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Herriman Journal

AI gaining traction as a mental health tool

Feb 05, 2024 02:52PM ● By Jet Burnham

AI tools can benefit students who are frustrated or shy. (Image created by Firefly Adobe AI)

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

What teacher can determine the mood of each of their students within the first few minutes of class? A teacher who uses AI tools.

Jordan School District has provided their teachers with SchoolAI, a platform which not only helps them address students’ academic needs but also their social, behavioral and mental health needs as well. With SchoolAI’s bell ringer tool, teachers set up a chatbot with specific parameters to engage personally with each student. It asks what they ate for breakfast, how they feel about what they are learning, or what they remember about yesterday’s lesson. On the teacher’s monitor, the students' answers are color-coded according to mood and tone.

“The teacher is sitting there, kind of like in the command and control center on their laptop,” Kevin Morrill of SchoolAI explained. “They can see a kind of heat map and emoji showing how the class is feeling. At a glance, teachers can immediately see their entire class's feelings within the first few minutes of coming to class.”

Jordan School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey said, “SchoolAI helps triage where teachers are needed most in that moment.”

Valley High School teacher Graham Bany said the color-coded visual indicators alert him when a student types something off-base or worrisome.

“So I can go and actually check in one-to-one with that kid and give them the support that they need,” he said.

Jordan Hills Elementary school teacher Jill Firkins said it helps her know when something may be affecting a student’s mood or ability to focus on learning.

“I had a student who mentioned in a science chat with SchoolAI that their dog had died,” Firkins said. “It gave me a heads-up and I was able to check in with that student.”

Godfrey said one of the benefits of the tool is it helps teachers to be aware of how their students feel about their learning.

“If a student feels confident and curious, a lot of learning can take place; if they're frustrated and confused, that will block learning,” Godfrey said. “So understanding a student's disposition toward learning and how they feel about their own progress is an important aspect of what SchoolAI can offer.”

The interface also allows shy or easily embarrassed students to ask a question privately instead of speaking up in front of their peers.

“In the past, you may say to students, ‘Work on this assignment and raise your hand if you need help,’” Godfrey said. “Well, what that says is, ‘Raise your hand if you'd like to signal to the whole class that you're struggling.’”

Kimberly Mendenall, a computer science teacher at Fort Herriman Middle School, said the AI tools in Adobe Express have been beneficial for students who struggle with shyness or anxiety. Instead of reading their report in front of their peers, they have the option to use AI tools to easily create an animated character to present their material.

“It allows students to have that freedom of not feeling like they are personally being seen, but their voice is still being heard,” she said.

Bany said it is common for some high school students to feel uncomfortable contributing to class discussions.

“We all know that kids will not speak up in the classroom all the time,” he said. “Some of the kids— especially the ones that feel wronged or feel hurt or disenfranchised, or not a ‘cool kid’ or ‘popular kid’—are sometimes afraid to actually use their voice because they're afraid of that retaliation—even just verbally or nonverbally—from those people in those spaces.”

Bany and his journalism students used AI tools to create a class mission statement. Each student contributed their ideas privately and AI crafted a statement that incorporated everyone’s ideas.

“Had we not done it that way, some kids may have never actually contributed or tried to say something or really advocated for the thing that they felt,” Bany said. “So what it does is actually allows them to be a part of the process instead of hoping to not be noticed during the process.”

And because all the students contributed to, edited and personalized the statement, they all feel ownership of it.

“Our classroom culture has taken a dramatic shift because they wrote the rules, it was all of their ideas anyway, and so they're just being held to their own expectations and standards,” Bany said.

AI tools are also being used in school counseling centers to meet students’ mental and social health needs. Kip Webster and Sierra Dickson, both licensed social workers working at Mountain Ridge High School, use a metrics program with AI features to assess student’s levels of anxiety, depression, overall happiness, optimism, grit and their feelings about school. The AI collects the data, provides a general analysis, identifies areas of concern and then suggests videos that would be helpful for the parents of the struggling child.

Dickson said as the metrics program gathers information from students, they can monitor the effectiveness of treatments.

“Eventually, we will be able to see not only how they're doing now, but also be able to measure if meeting with a therapist in school or in a group therapy setting is benefiting them,” she said.

To streamline the assessment method and provide coping strategies for students, both Dickson and Webster have set up a DonorsChoose project to acquire iPads.

They believe the use of iPads, which students are already comfortable with, will help them learn how to utilize technology tools to improve their mental health.

“With a lot of kids, their anxiety is school-based, and so they're still in school when they come in and talk to us, and so they're still pretty amped up,” Webster said. “So there's some apps that we could use through the iPads—like the Calm app, the Headspace app, or paint by numbers, things like that—to help them just slow down and relax.”

As school faculty members utilize AI technology tools to improve their students’ behavior and mental health, they also acknowledge its effect on their own mental well-being.

“I unequivocally credit AI with 100% saving a lot of my sanity as a teacher,” Bany said. “It automates hours of work that I would do a week into minutes that I can then take and work with in the different ways that I need to. So it saves all of my sanity, all of my time. It helps me fill in the gaps of my own ability—not for lack of ability—but lack for availability.”

Amber Saffen, an engineering and robotics teacher at JATC, said AI tools that digitize resources and reduce monotonous work have reduced the workload and the stress of teachers, especially new teachers, who, according to a KSL report, have a 45-50% turnover rate within their first five years.

“Everyone knows starting to become a teacher is a lot of work—it's a hard profession to jump into,” Saffen said. “And so to have them say, ‘Hey, here's some more resources to help you,’ is going to help with teacher burnout a lot.” λ

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