Artificial intelligence is making waves everywhere. It is being used, or soon will be, in almost every realm of human activity, and there is perhaps no hotter topic than its potential to revolutionize education.
The Long Beach School District is no stranger to AI, and is working to ensure that it is used effectively, and fairly, in classrooms.
“A.I. is a big conversation in education right now,” district Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher wrote an email, “as we grapple with helping our students to use the tool appropriately.”
A team of school district staff members headed to Hofstra University on Tuesday to give a presentation on the topic at a symposium. The event, titled “Presidential Symposium, Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education: Friend or Foe?” featured three days of panels and discussion. The representatives of Long Beach schools led a panel discussion called “The K-12 Educator and A.I.: First the teacher, then the tool.”
The panel featured teachers Matthew Jones, Cristie Tursi and Toni Weiss of Long Beach and Patrick Kiley-Rendon of the West Islip school district. The participants were recruited by Lorraine Radice, an adjunct professor at Hofstra and the director of literacy for Long Beach schools.
Radice began the discussion with a primer on ChatGPT. Its release last year inspired a new wave of thinking about artificial intelligence in schools and classrooms. It has been used as a tool to prepare teachers and a resource for students — for better or worse. Radice’s presentation showcased ways in which teachers can use it in their planning and instruction.
“Today we’re diving into the world of AI and education, and I promise, no AI will be grading your work today,” Radice joked. “But that basically is what Chat GPT can do. You put in a prompt based on whatever output you’re looking for. You can interact with the tool, and it generates ideas in front of you in real-time.”
She compared the introduction of AI in education to that of the calculator decades ago, saying that math teachers were concerned that students were not becoming skilled in mental math because they were simply getting their answers from a calculator, but they developed new skills to get the most of their devices. The fear of AIreplacing critical thinking is similar, Radice said, but the opposite is true: Students must learn to guide and prompt the new technology to find the answers they’re looking for, and in so doing they develop a new set of skills.
“When we introduced Google onto the scene, many people were probably excited and curious,” she said, “but also a little nervous, thinking that it was going to give us all the information in the world that we needed, and we wouldn’t have to fact-check.”
Jones, an elementary school STEM teacher in Long Beach, said he uses AI in his classroom, but the extent to which students use it varies. He acknowledged the fear that students may not learn as well when they use prompts to get automatic answers, but he added that it doesn’t have to be that way.
“In my classroom specifically, and through our STEM program, our purpose, and the kids’ purpose, in elementary school is exploring and skill building,” Jones said. “They don’t know what they’re going to do when they grow up, and I want to expose them to as many things as I possibly can. I want them to get used to a process of problem-solving.”
Chat GPT and AI help his students learn problem-solving, he said. As an example, Jones explained how, in his class, he had students use AI to look up things such as bearded dragons and what they eat. The students prompted the software to find the information, and then filtered it for their specific use, like recipes.
Weiss is an English teacher at Long Beach High School and the essay coordinator for the school’s I.B. Diploma program. She assigns 4,000-word research papers to some “very excited” students, she said, and each year she finds new technology to implement in the writing process. She said she had been thinking about how she can add ChatGPT this year.
“One of the things I’m planning to do this year with my sophomores is, before we engage in a research unit, I’m going to do this activity where we sit them down with a big piece of chart paper and ask the for students to come up with topics they would like to talk about and write about,” Weiss said. “Once we have those topics, one of the ways that ChatGPT can help me to be a more spontaneous educator is that I can pull out my Chromebook and ask the ChatGPT to create three argumentative essay prompts.”
The presentation, and the presenters, showcased ways in which AI can be a useful tool for students, and how they can use it responsibly. The panelists also addressed how it may challenge some of the traditional tasks in classrooms and expand on the importance of critical thinking, “intentional” questioning and “metacognition” when students set up prompts or program the software.
The presentation focused on pre-college education, but the panelists said the ideas are applicable to many higher-education settings as well.