AI is My Co-Teacher

Over the past couple weeks, I have fallen down the AI rabbit hole. I dipped my toe into the water by seeing if an artificial intelligence (AI) tool could write a you can read those here. This time, I want to see if using AI could save me some time and help me do my job.

Why I Turned to AI

As an educator, one of the ways I learn and grow is through interactions and collaboration with other educators. Hallway conversations, after class classroom reflections and those what if discussions over beverages are some of the best ways to share strategies and learn from each other. However, as we all know, sometimes education can be a lonely place. You may not have access to your community when you need them. Finding the time to connect with a colleague is not always possible. You could turn to your virtual community and ask questions on various social media channels. I do that often. I do not want to undervalue my online community. They are great! However, I have found that I sometimes have better luck getting answers if I just scream the question out in a crowded train station. (Not really but social media is like screaming into the void.)

For me, the past few months have been a bit isolating – full of director duties, traveling and teaching. I have not been able to connect with my in-person educator network to talk through best practices and new ideas. (I missed ISTE Live 23!! My Ed Tech happy place. So sad.) The isolation from my community really hit me hard one day in June. Everyone was at ISTE or teaching or somewhere else and I was sitting alone in my hotel room in the middle of a midwestern cornfield, trying to solve a classroom issue. As a verbal thinker, I needed to talk it through but I had no one to talk to. But…I did have my AI friend, ChatGPT-4. That began an exploration into how AI could be a stand-in co-teacher.

Collaborating with ChatGPT- 4

I used ChatGPT-4 to work through four key teaching challenges,

  1. crafting a driving question for PBL,
  2. designing hands on activities,
  3. identifying engagement and differentiation strategies and
  4. planning and creating supply lists.

Here is a quick look at how I used AI for each challenge and the results.

Crafting a driving question or scenario for PBL.

I wanted to see if AI could help me create an engaging question to launch problem-based learning. I started with this prompt, “I need a driving question for a middle school project based learning project that aligns to math standards for pre-algebra.” What it gave me was kind of bland but had an interesting core idea. The response was, ” How can we use pre-algebra to design a a budge plan for family trip across the country, considering factors like distance, fuel costs, food, accommodations and entertainment?” The question had good bones and would be an authentic way to use pre-algebra but, it lacked pizzazz and might not be the hook needed to engage middle school students.

So, I kept giving ChatGPT more directions to refine the scenario. I said things like, “Can you make it more interesting to gain student attention?” and “Change the language to make it more student friendly.” After a bit of back and forth, ChatGPT gave me this.

“Imagine you’re the strategic mastermind behind a popular reality show, ‘Epic Journey!’ Your challenge is to plan the most budget friendly yet thrilling cross-country road trip adventure for the participating family. How can you use the math you’ve been learning to figure out cost like travel, food and fun adventures along the way?”

Not perfect, but a very interesting start. I’ve worked with teachers for years on PBL and one of the hardest parts of getting started is writing an interesting driving question that connects to the learning goals. Using AI to help with that process could be a useful way to eliminate the “I don’t even know where to start!” problem that plagues many PBL newbies.

Designing hands-on activities.

I had to step in as a sub for a chemistry class and needed some quick ideas. (Chemistry was never my forte so I needed some help.) I wanted to see if working with an AI was better than simply Googling for ideas. To start this, I asked ChatGPT for “engaging activities for kids ages 11 to 13 in a chemistry summer camp.” The ideas it gave me were not revolutionary or very innovative. It suggested doing various experiments with chemical reactions, doing kitchen chemistry, building molecular models, etc. It provided suggestions under each category. The initial response was not much more that what I would have gotten with a quick Google search. However, it was the conversation I had with the AI that was the cool part. I asked questions about some of the suggestions and got more information and ideas. It went from a generic list of ideas to a lesson plan that I could use the next day. Again, I could have done this with a Google search and time but I really liked how I was having a “conversation” that helped me think through what I wanted to do with the students. This 20 min session saved me time. I might try using this more as I think through classroom activities. For me, this is one of the more promising uses. It will never replace my human community. It is much more fun to have these conversations over coffee but in pinch, when my community is not there, ChatGPT might help me feel like I am not in this alone.

Identifying engagement and differentiation strategies.

I needed to explore ways to engage a large multi-grade level classroom in STEAM exploration. Would AI have good suggestions? Similar to my experience with looking for Chemistry lessons, ChatGPT was able to quickly generate a list of strategies to help with this typical teaching scenario. I provided information on the current classroom situation and it gave me a list of seven strategies. Again, nothing too earth shattering. I would have given similar suggestions to any teacher who asked me the same question. These are the strategies I teach when doing PD or teaching courses. Things like “use scaffolding”, “give choice”, “differentiate instruction”, “use flexible grouping”, etc. I can feel the experienced educators in the room nodding along with me. This is just good teaching. Thank you Mr. AI-obvious. But again, the power was not in the original answer to my original prompt. It was in the follow up conversation I had with the tool. I started asking more specific questions. We discussed ways to create “low floor, high ceiling” activities to provide access for all learners while giving room for exploration. I gave very specific examples including topic areas or different books as learning anchors. ChatGPT continued to proved specific ideas that were actually pretty good. This exchange far surpassed what I would have been able glean with a simple Google search. Again – it does not replace a conversation with my community. It was missing the energy we all get when we start throwing ideas at a problem. An AI chat can never replace the vibe you have when creative and passionate educators are in the same room solving teaching and learning problems. But if you don’t have that available and you need a thought partner to help you through a sticky problem, it is a helpful tool to get you unstuck.

Planning and creating supply lists.

Screenshot of the supply list.

Anyone who has designed classroom activities, especially in STEAM programs knows how time consuming (but essential) it is to plan. This includes coming up with the supplies needed to pull off that plan. I wanted to see if AI could save me time when creating a supply list for a STEAM unit. I was pleasantly surprised.

One thing to note. At this point, I am getting much better in writing prompts that give me detailed answers. When I started this AI adventure I probably would have just said, “give me a supply list for school maker space.” I know now that the answer would have been very generic and not too helpful. Instead, I asked for a supply list for a very specific classroom. I included example activities, number of and age of the students, the duration of the class and number of instructional days. The list it gave me was very useful. It not only had a list of items but it gave me suggested quantities and type of activity. I’m sure that if I played around with the prompt some more, I could get even better results. This was definitely a time saver. I don’t know how many times I have worked with teachers and school who really don’t know where to start on stocking consumables for a STEAM classroom. What supplies are needed and at what quantities. Using AI to help generate that initial list might help save both time and money!

Final Thoughts

I engaged in several conversations with ChatGPT-4 on these topics. I was surprised at how helpful it could be. I will continue to use this tool in this way. I think the more I use it, the better I will become at helping it help me.

If you want to start using AI as a co-teacher, here are some of my tips.

  • Be very specific in your prompts. The better you get at writing a prompt that asks a clear and specific question, the better and more helpful responses will be. This takes some practice and there are a lot of educators out there who are sharing their tips for writing good AI prompts.
  • Don’t stop after your first prompt. Engage in a conversation. Just like you would if you were with a colleague, ask questions and dig deeper. This is what sets it apart from a simple Google search. Use the intelligence part of the tool.
  • Trust in your expertise. Be sure to look at everything you get from the AI through the lens of your background knowledge. Just because it spits out some answers that may look good on the surface, you still need to use your critical thinking skills to evaluate the information. Use your background knowledge to question and evaluate the information. This is not just true when using AI as a co-teacher. This is true in life.
  • See what others educators like you are doing. There are a lot of folks out there trying AI in education. Here are just a few I would suggest following.

The bottom line is that I will continue to use AI as a tool in my practice. I definitely see value, especially when my educator community is not available. I believe these tools have promise but, it cannot replace the joy, energy and creativity of my people.

Thanks to social media, I have a huge list of there AI tools to try. From slide deck generators to production tools. This is just the beginning of exploring how AI can help me improve my practice. Stay tuned.

How have you used AI in your practice? Was it helpful? Leave a reply and let me know!

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