Tim Ballaret previously had aspirations of becoming a stockbroker, but in the end, he discovered that he could find joy by assisting high school kids in south Los Angeles in comprehending how mathematics and science are relevant to their day-to-day life. But because it takes a lot of effort to create compelling materials for the classroom, he started experimenting with several generative AI technologies last spring.
Ballaret decided to give MagicSchool, a platform for K-12 educators that is powered by OpenAI’s text generation algorithms, a go after receiving recommendations to do so from friends and influential educators on social media. The true test came when he used MagicSchool this summer to create a year’s worth of lesson plans for a new applied science and engineering class. He used it for activities such as producing arithmetic word problems that match the interests of his pupils, such as Taylor Swift and Minecraft. However, the real test came when he utilized it.
“Taking back my summer helped me be more refreshed for a new school year.” “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.”Tim Ballaret
In recent times, the escalating use of AI tools by students has garnered considerable attention, in part due to pervasive allegations of cheating. However, a recent survey of 1,000 students and 500 teachers in the United States by the study app Quizlet revealed that more teachers than students use generative AI. Early this year, a survey conducted by the Walton Family Foundation discovered a similar pattern, and that approximately 70% of Black and Latino teachers utilize technology on a weekly basis. As more companies adapt generative AI to assist educators, more instructors like Ballaret are experimenting with the technology to determine its strengths and weaknesses.
Since its launch approximately four months ago, MagicSchool has accumulated 150,000 users, according to its founder Adeel Khan. Initially, the service was offered for free, but a paid version that costs $9.99 per teacher per month will launch later this month. MagicSchool adapted OpenAI’s technology to assist instructors by feeding language models prompts based on Khan’s teaching experience or popular training materials. The startup’s tool can assist teachers in creating worksheets and exams, adjusting the reading level of content based on a student’s requirements, writing individualized education programs for students with special needs, and addressing student behavioral issues. For educators, competing services, such as Eduaide and Diffit, are developing their own AI-powered assistants.
All of these companies assert that generative AI can combat teacher burnout at a time when numerous educators are abandoning the field. According to a recent study by the College of Education at Kansas University, the United States is short approximately 30,000 instructors, and 160,000 of those working in classrooms lack adequate education or training.
The author of the study, Tuan Nguyen, asserts that generative AI is unlikely to solve the issue, which is related to low pay, poor working conditions, and a perception of a lack of prestige, in addition to working long hours. “AI tools have the potential to save teachers time and help them target and individualize their instruction, but I do not believe they will alter the teacher labor market at this time,” says Nguyen.
We don’t know yet, but many teachers are trying out the technology or learning how to use it. This year, more than 7,000 teachers were trained by the AI Education Project, a charity funded by companies like Google, Intel, and OpenAI, on how AI works and how to use AI-powered tools in the classroom. Alex Kotran, the co-founder of the company, says that teachers most often use generative AI to plan lessons and write emails to parents. In training classes, he finds that many teachers have used generative AI in the past week, but few know tricks like “prompt hacking,” which can help language models give better answers. Kotran says, “Now that AI is available for people to use, it’s important to show, not tell, educators what it looks like and how it can be used well.”
At the Ednovate group of six charter schools in Los Angeles, where Ballaret works, teachers share tips in a group chat and are pushed to use generative AI in “every single piece of their instructional practice,” says Lanira Murphy, senior director of academics. The group has signed up for MagicSchool’s paid service.
During her own AI training for teachers, she has met other teachers who aren’t sure if automating some of their work is cheating or not. Murphy says that it’s the same as getting things from the internet with a web search, but that teachers still need to check it over carefully. “It’s your job to look at it before putting it in front of kids,” she says, and make sure it doesn’t have any bias or content that doesn’t make sense. Ednovate has signed up for the paid version of MagicSchool, even though Murphy says that about 10% of the Ednovate teachers she meets worry that AI will take their jobs and replace them.
Khan from MagicSchool says that some teachers are skeptical of new AI services because old education technology isn’t very good. “Technology has burned this industry over and over again,” he says.
Joseph South, chief learning officer at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), whose backers include Meta and Walmart, says that teachers are used to gritting their teeth and waiting for the latest education technology fad to pass. He tells teachers to look at the new AI tools in a new way. “This is not a passing fad,” he says. “I worry about the people who will try to sit this one out. You can’t avoid AI in schooling.” ISTE recently worked with Code.org and Khan Academy, two education charities, to make a video series called AI 101.
AI is also different from classroom tools of the past because it can bring problems that other software doesn’t have. The Charter School Growth Fund, which helps charter schools open new campuses, set up working groups to guide schools on AI policy after a survey of school leaders showed that AI was their biggest worry. Ian Connell, who is in charge of innovation at the fund, says that schools need to keep an eye on both the benefits of AI tools and the quality of the material they make.