AI Challenge

Whittier first grader Kingston Arellano and his aunt, Mayra Arellano, film an interview about his project, a submarine boat to pick up trash.

This semester, Whittier Elementary School students were introduced to the underlying elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Joined by their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, the youngsters spent 15 weeks looking at local issues, learning the fundamentals of problem solving, and brainstorming high-tech solutions in the AI Family Challenge.

The Challenge was created by Iridescent, a nonprofit with a stated mission to “empower the world’s underrepresented young people, especially girls, through engineering and technology to become innovators and leaders.” Whittier Elementary was one of 60 instructional sites in 13 countries around the world.

Launched by a representative from Iridescent and led by three Whittier teachers, the group received sponsorship and mentorship from Laserfiche, a Long Beach-based software company.

“Laserfiche is a firm believer in inspiring people to reimagine how technology can transform lives,” said Laura Victoria, Laserfiche senior director of human resources. “It was a no brainer to participate in a program that is both fun and educational.”

Whittier Elementary Principal Damon Jespersen, a proponent of STEAM education, said he was excited to partner with Laserfiche because the program aligned well with the school’s goals.

“Whittier is emphasizing STEAM-integrated lessons to foster creativity,” Jespersen said. “We believe that innovation and forward thinking are crucial to success.”

This year, first through fifth graders participated in the Challenge. At the end of the program, the students presented the prototypes they created.

Sisters Develyn and Letty Luna came up with an idea for a robotic pooper scooper, triggered by cameras and sensors. The device they envisioned would detect animal droppings, remove them, and place them in a proper receptacle.

The girls built a three-dimensional model with their mother, Leticia Glaze, who said they had a lot of fun working together.

First grader Kingston Arellano immersed himself in the Challenge. According to his aunt, Mayra Arellano, Kingston identified a problem he wanted to solve and then watched a number of YouTube videos to get ideas for a solution.

Worried about contamination in the ocean, Kingston said he decided to create a “submarine boat” to find and remove trash from the water. A two-liter soda bottle was the core of his prototype, which he called “SB.” To make it work, he added wheels, lights, claws, and a propeller.

“The claws pick up the trash and put it in here,” Kingston explained. “The propeller makes it move under the water.”

Kingston said he put LEGO tape around the wheels to keep them from getting stuck in the sand.

Karl Chan, President of Laserfiche, attended some of the training sessions and returned for the final presentation. He said he was amazed by the students’ designs.

“These kids all had great ideas that could actually be viable solutions,” Chan said. “The program exposes kids and their families to technology and concepts that are impacting the entire world, and that will help them solve problems in their everyday lives and communities. Children need to be prepared for a tech-focused future, and I am proud to support initiatives that promote tech fluency.”

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, who also attended the presentation, was similarly impressed.

“I know what the future looks like and it is in good hands,” Andrews said. “This is a fantastic program … every penny that was spent was well worth it!”

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