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How are our Upper School teachers (Grades 5-8) using AI to enrich student learning?

Katelyn Wellnitz with students

In Social Sciences, AI allows teachers to use primary documents in a way that is accessible to students. 

George Washington’s farewell address from 1796 is a tough read. 

“It’s written in old time-y English, not necessarily the most accessible or easy to interpret. It’s also a very formal speech,” explains Social Sciences Teacher Katelyn Wellnitz. 

As part of a unit on U.S. foreign policy, students were reading and citing portions of George Washington’s address, with the help of AI. Using MagicSchool AI, a free resource designed specifically for schools, Katelyn used the Text Leveler tool to rewrite this difficult text for the students. Students had the option to use the original text, the modified version, or both to help them understand the content of George Washington’s speech. AI effectively removed the barrier that the formal, flowery language put in the way of understanding the content.

Here’s an example of text we popped into the AI Text Leveler, and what it produced:

Katelyn did caution her students that the rewritten text is not something they can quote, as it’s not the original text. “It’s essentially how one might paraphrase the original text,” she explained to her class. She followed that up by having an important conversation about directly quoting versus paraphrasing evidence. Once students were able to understand the general message, they could go back and use the original text and pull out quotes. 

Says Katelyn, “I think it made the text really accessible for students where reading can be a barrier or a challenge.”

When asked whether kids are tempted to write their essays using AI, Katelyn shared, “We have a general conversation about AI any time we’re starting a writing assignment. The goal of the assignment is to see how you write and develop your skills, not how a computer writes or how a tech program can write. There will be time and a place in your life to use AI, but right now you’re not going to be able to judge the quality of AI writing until you develop your own writing skills - understanding what makes for a good paragraph or essay, what makes a good transition. Develop the skills and then use the tool.”

AI in Spanish class bridges the wide range of student fluency

“I have a wide, wide range of skills in my classrooms - from absolute beginners to fluency, which can be challenging.” says Spanish Teacher Carla Wilkins. “Since our curriculum is story-based and novel-based, we can use AI tools to address the needs of our advanced students, alongside the needs of our developing and emerging skills students.”

Carla Wilkins with students

Using MagicSchool AI, Carla can use tools like Text Rewriter to rewrite an entire chapter of a book for the level of each student. She can also create original custom academic content with AI– including embedding grammar points in chapters and novels that students are reading, or generating a text that focuses on an aspect of interest in a chapter, such as unique foods one might encounter while living with a host family or traveling through Spain. 

Before AI, teachers were limited to the standard resources that come with a novel.  While still useful, these resources are not differentiated for fluency levels, and they focus primarily on helping students understand the content.  With AI, Carla can go further, creating targeted vocabulary lists for a topic, or creating games that help with comprehension and skill-building. Says Carla, “The AI tools allow me to have students produce more and apply more than just show understanding.” 

Assignment: Write scripts for an episode of Chopped Espana using AI, or not.

Carla is transparent with her students about how she uses AI in the classroom. She is also allowing them to explore AI for a cooking project that mimics TV’s Chopped in Spanish.   

Students were given four options for how to develop their TV script:

1) Begin and complete writing the script in Spanish, 

2) Begin by writing in English, so that your imagination is not limited by the Spanish you know, and then translate this into Spanish using AI. This approach teaches students a lot of the words, phrases, and syntax that they normally use. 

3) Use a scaffolded script provided by Carla, for each section of the script, or 

4) Use AI, starting from scratch, telling it what you want it to write.

Carla shared that students were “all over” Option 4 in the beginning. But only one out of ten groups, after exploring that possibility, ended up using it. They realized that in order to communicate with AI and get an AI to do what you want is a labor-intensive process, and additionally it can limit their creativity.

Says Carla, “It’s a wonderful tool but it does require you to know exactly what you want the end product to be.”

“Ultimately, I would like for them to be able to use AI that supports the learning, but doesn’t cheat them out of learning,” says Carla. She tells her students, “You can use the tool to support your process, as opposed to replacing the process.”

We discovered that AI also generates (bad) teacher jokes. :)

With a myriad of teacher tools available, Magic School AI also generates Teacher Jokes. You be the judge… funny, or not so much? 

Why was the equal sign so humble? 

Because he knew he wasn't less than or greater than anyone else!

What did one raindrop say to the other on a rainy day?

Two’s company, three’s a cloud.

Teacher jokes aside, our faculty are continuing to evaluate the potential for how AI can support student learning–from developing student-friendly rubrics, to expanding student resources, and providing individualized support.

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