Maricopa – Abi, a seventh grade student recently named as a Maricopa Unified School District chief science officer, talks excitedly about Suni the Robot.

“Suni can speak really well, talk back and forth, moves and has hands that work like human hands,” says Abi. She says, “You can see it on YouTube,”

Suni is a form of artificial intelligence, something many people currently experience in their homes as Alexa, Siri, or Google Home assistants. Various forms of artificial intelligence, or “AI,” are likely to be growing part of all our futures. Last month, four newly named MUSD CSOs were introduced to Mayor Christian Price and City Council members by their lead mentor, Dr. Donna Jagielski, MUSD’s district liaison for the Arizona CSO program and STEAM Technology Integration Specialist. Dr. J, as students call her, models and conducts teaching sessions to train teachers in STEAM learning. Dr. Dan Miller, executive director of Maricopa Ak-Chin STEAM Foundation, also led students at the City Council Meeting.

Price signed into effect the Annual Maricopa STEAM Day proclamation. Following that meeting, CSOs were given a behind-the-scenes tour around the 911 dispatch center at Copper Sky in Maricopa, in recognition of their leadership.

Abi says the tour included viewing of high-tech cameras and security footage, high-tech television with current news displays, viewing of inventory such as boxes of stored evidence, and blood stored in a freezer for preservation. The group also learned of “cutting-edge plans for future technology in the use of 911 text messaging for 911 reports,” says Abi, who started out interested in a career in pharmacy but recently is more drawn to electrical or mechanical engineering.

CSOs also served the community by presenting STEAM-based activities aimed at other students during STEAM Day held at UltraStar. Raffle prizes were given to participating students who won science prizes like chemistry sets or a working robotics arm as an incentive to learn.

Abi says the most exciting part was being at the first-ever STEAM Day in Maricopa. “It was kind of like being in history,” she said. CSOs interacted with STEAM based industry and leaders, including Dinner at Eight, Civil Air Patrol, 4-H Development and Central Arizona College, University of Advancing Technology, ASU, State Farm, Verizon, Cisco, National Science Foundation, AZ SciTech, and others, who attended, facilitated, and led the STEAM event. These leaders are professors and professionals from their fields.

Abi is excited about the work of the CSO Program, calling it “really great work” because it’s “kids teaching kids.” She sai she feels it will “grow to be something big one day” through travel to other states and countries. She sees it as a possible way to provide international teaching about science.

Interestingly, Abi describes herself as “a math and a music person.” She plays guitar and piano and play the violin in school orchestra in addition to enjoying her math and science studies. Once though to be only extracurricular and somewhat operational, music study can be key to learning in math and science. In 2017, Scientific American Magazine reported a link between musical ability and executive function skills, known to be a stronger predictor of academic achievement than general intelligence.

Playing a musical instrument recruits executive functions in the human brain, through the constantly changing tempos and key signatures along with accompanying motor movements, according to researchers Nadine Gaab, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Jennifer Zuk, a doctoral student at Harvard.

Xeria, an eighth-grade CSO, works for Dr. J in robotics and demonstrations. Xeria said students work together using kits to create a robot programmed to pick up orbs from a field and arrange them in a sequence. Xeria’s mentor, her mother Heather, supplies coaching to the students groups by asking questions designed to prime their minds and by giving support for their work. Heather says, “I especially enjoy seeing the spark of new ideas and connections the kids make.”

This year marks the first year MUSD participated in the CSO program, which started in 2010 in Arizona with Oregon and New York joining soon after, Students attend the annual CSO Retreat Program in Washington, D.C., where Dr. J thinks legislators could further the program nationally and globally. Currently, the Google Classroom Platform is used to connect CSOs and students all around the United States and as far away as Mexico and Kuwait.

The CSO program focuses on communication, leadership and team-working skills. These skills have been reported by the Intel, Honeywell and science-based industries as areas where “extremely smart, well-educated, science-trained professionally” are lacking, says Dr. J. She says this program gives an early start in learning to interact, communicate well and work as teams.

Retrieved From: McKeller, K. (n.d.). Page A2. Retrieved from

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