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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Classroom Technology Opinion

How Teachers Are Using Artificial Intelligence in Classes Today

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 02, 2023 10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
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In early January, shortly after the debut of ChatGPT, I shared a three-part series where educators wrote about how they had begun using it with their students.

Now that a few months have passed, educators share in today’s post (and in a future Part Two) how they have been using ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools. In addition, since many school districts have blocked ChatGPT, the educators share their latest thinking about how they would use it if they could.

Before we get to today’s guests, I’d like to share a few ways AI plays, or can play, a role in my classroom:

One way is through using Canva’s “text-to-image” feature with my ELL Newcomers class. Obviously, in an ELL class, I use many images—typically by showing pictures and having students write about them. With AI, however, I explained that they were going to tell the computer what they wanted to see in the picture and then they were going to show the class what they told it and what the computer created.

I included AI in several additional lessons where students used increasing complex sentences, and you can read about them all here.

Secondly, for the past year or two, my students have used Quill, an online writing instructional tool that uses adaptive learning, a slightly older form of AI. With adaptive learning, after students answer questions, the computer identifies where they need more reinforcement and provides those activities. Duolingo is another app popular with my students using adaptive technology.

Several educational sites use this kind of AI in various subjects, and Google has just unveiled its own version called Practice Sets. You can find a list of them here.

Another way that AI has been used in ELL classrooms for the past several years has been through sites providing immediate feedback on student pronunciation. English Central was the pioneer in this kind of site, and now Speakable has probably become the most popular one (it being free makes it especially popular!). Here’s a list of similar tools.

Lastly, we come to ChatGPT. Since our district is one of those who have blocked it (for teachers and students alike), I can’t say how I have been using it in the classroom. I can, though, say that, if and when it becomes available, there are two ways I’d like to try using it:

* Having high-interest reading materials are critical for promoting literacy. I’m not sure you can get much more “high interest” than having students tell ChatGPT what they want to read about using sentence-frame prompts like:

Write a soccer story where _______________ (name of student) is the star. Write it so a beginning English-language learner can understand it.

Write about ____________________. Write it so an intermediate English-language learner can understand it.

* I would also like to try giving students a variety of prompts to choose from, having them ask ChatGPT to write their assignment for them, and then asking students to annotate and revise it so that it is substantially improved.

Though I haven’t yet been able to ask students to use ChatGPT directly (though, unfortunately, at least one or two have used it at home for writing assignments and tried to pass off the work as their own), I have been able to use it to create student materials. For example, I was able to get it to produce excellent texts usable for a jigsaw activity by typing in this prompt:

Create four readings of four sentences each that could be used by Beginning English Language Learners using the jigsaw strategy on foods around the world.

You can read more about up-to-date AI developments in education at A Collection Of “Best” Lists About Using Artificial Intelligence In Education.

ChatGPT and Essay Writing

Elizabeth Kuhns-Boyle is a retired Virginia teacher who returned to Pennsylvania to continue teaching high school and college English in the Pittsburgh area:

My rationale in teaching has always been “why recreate the wheel?” Using AI has been an effective tool for helping students be better writers, more informed thinkers, and effective researchers. The students are already aware of and are using various AI tools, so I want to make them aware of how to use it to improve their learning, writing, and research skills.

Currently, I am using AI in my high school and college English classrooms. To begin, I inform the students that I am aware of the chat AI programs and have used them myself to create writing prompts. I then show them an essay created in ChatAI and discuss why it is not a well-written essay. Once students see the issues created, we move on to how to best improve the writing.

Using various examples created with ChatAI for an assigned essay topic, we also analyze the writing elements as being effective or ineffective and rewrite or edit pieces that do not work. If we are working on an argument essay, I will introduce the main elements necessary in argumentative writing. As they read the sample essay, I ask them to first highlight the thesis/argument, then move on to the details that support the thesis.

When explaining how and why to use effective supportive quotes, I instruct the students on how to use Bard (Google) to find and use scholarly quotes to support their argumentative writing. I want to encourage the students to research effectively, locate scholarly information, and eliminate biased information and fallacy.

I have discovered that when students are taught how to use the numerous AI tools available to them, they are more willing to use them correctly and effectively in their writing. While I am unsure if it has discouraged “plagiarism,” I have seen evidence that their writing has improved when using AI properly.

whenstudentsaretaught

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Using ChatGPT in the Math Classroom

Bobson Wong has taught high school math in New York City public schools since 2005. He is the co-author of The Math Teacher’s Toolbox and Practical Algebra: A Self-Teaching Guide and the 2022 winner of the Math for America Muller Award for Professional Influence in Education:

From simple four-function calculators to sophisticated mobile apps, technology has been part of math classrooms for decades. Technology has been a part of my teaching for as long as I’ve been teaching math. In my experience, artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT share many of the same benefits and pitfalls as other technology. ChatGPT also has several unique features that make it a powerful tool for teaching math.

A Useful Starting Point

ChatGPT is a useful resource for writing math lessons. Just as teachers look through textbooks or do online searches, they can save time by using ChatGPT. For example, type “write a lesson plan for multiplying fractions” and you get an outline of a lesson plan, complete with lesson objectives, materials, introduction, independent practice, and a conclusion.

To customize this outline, teachers can ask follow-up questions to generate problems (“include some examples, too”), solutions (“What are the answers?”), and even a wrap-up activity (“What would be a good exit slip question?”). This feature is especially helpful for newer teachers who may be overwhelmed by having to sifting through thousands of online search results.

ChatGPT’s benefits aren’t limited to newer teachers. As an experienced teacher, I’ve used ChatGPT to generate more examples (“Give me a word problem that involves adding like terms”) or improve a specific aspect of a lesson (“How do I make teaching congruent triangles more culturally responsive?”). This makes ChatGPT more powerful than equation-solving sites like Symbolab, which solves equations and even geometric proofs but not complicated word problems.

Limited Solutions

ChatGPT has important limitations for math education. Its solutions are often dry and procedural. It frequently uses the formal mathematical language typically found in textbooks without explaining why the procedures work. ChatGPT doesn’t look for the most efficient solution. To find appropriate explanations for students, users must be more specific—instead of asking “explain why dividing by 0 is undefined,” ask “explain why dividing by 0 is undefined to a 3rd grader” or “explain why dividing by 0 is undefined to a calculus student.”

In other words, ChatGPT is like a closed-stack library—you only get what you request, so you have to know exactly what you need. In contrast, search engines like Google are open-stack libraries—when you look for something, you discover other things that might otherwise have escaped your attention.

Also, ChatGPT’s math is largely restricted to text. Type “graph y = 2x + 3 on the coordinate plane” and you get a detailed explanation of how to graph a line but you don’t see an actual graph. Online graphing calculators like Desmos and Geogebra offer far more robust visual tools.

Fortunately, teachers can use ChatGPT’s limitations to their advantage. Students can critique a ChatGPT response by analyzing its efficiency or clarity. They can use ChatGPT’s text to create visual representations, such as graphs, tables, or diagrams. Students can also rewrite ChatGPT explanations in their own words.

Of course, ChatGPT opens up the potential for cheating. In this sense, ChatGPT isn’t very different from other existing tools, such as the PhotoMath mobile app. I try to minimize the misuse of technology by having honest conversations with my students about what they actually learn from copying a solution without understanding it.

Conclusion

To use ChatGPT effectively, you have to ask the right questions. This takes a lot of persistence and patience. When used properly, ChatGPT helps students and teachers deepen their mathematical understanding.

chatgptalso

Thanks to Elizabeth and Bobson for contributing their thoughts!

The question of the week is:

How are you using AI with your students?

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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