in 8th grade).  Mr. Herrig’s goal is to use the AI activity to show how computers view graphics in ways both similar and different from humans.

Dr. Taranto shared, “Artificial intelligence is being used in many industries around us and will continue to grow.  It is important for schools to make students aware of new technologies and the possibilities as a career skill.  If we can spark this interest early then our students can explore into further details in high school and beyond. Canon-McMillan is excited to maintain our partnership with CMU and appreciate when our teaching faculty take on these new initiatives for the growth and enhancement of our student community.”

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