Mathematics

How AI Should Change Math Education: New Guidance on How to Adapt

By Alyson Klein — March 05, 2024 2 min read
Conceptual image of A.I. robot head and numbers flowing through it's head.
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Artificial intelligence-powered tools can help students learn math, but educators should also explain why students should be skeptical of the technology, concludes the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in a recent AI position statement.

NCTM is among the first teaching organizations to take an official position on AI.

And its early stance may be especially influential: Educators are looking for guidance on how to use AI in the classroom but don’t feel that it must come from government officials, experts say. It can come from prominent, trusted organizations such as NCTM.

AI has “been around forever, but with ChatGPT, it’s [becoming] that much more common,” said Kevin Dykema, who teaches middle school math in Michigan and is the president of NCTM. “Math educators are looking for some guidance: ‘How do you best integrate AI into the classroom?’ This was a perfect opportunity for us to get out in front of the field.”

AI has great potential to make math teachers’ lives easier, by helping to create quizzes or tests, for example, the NCTM guidance says. It may also help personalize learning for students by presenting them with problems tailored not only to a particular math skill but to their own interests.

But the technology also tends to “hallucinate”—come up with answers that are “untrue or unreasonable,” NCTM writes, adding that AI tools don’t always cite the sources for their information, giving students the “illusion that the ideas do not need to be cited or vetted.”

And AI tools tend to reflect the biases in society, which typically show up in the data used to train the technology.

‘What can we de-emphasize?’

Math educators are already accustomed to changing how they teach because of a new technology, Dykema said.

After all, even before ChatGPT arrived in late 2022, raising educators’ awareness of AI, tools like PhotoMath were already solving algebra equations for students.

Before that, calculators were the game changer.

“Technology has evolved in such a way that it’s forcing us to think about what is that critical content that’s necessary for students,” Dykema said. “Calculators came out, and we had to figure out ‘how do we better integrate this new technology called a calculator into the classrooms? And what does that mean in terms of what we teach? What can we de-emphasize?’”

AI has highlighted the need for a similar, deep rethinking of how schools teach math, he said.

“We need to continue to help our students see that math is used in real life, that math is not something that’s just done in that K-12 classroom,” Dykema said. “Mathematics has historically, and continues to be used, to solve real-world problems.”

The organization also recommends that math educators be on the front lines of developing and testing AI tools aimed at teaching or reinforcing math skills.

The good news for math educators: It will take teachers with more math expertise, not less, to properly vet cutting-edge math education technology.

AI has “the potential to change how we do things,” Dykema said. But he added that “there’s a lot of limitations to some of the initial AI [tools] that are out there. And we need to recognize just because it says ‘powered by AI’ doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.”

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