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South Valley Riverton Journal

AI provides real-life experiences in the classroom

Mar 01, 2024 01:55PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students can have an interactive chat with historical figures in SchoolAI. (SchoolAI screenshot courtesy of Kasey Chambers)

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of articles about artificial intelligence
in schools.

AI tools in the classroom immerse students in historical context, help them realize real-world applications for math skills and provide them the freedom to demonstrate what they’ve learned in creative ways that develop their skills and interests.

Jordan School District teachers are encouraged to utilize AI tools such as Canva, Adobe Suite and SchoolAI. 

“It’s been exciting to see so many teachers jump on board, learn more and start to use AI for themselves and to help their students,” Jordan School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey said.

Godfrey experienced for himself an AI-augmented history lesson created by a JSD teacher. In a choose-your-own adventure activity, he experienced being a soldier in the Revolutionary War and then an explorer on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“I had to make decisions about whether to camp for the night, where to travel next, how to avoid dangers, and as a result, it really pulled me into that experience in a way that no other tool could have,” he said. “The interactive nature of it, the immersive nature of that learning is something that we’ve only begun to explore.”

JSD Digital Learning Specialist Kasey Chambers helps teachers find and utilize digital tools to enhance their lessons and engage students. One popular activity called ‘chat with a historical figure’ brings people like Abraham Lincoln or Rosa Parks to life through an AI-generated interaction which responds realistically to students’ questions and comments. Some teachers use this activity as part of the research process.

“Students research a historical figure, plan questions to ask and then chat with the historical figure,” Chambers said.

Another AI interaction teachers are using to help students understand a historical event is to have the student and the AI both write an essay with opposing perspectives of an event. Then the students compare and contrast the points in both essays.

AI activities are also being used in math classes to bring the equations off the page and into the real-world.

An interactive AI activity gamified math skills practice for a sixth-grade class. Students were motivated to calculate the ratios for ingredients to formulate a potion to save a wizard.

One instructor reached out to district math specialist Amy Kinder to collaborate on an engaging exercise to allow students to practice on-the-job math skills in a medical assisting class.

“We decided to use AI to help us plan so that we could make a strong lesson,” Kinder said. “It was quick and easy to set up.”

Instead of converting fractions to decimals and ounces into milliliters on a worksheet, the students worked through real-world scenarios, such as calculating medication dosages for a specific patient. The AI responded to the students’ actions, adjusting follow-up scenarios based on the student’s responses, providing more examples if the student had calculated inaccurately or increasing the complexity of the tasks if they demonstrated understanding.

The exercise took just 15 minutes of class time; however the majority of the students accessed the activity again on their own time.

“About 70% of them went home and practiced more,” Kinder said. “They chose to practice on their own when they didn’t have to so that they were prepared for the assessment. I think they really liked the instantaneous feedback that they were getting.”

The JSD math department team is still figuring out how AI can best be applied in the math curriculum. Kinder said as math instruction moves to rich problem-solving and real-word applications, AI can provide engaging math skills practice.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing real-world math that makes sense to kids, and not just teaching them steps,” Kinder said.

One area of education in which AI shines is in allowing students more ways to demonstrate their understanding of concepts and mastery of skills. Instead of answering comprehension questions from a story they read, students can use image creation tools to produce a digital visualization of the characters, setting and plot points to demonstrate they understood what they read.

Chambers said AI can add a fun twist to a common critical thinking exercise teachers use called Think-Pair-Share, in which students think about what they’ve learned, discuss it with a partner and then share their ideas with the class. Adding a step for students to bounce their ideas off a chatbot helps them develop their ideas further, Chambers said.

West Jordan Middle School teacher Dan Clark believes AI will be part of future jobs and that by learning to use AI tools in school for creative problem solving and collaboration, students will become more employable.

“It’s more about interacting with people, creative creation and skill building,” he said. “I think ultimately what we want them to do is to be able to interface with those models, but then create something beyond that.”

He said having AI tools available to him and his students has changed the way he assesses his students.

“Instead of a multiple-choice vocab quiz, what I’m asking them to do is to create something, like an infographic, that shows their knowledge rather than just test them on memorization skills,” he said. “A student might want to show their knowledge in several different ways, so if you can be clear to students what you expect, and then allow them to show their knowledge in any way, they can pick through Adobe Suite or Canva or create a video or podcast. They’re learning skills that are not going to be replaced by AI.”

Jordan District’s Digital Learning Department regularly shares tips and tricks for teachers on social media to get them excited about the technology tools available to them. They also provide large group and customized small group trainings on using AI tools.

“The majority of teachers that come to our trainings, that see how it works and have those demonstrations, they are so excited,” Chambers said. “The response we’ve had is just full positivity, full excitement.”

Chambers said it doesn’t take long for teachers to learn to create and implement AI activities based on their teaching goals while ensuring students have accountability for their own learning. She emphasizes that AI is a tool, not a replacement for a good lesson plan.

“One thing I have been doing is trying to help teachers understand that AI is a tool within the learning process, not the entire process,” she said. λ