‘Humans vs. the Machine’: Rockford High School competes with AI to predict snow days

Rockford High School competes with AI to predict snow days

For the first time this year, teachers at Rockford High School will be implementing AI technology in a unique way for their students.

“We’re here to create an environment where kids want to learn and are intrigued about how they can use something that they’ve learned to carry forward,” says A.P. Statistics teacher Tina Shutich.

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Rockford High School is one of many schools in our area hit with a snow day after a winter storm barreled through — bringing over a foot of snow there.

“As an educator, seeing my students get excited about snow days — we know they’re going to be excited about that — but actually using what they learn,” says Shutich.

And what they’re learning is how to predict those snowfall totals through a fun competition of humans versus artificial intelligence.

“There’s two different models competing against each other,” explains Van Andel Institute learning specialist Ben Talsma. “There’s the AI model; that one’s called Blizzard. … The other one is the crowd-sourced model, the humanity model.”

Rockford High School competes with AI to predict snow days

The idea came from a friend of Talsma’s who taught at another school and would conduct the contest himself. Sadly, he passed away in 2016.

“[I] wanted to keep that memory alive,” says Talsma, “so I did a little tribute myself. And that sort of evolved into the model that we do now where people can play along. They can make those same predictions themselves, then we kind of take the averages and use that to predict what the snow day score is going to be.”

Artificial intelligence came into play after a Rockford parent developed an AI model that also made snow day predictions.

“I called him up and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in a little contest between these two models?’” Talsma recalls. “And then Rockford connected me with a couple of stats teachers, Tina and Travis, here at Rockford High School. And they have been kind of taking the lead to have their stats students run the human side of things.”

He says the AI system synthesizes two things: previous factors and statements made by the superintendent of Rockford Public Schools on snow days — and weather forecasts.

“Then using that to make a probabilistic assumption about what the likelihood of school cancellation is,” says Talsma.

Rockford High School competes with AI to predict snow days

As for the humans — or students — here’s how they operate:

“They complete a Google Doc form where they are rating hype, timing, intangibles and impact, minus the storm,” explains Shutich. “My students are choosing making a selection based on the storm. And from that, we then run a … model equation that [Ben] had used over the past.”

The contest comes down to whoever comes the closest to the actual prediction, whether it’s technology — or mankind.

At last check, the current winner is:

“Humanity as a species [is] ahead by very close, by 1% right now, in the way that we evaluate kind of percent of possible, you know, points that you could have gotten,” says Talsma. “So it’s been very close.”

Humans vs. the Machine

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We’ll see if it stays that way. But in the meantime, the experience is opening students’ eyes to what they’re capable of.

“I think they’re really starting to think about the impacts of what they are doing and how they can utilize,” says Shutich. “Or we can utilize statistics to make predictions.”