Why AI should be in the classroomSep 12, 2023 12:26PM ● By Jet Burnham
Principal Eric Price experiments with AI tools. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Editor’s note: this is part of a series of stories about artificial intelligence in schools.
Are kids using AI to complete their school assignments? West Jordan Middle School Principal Eric Price hopes they are.
“A lot of educators are trying to figure out the best way to use AI because we really have to teach like it exists,” Price said. “It's definitely going to change what we do, and we have to be able to look at it and teach the kids how it works, so they understand the strengths and the limitations.”
Price has been an avid proponent of the benefits of technology in education.
“When ChatGPT came out, it was like my mind was just blown,” he said. “I thought ‘If this doesn't change how we do things and education, nothing is going to change what we're doing in education.’”
Price believes that because of the direction new technologies are heading, educators need to ask themselves what the end goal of education is.
“Are we trying to get students to memorize every fact or every item on the periodic table? No, we're trying to teach them skills so that they can acquire that information when they need it,” he said. “We're trying to teach them skills. We want them to be problem solvers. We want them to be collaborative.”
He said these are the skillsets students need for future jobs, which unlike in the school environment where sharing information is called cheating, coworkers are encouraged to collaborate.
“When you have a question or you don't know how to do something, you use your tools, because you have to solve those problems,” Price said. “And so we want kids to think critically, to problem solve, to analyze, to be able to take what they have, their tools, and be able to use them to the best of their abilities. That's the direction education is going.”
Price said this will require a mind shift of what makes a student “smart.”
“I think the definition of intelligence is really going to change,” he said. “For so long, it's been you're intelligent because you can memorize all these facts. Well, guess what? I can acquire any information in literal seconds. It’s ‘What can you do with these facts that you've acquired?’ not ‘What facts have you acquired?’”
Fort Herriman Middle School Counselor Alyson Law said part of the problem with incorporating technology into the classroom is that the country’s education system was developed in the 1950s during the industrial age.
“We're now way out of the industrial age and we're almost out of the information age and we're into another stage that requires creativity,” she said. “The intelligence that these students have far surpasses some of the intelligence that I have, the way that they're able to think about the world, and do things and process information so quickly is amazing.”
Price said the old learning model, in which students attended school to learn from the expert, to be told exactly the process to follow to learn the material, is outdated.
“In all honesty, we got into this business to work for kids, and to teach kids and to help kids and to give them a leg up in life,” Price said. “We didn't get into it because we wanted everybody to know the Pythagorean Theorem.”
A new model is emerging in which educators show students the process of learning and how to apply what they’ve learned to real world situations. Technology is a key part of this education model, however, there is a lot of public mistrust of AI technology, Price said.
Fear of new technology is nothing new. Socrates was worried that if people had access to too many books, they wouldn’t learn how to memorize anymore. Harvard University professors worried that when blackboards were introduced, students wouldn’t read the textbook anymore. And math teachers used to worry that if students used a calculator, they wouldn’t learn math concepts anymore.
In all these cases, Price said educators had to find the best way to leverage the new tools.
Tasks teachers used to do on paper, such as attendance, grading and researching, have been digitized and automated to save teachers time, said Spencer Campbell, principal of Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School.
“There are parts of AI that will take that to the next level and essentially teachers will have a full-time coach,” Campbell said. “The idea that an AI bot can go out and search all of the information up to a certain point that's written on Utah history is computationally better than what a teacher could do in an entire lifetime.”
Campbell believes AI can help teachers, administrators and students think beyond their own limitations.
“It helps me find information that I would not have been able to find on my own and organizes it in a way that I put in the prompt,” he said. “It will spit out a calendar of 36 weeks of mini professional development lessons that I can share with my teachers about any concept that we want. That will happen in minutes, and it will think of things that I have not thought about.”
The time saved goes back to the students.
“Really what that means is more time for teachers to spend with kids creating that relationship, which really matters,” Campbell said.
Price and Campbell are avid fans of technology tools. They both post pro-AI videos on social media and encourage their colleagues to incorporate tools such as Chat GPT, photo editing and creation tools. Price said even using simpler technology such as Siri and Alexa bots in the classroom can prepare students to be future workers and leaders.
“I've actually been fighting to try to get those into the schools because that's where businesses are going,” Price said. “What can we do to leverage that so that we can not only expose kids to it, but we can help them to be able to use it so that they can be the ones that create the future?”
Chromebooks in every classroom has been a step in the right direction, allowing teachers to individualize instruction and use tech tools in their lessons, said Price.
Fort Herriman Middle School’s ninth graders will be using iPads this year, thanks to Price, who said they are more compatible with the AI tools already available to students and teachers through Adobe Suite.
Jordan School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey is onboard for using AI in the classroom.
“I've seen over the years how technological advancements can help enhance the experience that we provide the students,” he said. “I want to be sure we're providing the very best learning environment for students that we possibly can, and I think artificial intelligence, used responsibly, can be an important component of a great education.”
Jared Covili, Jordan Districts’s administrator of Digital Teaching and Learning, said incorporating AI in the classroom has been a top priority for the last several months. His eight-person department tracks as many AI tools as they can but they don’t have time to vet every tool teachers want to use.
“A new AI tool pops up every day and so the real story for any school district is that you can spend all of your time trying to filter every tool or you can help people learn how to use them appropriately, and that’s more of the vein that we’re trying to take,” Covili said. “So many things are changing with AI, but one thing we know won’t change is that teachers are going to want to use it to help improve what they do in their classrooms. AI is going to be a part of our classrooms and so that’s something we definitely have to address.”
A graphic Eric Price asked AI to generate to represent his position change from being a Fort Herriman Middle diamondback to a West Jordan Middle lion. (Photo courtesy of Eric Price)