Why Digital Skills?

Recognizing the critical need for youth to develop digital skills starts with understanding that technology drives just about everything that defines modern society as we know it. Whether it’s the alarm app that wakes you with your favourite music, the coffee machine that makes your coffee or the traffic light that clears your path to school or work – behind every application, there is a person who coded the programs that make them work.

It is important that youth not only know how to use these technologies but understand how they work and have the skills to produce new technologies in the future. This is digital literacy.

It’s not just computer engineers and computer scientists who use digital skills in their work. Whether you are a writer, a graphic artist, a dancer or musician – digital skills will be essential and will drive future opportunities to innovate and disrupt in these fields. Digital literacy is a new literacy and all youth, regardless of background, geography, gender or socio-economic status, should be empowered to create new technologies to make their world a better place.

What We Offer

Actua’s network members across Canada offer year-round digital skills camps, clubs, and workshops for youth in K-12 in schools and the broader community. These programs engage youth in developing their digital literacy by exposing them to various coding and programming skills and providing opportunities for them to apply these technologies to solving problems that matter to them. A broad range of technologies are used and explored from app creation, to robotics, to current fields like artificial intelligence and big data. All of our programs are led by undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, math and education, so that participants can meet young role models and mentors in these fields.

See below, and visit our activities page for ideas of things you can do at home or in the classroom!

Key Research

In February 2018, Actua released the results of a first-of-its-kind survey, Coding the Future: What Canadian youth and their parents think about coding, which assessed the confidence and attitudes of kids and parents in Canada toward coding, and jobs of the future. The results revealed a largely enthusiastic cohort of students and parents, but also a persistent gender gap, a socio-economic divide, and a concerning lack of opportunity to learn to code inside and outside of Canadian schools.

Among the most revealing findings of the survey:

  • Over 92 per cent of students and parents believe that knowing how to use digital technology will be very or extremely important to their future careers.
  • More than 50 per cent of youth want more opportunities to learn to code but only 1/3rd said they have access to that kind of opportunity.
  • Over 50 per cent of boys were very or extremely interested in careers involving coding or programming, but only 27 per cent of girls expressed the same interest.
    • Boys also express more confidence in their ability to code (41%) vs girls at only 28 per cent.
    • Boys are twice as likely as girls to participate in a coding program outside of schools.
  • There remains a socio-economic divide. Parents with a higher education and income regarded digital technologies and careers as more important than those with a lower education and income level.


Codemakers Gifts

Consult our Codemakers gift guide to find the perfect coding present! 

Actua’s AI Project

Actua’s AI project is an initiative supported by Google.org and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) Community Investment Program to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) curriculum for high-school students from coast to coast to coast. Working with a team of leading AI experts, we are developing new content that covers the basic principles of AI and how it will influence future careers. Visit actua.ca/ai for more information! 


AI Learning Resources

AI Organization | K-12, 6-9

AI4ALL opens doors to artificial intelligence for underrepresented talent through education and mentorship. AI4ALL offers summer programs and an open learning program to further AI education.

AI Organization | 6-9 | Free Trial

AI4K12 is working towards establishing national guidelines for AI education for K-12, an online, curated resource directory to facilitate AI instruction, and a community of resource and tool developers focused on the AI for K-12 audience.

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Artificial Intelligence Explorations: ISTE

This is a course that explores artificial intelligence and their practical use in schools. Educators are supported in understanding types of AI, learn how AI technologies can be leveraged to facilitate learning and solve real-world problems, and explore how AI tools can be created in the classroom.

Online interactive

Cognimates is an open source platform for AI literacy. The Cognimates platform allows users to program and customize AI applications, such as Alexa or Cozmo. Users can also use the platform to train their own AI models, learn how to build games based on machine learning, or create an installation where an entire room reacts to the way they describe their dreams.

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Google Auto Draw

Google Auto Draw is an online interactive that demonstrates machine learning in action. When a user begins sketching, the platform attempts to interpret what the drawing is and can replace it with artists' work, making the creation of digital visuals more accessible.

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Google Handwriting with a Neural Net

Google Handwriting with a Neural Net is an experiment that asks users to write in their own handwritting. After a couple of letters, the Neural Net will generate strokes that are in your style.

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Google Quick Draw

Google Quick Draw is a fun, hands-on introduction to machine learning. Users are prompted to draw a specific object in 20 seconds or less, and the platform will attempt to guess what it is throughout (based on all drawings submitted for that object). Users can also visit their data to see other peoples drawings.

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Google Sketch-RNN Demos

The way Google Sketch-RNN Demos works is it will start by asking the user to draw any shape. Once the user has done so, it will then be asked to draw something (for example a pig). The user will start by drawing the pig. While he/she does so, the interface will give suggestions as to what the user could draw further.

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Google Teachable Machine

Online platform - easy entry point to show how machine learning works, fun icebreaker activity. You train a neural network locally on your device without sending any images to a server, That's how it responds so quickly to you. See this video.

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Google Thing Translator

Google Thing Translator requires the user to enable their web-camera. You then take a picture of something and the website will say what it is. For example if you take a picture of a bottle it will say bottle.

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Google Visualizing High-Dimensional Space

Google Visualizing High-Dimensional Space is an experiment that gives you a peek into how machine learning works, by visualizing high-dimensional data. It uses TensorFlow Playground as a platform to demonstrate connections between concepts and words, using AI.

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Machine Learning for Kids

This online platform is an easy entry point to show how machine learning works. It contains project ideas and tutorials, as well as inspiration for educators looking to create AI-based activities.

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Minecraft AI

Powered by Microsoft MakeCode, this site contains both digital and unplugged lessons to show how AI incorporates with Minecraft. Educators can also see how concepts present connect to the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.

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Personal Image Classifier

This is an app that lets someone build their own image classifier, where images can be categorized using AI. There is also an extension that will allow users to use this in mobile applications. For more background info, see this video.

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This organization provides a wealth of AI learning for youth, their teachers and families. Components of the site include AI + ME (an hour-long lesson to provide young learners with the basics of AI) and the annual WAICY competition for youth leveraging AI to solve real-world problems.

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Chatbots are often used for online customer service and other automated functions. Rebot.me allows users to create their own chatbot for free.

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Snatchbot is a free online platform to design a chatbot. Users can leverage AI to create their chatbot, without any coding experience needed.

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Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning

This book introduces AI to educators seeking to bring AI concepts into teaching and learning. Published by ISTE.

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TensorFlow Playground

TensorFlow Playground is a browser-based neural network playground. Users can manipulate variables within the platform to create their own AI applications.

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The Current: How to talk to kids about AI

This CBC radio episode is geared at parents about how to talk about AI in relatable terms. By focusing on things like home assistants (Google Home, Alexa, etc.), it demonstrates how families can start the conversation on AI using relatable examples from everyday life.

An Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Curriculum for Middle School Students

A comprehensive suite of lessons and activities to support educators in introducing ethical considerations and societal impacts of artificial intelligence to middle school students (Grades 6-8), developed at MIT Media Lab and published August 2019.

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Should This Exist?

This podcast delves into applications of technology as well as implications and potential consequences of its use. There are several episodes that tackle ethical AI (e.g., Woebot: A Virtual Therapist; Affectiva: Software that detects how you feel). These can be used as a launching off point for discussing societal impacts of AI.

AI Organization
Ethics in Action

The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems tackles issues around ethical AI. This site includes a link to access Ethically Aligned Design: A vision for prioritizing human well-being with autonomous and intelligent systems. This book is a "comprehensive, crowd-sourced, global treatise regaring the ethics of autonomous and intelligent systems available today" (IEEE).

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Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence

Created by the Government of Canada, this includes the use of AI in government programs and servies, ensuring AI is governed by clear values, ethics, and laws. They have published a framework and set of guidelines around the responsible use of AI, providing a framework through which AI applications can be evaluated.

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

This fiction book (as well as its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes) presents AI in the form of a story about human-robot interaction. It is appropriate for approximately age 8+.

Online interactive
Survival of the Best Fit

This online interactive uses the example of hiring practices to demonstrate data bias that can be introduced when using AI, and offering a simulation of how AI might work during a hiring process at a large organization. It is a suitable interactive for setting the stage for discussions around biased datasets and ethical implications when using AI systems.

Elements of AI

This free, online introductory course to AI was developed at the University of Helsinki as a national initiative to support non-technical audiences in understanding AI. No previous programming experience is required to start using the course.

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Teaching AI - The Best Books for K-12

This is a curated list of books to support AI instruction and K-12 curriculum development, ranging from academic research to illustrated resources that can be shared directly with students.

AI Video Series from NCSSM

Learn about a wide variery of AI and machine learning topics with Charlotte Dungan, Program Architect for NCSSM's Artificial Intelligence program. New videos are regularly added tackling different facets of AI, and additional teaching resources are slated for 2020 release.

Create & Learn: Coding and AI Lessons

Programming lessons and AI interactives for both elementary and middle school youth. Includes both background information and online interactives. Registering in classes provides hands-on exploration of key AI concepts and applications in a course setting.

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OECD Principles on AI

The Organization for Economic Cooporation and Development (OECD) is a global set of AI principles and ethics for countries to adhere to. They are designed to promote AI that is innovative, trustworthy, and respects human rights and democratic values.

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Artifical Intelligence in Society

This report provides both a summary of what current AI is and the policeis that govern its use. Giving a global perspecive of the ethiclal questions rasied by AI and the pertenant public policy considerations.

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Basics of Artificial Intelligence, by Chandra Kumar

This free book (downloadable from the site) introduces how AI is transforming industries and answers many of the common questions around AI.

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AI4K12 Resource Directory

Use this directory to find a variety of books, videos, curriculum materials and more on a wide variety of topics related to AI. AI4K12 is leading educators on a global scale in integrating AI into classrooms and supporting K-12 teachers.

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AIVA - Create Music through AI

Use AI to compose your own music. Customize your preferences, instruments, tempo and more to create something just for you. This is an excellent tool for high school students to experiment with arts-related applications of technology.

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AI for Oceans

Learn how AI and machine learning can be used to address real-world problems such as ocean conservation. This is an interactive developed by Code.org connected to the 2019 Hour of Code, and builds on concepts from the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

AI: Training Data and Bias

This resource from Code.org explains how high quality data helps train machine learning. Understand how to prevent using biased data that can create biased machines.

AI Weirdness

Janelle Shane uses humour to explore AI and how machine learning algorithms can get things wrong (sometimes in hilarious ways). Her book "You Look Like a Thing and I Love You" talks about a variety of ways in which AI is used and how it can make the world a weirder place!

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Dr. Kate Darling on Robotic Ethics

Learn about Robot Ethics through a series of Dr. Kate Darling's publications. As a Research Specialist ath the MIT Media Lab she is intersted in how technology intersects with society.

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