AI can solve teachers’ No. 1 complaintNov 07, 2023 11:12AM ● By Jet Burnham
Elementary school teacher Jill Firkins uses AI tools to reduce time spent planning and increase time spent teaching. (Photo courtesy of Jill Firkins)
Editor’s note: this is part of a series of articles about artificial intelligence in schools.
AI is the solution to teachers’ number one problem, Jordan District Digital Teaching and Learning Administrator Jared Covili said.
“The number one complaint teachers have is they never have enough time,” Covili said. “And with AI, one of the benefits we see is that it provides teachers with additional time to work on what they need to do with students.”
Jordan District Digital Learning Specialist Kasey Chambers said the amount of time AI tools can save teachers depends on how much they are willing to use it.
“It's going to take a little bit of time to figure out where it fits into our workflow, but as teachers get more proficient and keep testing it out and keep being willing to delegate to AI, it's going to be a big part of saving time,” she said. “The minute-to-minute decision making of teachers is exponential, so anything we can do to lessen that and make their jobs easier is a win.”
Chambers highlighted time-saving AI tools at a professional development workshop held in September. She encouraged teachers, administrators and coaches to use AI tools to help customize material, generate lists, brainstorm ideas, improve lesson plans and to help write emails, newsletters, presentations and grants.
“It’s like a thought partner,” she told teachers. “This is going to work with your brain to generate what you would have made and make it in way less time.”
Jordan District provides teachers access to tools such as SchoolAI, which they piloted over the summer. The Digital Learning Department regularly features new tools and tips on their Instagram page, offers training workshops and shares tools and tips with the digital learning coach at every school in the district.
Dan Clark, the digital learning coach at West Jordan Middle School, said his goal is to provide his colleagues with tech tools that reduce their workload.
“We are introducing them to some of these things that lighten the load, because the load for teachers across the country is extremely large, but the load for teachers in Utah is even more so,” he said.
One time-consuming task Jordan District teachers have is transitioning their letter grading systems to standards-based grading. With six to eight units and assessments each quarter, that’s a lot of work for teachers, Clark said. He encourages his colleagues to use AI tools to help break down each unit of study into measurable proficiency skills. With a detailed prompt, an AI assistant can, in less than a minute, generate a basic outline of assessments based on teaching standards.
“Here's this tool that will do a lot of it for you and it makes something overwhelming seem very within reach,” Clark said. “It can shoot out something pretty good and then a teacher with a lot of experience can whittle that down to what they're expecting students to do.”
Clark said first year teachers, who face a greater than normal workload as they build lesson plans and assessments from scratch, can benefit greatly from AI tools.
“I think it takes five years of teaching before you feel like you're a good teacher, and that learning curve is bigger right now because we have a lot more teachers that are coming in on alternative routes to licensure,” Clark said. “I'm hoping that that learning curve can be a little shorter as I help teachers utilize some of these tools.”
Another time-intensive aspect of teaching is differentiation—adapting information to meet a range of abilities. Chambers said it can be a lot of work when teachers have a lot of students who all need a slightly different approach to learning the lesson material.
“It’s so much work and sometimes I can’t do it,” she said. “But AI can help do that so easily. I can plan quality, research-based interventions using AI as a tool to be a thinking partner.”
Teachers can make lesson materials more accessible to all students by using AI to read the text aloud, adjust the reading level or to translate it into a student’s native language.
Fort Herriman Middle School teacher Kimberly Mendenhall has been surprised by how quickly AI tools generate content. She and her colleagues used SchoolAI tools to remotely collaborate on a customized digital literacy lesson plan.
“It gave us a lesson plan, and then it was able to, with prompts, give us a worksheet that we could do, and then a ten-question quiz,” she said.
She said the process took just a minute.
Jordan District has been a leader in implementing AI tools, but other school districts and charter schools are finding ways to connect teachers with AI tools. At Providence Hall Middle, a charter school, history teacher Tanya Rauch said when she or her colleagues find a tool that will save them time, they share it with each other.
Rauch, who has a master's degree in technology, regularly uses ChatGPT and MagicSchoolAI to reduce her lesson planning time.
“One of the eighth-grade standards was to compare historians’ interpretations of colonization,” she said. “I don't have time to pull up ten historians—hey, Chat GPT!”
West Jordan Middle School Principal Eric Price, a proponent of AI in education, said saving time is the purpose for developing new technology.
“Technology has always existed to increase our abilities to do other things,” Price said. “We don't go and plant each crop individually like they used to do back in the 1800s. We have machines that will allow us to do that, which then allows us to do other things.”
The “other things” teachers do with the time they save is spend more time interacting with students, Jordan Hills Elementary teacher Jill Firkins said. Before she began using AI tools, she used to spend hours searching through resources for lesson and activity ideas. Now, she uses AI-powered searches to find and customize materials for engaging lessons in a fraction of the time. The time she saves is spent directly teaching her students and providing them with more in-depth feedback.
“Whether it's before school or after school or helping students that are struggling with homework, I can give that planning time to them,” she said.
Chambers said while giving the extra time to students is good, teachers should also take some of that time back for themselves for the sake of their mental health wellness and work-life balance.
“Maybe I'm not working two to three hours a night grading because AI helps me get it done in 20 minutes and I can give that time back to my family, and that's okay, too,” she said. “Any benefit to a teacher making their job easier, making it more effective, is a benefit for students at the end of the day.” λ