Recently a team asked us to look at designing some training to help newer educators with the use of AI as a means to design more effective and diverse instructional sequences and activities for use in class with students.

As part of a first foray we focused on some common instructional topics across a range of subject areas inherent in many to most classrooms and targeted them by learner age-levels to see what Chat GPT-4 would come up with. We then reviewed the recommendations in terms of WHAT kinds of activities were proposed in relation to the age range, and WHEN in the instructional sequence the activities were introduced.

Lots of notes were generated, but here are a few pieces we started with and a snapshot of our findings…

Topic: Math

Concept: Area of a Circle

Skill: Finding the Area of a Circle

Prompt used:

1. Produce a series of activities to teach 10 to 12 year olds how to find the area of a circle?

Of the 10 activities provided, here are some of Chat GPT-4’s more interesting responses from our perspective –

Activity 1 – Introduce Pi (π): Start with the concept of Pi. Explain that Pi (π) is approximately 3.14 and that it represents the ratio of the circumference (the distance around the circle) to the diameter (the distance across the circle) of any circle.

  • Like – defining the terms circumference and diameter with simple descriptions that most 10-12 year olds could comprehend as a start-point
  • Dislike – starting with a concept that is largely unknown to most students as opposed to witholding the vague conceptual framing until students have some findings that start to illuminate the concept as a point of reference and scaffolding

Activity 3 – Use Real Life Objects: Bring in various circular objects like plates, balls, lids, and tape measures. Have the students measure the diameter and the circumference of these objects and divide the circumference by the diameter to find an approximation of Pi. They’ll see that no matter the size of the object, this ratio is always close to 3.14.

Then introduce the concept of area as the amount of space inside a shape.

Explain how we usually calculate area for rectangles and squares, and then bridge into the unique formula for circles.

  • Like – bringing in common circular objects and having students call on prior knowledge with simpler but similar concepts used to calculate areas for rectangles and squares
  • Dislike – given the likelihood that all students would NOT have been equally successful and solid conceptually with finding areas of simpler shapes as a point of comparison, would compound their struggles if this strategy was used universally as a  means to scaffold towards this more complex task

From the additional activities, it is worth noting that Chat GPT-4 did introduce sequences that used simple materials like construction paper and string segments to have students tie a pencil to one end, then hold a center point (focus) to create a circle for measuring, and also introduced “Online Simulations” as another option and cited both Geogebra and Khan Academy as sources for those more technical resource approaches.

We also tested various prompts to see if we could enrich the results of the returns, so started speaking in terms of our intent more directly and personally. Here is the prompt we used to generate some activities for reading comprehension at 3rd grade roughly.

Topic: Literary Reading

Concept: Key Ideas and Details about Characters

Skill: Identifying Character Actions and Outcomes

Prompt used:

2. What are some activities that would help me teach 8 year olds how to describe characters from a story and analyze how their actions contributed to events in that story?

Of the 14 activities, here are some of Chat GPT-4’s instructional ideas for the teacher of 8 year olds to consider  –

These seemed decently good, and would commonly be found occurring in the classroom of a seasoned educator:

8. Illustrate and Explain: Ask students to draw a scene where the character’s actions had a major impact on the story. Then, they can present their illustrations and explain the significance of the actions depicted.

11. Character Motivation Chart: Create a chart where one column lists character actions and the next lists motivations. Discuss why characters acted in certain ways and how it affected the story’s events.

But many of the activities were fairly complex for the age level provided:

2. Character Profile Poster: Ask students to create a poster or character web with pictures and keywords that describe their chosen character. The web can include aspects like physical traits, feelings, actions, and motivations.

13. Literary Circles: Divide students into small groups and assign roles (like the summarizer, the questioner, the connector, etc.). This promotes discussion and a deeper understanding of characters and events.


Our (semi-formed-at-this-point) Conclusion

As a team that focuses on creating systems, tools, training, and supports to help optimize each teacher’s effectiveness and efficacy in the classroom, we are ALWAYS interested at cutting through the hype of new methods and strategies for helping teachers grow in their practice.

Would we recommend newer teachers utilize AI as a means to expand their instructional thinking and activity design for their classrooms? Sure…seems like a decent idea generation source to be balanced with many other things.

What would create that balance?

  • Professional development around how recommendations are generated by AI, the body of knowledge/information in which these suggestions are drawn from and the inherent and documented biases that come with it.
  • Mentorship of veteran teachers that can be called upon with dedicated time and a structure that works for both the seasoned teacher and newer teacher as a means to calibrate the activities more precisely to the age ranges of the students, and to the individual needs and backgrounds of the students being served.
  • An agreement that not all educators need to nor should be expected to rush to adopt the newest and shiniest technical resource or hot new strategy without some consideration given that active exploration and assessment of its effectiveness needs to be ongoing, if not actual research, to guide the degree to which we use these new approaches in classrooms.
  • Sharing amongst and across teachers on what they are collectively finding to be of value by way of strategic prompts, resulting recommendations, and regular adaptations/modifications necessary when regarded by the actual humans who are working daily with the students.

We will leave you with this additional, hopeful “teaching tip” that Chat GPT-4 provide in relation to the ELA exercise above,

“Always remember to provide plenty of positive reinforcement and encourage open discussion. Celebrate the diverse interpretations and insights the students bring, as this will foster a love for reading and literary analysis.”