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STEM in the High School Life Science Classroom - Implementing the Alexa for Astronauts: Using AI to Monitor Health NSTA Daily Do Playlist (Part 2)

Computer Science Instructional Materials Interdisciplinary Life Science STEM Teaching Strategies Technology High School


NSTA partnered with Amazon Future Engineer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the Alexa for Astronauts program to create the Alexa for Astronauts:  Using AI to Monitor Health NSTA Daily Do Playlist for high school life science courses. This playlist (lesson set) and other new STEM curriculums designed for the Alexa for Astronauts program allow high school educators and their students to dive deeper into computer science learning and the NASA Artemis I mission.

Alexa for Astronauts: Using AI to Monitor Health is a series of three lessons that require students to build and/or apply ideas about life science, artificial intelligence (AI), and computer science* using Amazon Alexa** and MIT App Inventor to solve a problem new to astronauts - monitoring their physical health with no Earth-based support.

*No prior coding experience is necessary
**Amazon Alexa devices are not required

The goals of this STEM in the High School Life Science Classroom - Implementing the Alexa for Astronauts: Using AI to Monitor Health NSTA Daily Do Playlist (Part 2) PLU are as follows

  • Become familiar with Lessons 2 and 3 with a focus on how student questions and ideas drive the learning in the lesson
  • Recognize the connection between using students’ questions/ideas to motivate learning and authentically integrating learning in life science, computer science and AI 
  • Gain experience using Alexa-MIT App Inventor to develop an Alexa skill and an understanding of how students apply that skill to solve the presented problem

Participation in this PLU requires the use of MIT App Inventor. Make sure you are able to log into your account before you begin.  

Additional Resources

Get Started - Focus on Learning

Reflect on your learning experience in the STEM in the High School Life Science Classroom - Implementing the Alexa for Astronauts: Using AI to Monitor Health NSTA Daily Do Playlist (Part 1) PLU. What are your “Aha!” moments or takeaways from that experience? 

(Image Source: Thinking Like A Kid,, and NextGen.) 

Build and Revise Ideas

Lesson 2 (Day 3)
Read the lesson plan for Lesson Two. In steps 2 and 3 on page 5 students are asked to create a model that explains how their assigned (or chosen) vital sign can be used to determine how well the whole-body system or subsystems are functioning. Then students compare their model to at least one other group’s model of the same vital sign. Students note similarities and differences between the models using sticky notes or other means.  

Compare and contrast these student examples of models explaining a change in body temperature. 

At this point in the lesson, the class will be turning their focus on the temperature models because we have real astronaut core body temperature data available to examine. Guidance to let students know the models for other vital signs will be needed again later in the lesson (they should save that work in a place they can easily access again later) is absent, but this information should be shared with students.

Observe astronaut core body temperature data presented in the graphs found on the Vital Signs Handout.

Let’s focus on the discussion (step 6) that comes after students make observations of astronaut core body temperature data (step 5).

Discussions that build on opportunities for students to share their ideas, build on the ideas of others, and critique others’ ideas motivate the next steps in the lesson to ensure coherence from the student's perspective. You will likely find that lesson plans offer varying amounts of guidance for supporting class discussions (from little or no guidance to scripted facilitation). 

Here is an example of a discussion that provides a high level of support for teachers: Discussion example with high-level teacher support.

Read through the discussion plan and then answer the following questions.

To close the discussion, the teacher is guided to ask students to consider the progress the class has made so far on figuring out the phenomenon (described at the top of the Discussion example with high-level teacher support) and invites students to share new questions.

One thing this discussion plan does not include is how to get students to listen to each other and build on other students’ ideas. 

When preparing to teach a lesson that offers little guidance for supporting student discussion (like this one), it is important to make a plan for key discussions to help ensure student coherence. 

Return to the discussion (step 6) on page 7 of Lesson Plan 2. This lesson plan identifies the key ideas that are important for students to land on at the end of the discussion but does not give teachers much support for how to get students there. Time to make a plan! 

Open the Modified Discussion Planning Tool. This tool will help organize your thoughts and plan for this discussion. Notice the questions under Leading the Discussion; these questions ask you to identify talk moves you can use at various points in the discussion. Example Prompts to Facilitate the Sharing of Ideas provide a wide variety of talk moves.

Choose prompts you think might be most productive in achieving the goal of this discussion: get students to offer the ideas listed on page 7 (end of step 6).

Consider what you anticipate students would notice and wonder about the astronaut temperature data as well as what students would have experienced so far in the lesson set to inform your choices. 

Lesson 2 (Day 4)

Lesson 2, day 4 students are asked to consider what a dialogue with Alexa might look like to allow for the monitoring of astronaut health. Students are provided a flowchart that shows the plan for dialogue between Alexa and the students (later to be used by astronauts). This is an opportunity for students to start to consider the role of computer science and AI in making health monitoring possible even when communication with mission control is not possible.

Look at the flowchart below describing the New Alexa Skill. 

(Source: Slide 2 AFE_AforA_Presentation_Day_4.pdf)

Students are tasked to analyze the flowchart and then label inputs and outputs and the elements of AI. 

Read the flowchart and try to identify the inputs, outputs, and elements of AI.

Check your work against the Flowchart Describing New Alexa Skill. How did you do?

Use the Flowchart Describing New Alexa Skill and the Alexa - MIT App Inventor to create the temperature checker (step 4, Day 4, Lesson Plan 2).  

Run the Alexa skill using the testing window, creating a record of your dialogue with Alexa.

Take a screenshot of the completed run and save the screenshot as a PDF file.

Reflecting on the Learning

Looking Ahead

Read Lesson Plan 3: How can we use AI to monitor and provide feedback on an astronaut’s health when communication with mission control is not possible?

Share at least three tasks students completed in the previous two lessons that serve to scaffold the engineering design challenge presented in Lesson 3. Be specific in your description of how each task identified supports students in completing the different parts independently (as a member of a small group or individually).

The priority goals for students stated for this lesson set include increased: 
(1) curiosity about and interest in artificial intelligence; 
(2) understanding of how science is utilized, in particular through the engineering design process; and 
(3) confidence in their ability to pursue STEM careers.

Submit Completed Task

Upon completion and submission of the task associated with this self-guided professional learning unit, you will receive a certificate awarding two credit hours of professional learning (also known as continuing education credits).

Please allow up to 30 days for your certificate to be awarded. You will receive an e-mail from NSTA as soon as your certificate is available for download.

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