Teachers Embrace Generative AI

Teachers Embrace Generative AI

Introducing MagicSchool: A Powerful AI Tool Transforming Education

Becoming a stockbroker was once Tim Ballaret’s dream, but he found a different kind of fulfillment as a high school teacher in south Los Angeles. However, creating engaging class materials was a time-consuming task. This spring, Ballaret decided to experiment with generative AI tools, and that’s when he discovered MagicSchool.

Friend recommendations and influential teachers on social media led Ballaret to try MagicSchool, a tool for K-12 educators powered by OpenAI’s text generation algorithms. He used it to create math word problems tailored to his students’ interests, like incorporating topics such as Taylor Swift and Minecraft. However, the true test came when he used MagicSchool to outline a year’s worth of lesson plans for a new applied science and engineering class over the summer.

“Taking back my summer helped me be more refreshed for a new school year,” Ballaret says. “When I’m not spending so much time at home doing these things, I’m able to spend more time with my family and my friends and my wife so I can be my best at work, instead of being tired or rundown.”

While students’ use of AI tools has received intense attention lately, mainly due to accusations of cheating, a recent survey conducted by studying app Quizlet revealed that more teachers use generative AI than students. A similar pattern was found in a survey by the Walton Family Foundation, which found that approximately 70 percent of Black and Latino teachers use the technology weekly. With more companies adapting generative AI to assist educators, teachers like Ballaret are experimenting with the technology to discover its strengths and how to avoid its limitations or flaws.

Since its launch approximately four months ago, MagicSchool has garnered an impressive user base of 150,000 users, according to founder Adeel Khan. Initially offered for free, a paid version costing $9.99 per month per teacher will be launching soon. MagicSchool has successfully adapted OpenAI’s technology to assist teachers by providing prompts based on best practices informed by Khan’s teaching experience and popular training materials. The tool can aid teachers in creating worksheets and tests, adjusting reading levels based on student needs, writing individualized education programs for students with special needs, as well as offering advice on addressing behavioral issues. Competing services, such as Eduaide and Diffit, are also developing their own AI-powered assistants for educators.

All of these companies claim that generative AI can combat teacher burnout during a time when many educators are leaving the profession. In the US alone, there is a shortage of about 30,000 teachers. According to a study by Kansas University’s College of Education, 160,000 teachers currently in classrooms lack adequate education or training.

Although generative AI may not be the ultimate solution to alleviate the teacher labor market crisis, it offers time-saving benefits and the potential for individualized instruction. AI tools can save teachers time and help them target and personalize their instruction. However, there are concerns about job replacement and skepticism surrounding the adoption of new AI services among certain teachers.

The AI Education Project, a nonprofit funded by companies such as Google, Intel, and OpenAI, has trained over 7,000 teachers this year on how AI works and how to use AI-powered tools effectively in classrooms. Many teachers are already incorporating generative AI in their lesson planning and communication with parents. However, it’s important to ensure that educators fully understand the technology and its capabilities.

At the Ednovate group of six charter schools in Los Angeles where Ballaret works, teachers use generative AI in every aspect of their instructional practice. They share tips in a group chat and actively encourage its use. This strong endorsement is reflected in their decision to sign up for the paid version of MagicSchool.

However, concerns about automating aspects of teaching are raised by some educators who wonder if it qualifies as cheating. Lanira Murphy, senior director of academics at Ednovate, clarifies that using AI tools is similar to pulling information from the internet with a web search. Teachers must be diligent in reviewing generated content, ensuring there is no bias or illogical content. Despite some skepticism, Ednovate has embraced MagicSchool, acknowledging that AI will play a significant role in shaping the future of education.

Joseph South, chief learning officer at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), urges teachers to embrace AI tools with fresh eyes. He emphasizes the importance of understanding that AI in education is not just another passing fad, but a transformative technology that should not be ignored. ISTE has recently partnered with education nonprofits Code.org and Khan Academy to release an AI 101 video series, further empowering educators with knowledge about AI.

Unlike previous classroom technologies, AI introduces unique challenges. The Charter School Growth Fund, which supports charter schools in opening new campuses, has formed working groups to advise schools on AI policy after surveys revealed that AI technology raised concerns among school leaders. These concerns include understanding the benefits of AI tools as well as monitoring the quality of content generated by these tools.

One significant issue is the potential for bias in the content created by large language models. Past research has shown that such models can generate text harmful to certain groups of people. With students of color making up 90 percent of those attending schools working with the Charter School Growth Fund, the importance of human oversight is emphasized. Human involvement is necessary to ensure that inappropriate content is not presented to students.

Exploring all aspects of integrating AI into schools and classrooms is crucial to ensuring that AI benefits all students. April Goble, executive director of charter school group KIPP Chicago, states that understanding the risks tied to AI integration is vital in ensuring equitable and ethical implementation. AI has historically exhibited bias against the communities they serve, making it essential to approach AI technologies with caution and vigilance.

To address these concerns, the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union for educators, has created a committee to develop best practices for teachers using AI. The committee, set to release guidelines in December, aims to ensure that the benefits of AI can be harnessed effectively while safeguarding accuracy, equity, and accessibility. AI should never replace teachers, but rather augment their abilities with sound regulation and oversight.

While generative AI tools undoubtedly offer benefits, there are important considerations to keep in mind. Vincent Aleven, co-editor of an AI in education research journal and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, expresses concerns about assigning nuanced tasks to language models. Teachers possess a deep understanding of their students, which language models lack. Over-reliance on language models without critical evaluation of their output could be problematic.

Shana White, who leads a tech justice and ethics project at the Kapor Center, emphasizes the need for teachers not to blindly accept what AI tools provide. During a training session with Oakland Unified School District educators, teachers using ChatGPT discovered errors in output, including unsuitable text for a sixth-grade classroom and inaccurate translations of teaching material. Verification and review remain crucial to ensuring the quality and appropriateness of AI-generated content.

Despite some reservations, many teachers have found value in using generative AI tools like MagicSchool. Antavis Spells, a principal in residence at a KIPP Chicago school, highlights how the tool saves him time and allows him to be more present at his daughter’s sporting events. It also enables him to quickly generate content that nurtures a sense of belonging among students.

For instance, just recently, Spells received a text message from a parent asking for a few words for her son’s birthday collage. With a handful of adjectives, Spells responded by creating a custom version of the student’s favorite song. The parent’s emotional response to this personalized gesture highlighted the impact and joy that generative AI can bring to families.

As MagicSchool continues to gain traction and generate positive feedback, KIPP Chicago plans to expand its use among teachers and gather more input from parents. This AI tool represents a remarkable leap forward in education, allowing teachers to optimize their time, deliver personalized content, and foster a stronger sense of connection with their students.

The future of education is undeniably intertwined with the possibilities offered by generative AI. While the technology is not without its challenges and risks, proper implementation, regulation, and teacher guidance can unlock its true potential. As educators embrace this transformative tool, it is essential to remain mindful of the critical role that teachers play in maintaining the balance between technology and the human touch in education.