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A Teacher's Guide to Effectively Utilizing AI


After the avalanche of requests following my guide for administrators on implementing AI, I find myself once again at my keyboard. Why, you ask? Well, as history can attest with the infamous gallon milk chugging contest of 2007 (a story for another, perhaps less queasy, time), I am very susceptible to peer pressure. 

Now, let's talk about AI. It feels like it's time for a good old middle school 'DTR' (Define The Relationship) with this ever-present tech. AI's rapid expansion over the last year, elbowing its way into every corner of our lives, has all the subtlety of a teenage boy in the peaks of puberty who knows exactly where your locker is and seems to find their way there in between every period. If AI won't take a hint and back off a little, then it's definitely time for us to define this relationship, middle school style.

You might be in the camp that's harboring a secret tech crush, curious but unsure how to proceed. Or maybe you're on the other end, feeling a bit overwhelmed by AI's relentless advances, reminiscent of that time I hopped on the back of my friend's moped, armed with a giant 'Will you go to prom with me?' banner, and drove back and forth past my crush's classroom window. (Spoiler: She said yes. The teacher, not so much.)

This post is for all the teachers out there who either haven’t taken the AI plunge yet or who dove in but are still floundering to find their footing with this imposing technology.

A teacher dressed as a warrior in a classical painting setting but surrounded by school gear.

Before we embark on our AI journey, let me clear the air: this post isn't about navigating AI with students – that's a topic for another day (stay tuned on my social media for updates ). Instead, let's take a moment to focus on ourselves. Yes, you read that right – it's time we educators get a little bit selfish. This blog is all about making our own jobs a tad easier, a well-deserved respite in our often hectic professional lives.

It's crucial we first familiarize ourselves with AI and its intricacies. Understanding AI from our perspective lays the groundwork for any future discussions about its implementation with students. So, let's start this journey with a focus on personal empowerment and efficiency. After all, to guide our students effectively, we must first equip ourselves with the right tools and knowledge.

Commit to be Literate, Not an Expert

Real talk: this world of AI is so new that even the most self-proclaiming AI aficionado has barely clocked a year of hands-on experience, unless they were in the trenches coding the algorithms themselves. Go easy on yourself. 

Here's the deal for us educators: the world is changing at a pace faster than a caffeine-fueled squirrel, and AI is a big part of that shift. To navigate these uncharted waters for the sake of our students, we don't need to be AI wizards; we just need to be literate enough to make informed decisions. Think of AI literacy as the new 'read, write, and arithmetic' for the digital age.

We're not just teachers; we're curriculum architects in a world where the blueprint changes daily. Getting comfortable with AI is not about mastering it – it's about understanding its capabilities and limitations. This knowledge empowers us to prepare our students for a future where AI is as commonplace as textbooks once were. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get our hands digitally dirty – for our students' sake and our own.

Set a Clear Goal Outside of AI

Here’s a slice of wisdom from a self-taught game developer friend of mine: when diving into something as intricate as game development (or, in our case, AI), you don’t need to know everything there is to know about development before you can get started. Just focus on what you need to know to hit your target. It’s all about setting a goal first, then learning whatever it takes to achieve it. This approach slices through the overwhelming bulk of AI and serves you just the pieces you need.

When I collaborate with schools on AI implementation plans, my go-to recommendation is to aim for shaving off 1-5 hours of non-teaching time each week. This goal is a double-eged sword: firstly, it cuts down the most stressful, time-consuming parts of the job, and secondly, it frees you up to do more of what you actually signed up for – working directly with students and prepping to meet their needs.

Think of it as a surgical strike on the parts of your job that feel like dragging a ball and chain. It’s measurable, achievable, and it zeroes in on those draining, non-teaching tasks we all love to hate. So, grab a notepad and start jotting down the parts of your job that feel like you’re wading through molasses. That’s your AI target list. Let’s see how we can use AI to turn those time-sucks into time-savers.

Choose a Tool

Embarking on your AI journey, I’d recommend starting with something straightforward like a Large Language Model (LLM) – think ChatGPT, Bing AI, and their ilk. These tools are like the Swiss Army knives of AI for educators: versatile, user-friendly, and a great introduction to what AI can do.

Once you’ve got the hang of an LLM and feel like a bit of a digital wizard, you might want to dip your toes into other waters. There's a whole ocean of AI tools out there, each with its unique flavor. But here's the kicker: the skills you develop with your first AI tool are transferable. They're your AI passport, letting you navigate different applications with ease.

To see my personal list of favorite tools, visit my AI session training page here.

Understand AI’s Role

Grasping AI’s role in your teaching toolkit is like figuring out how to best utilize a teaching assistant who's a hidden genius but lacks initiative. Picture this: an assistant brimming with knowledge, yet waiting for precise instructions to unleash their potential. This is how you should view AI - as a tool that's incredibly capable, yet needing your guidance to truly shine.

When you hand over a task to AI without specific, targeted directions, you're likely to end up with output that's either off-base or missing the mark. It's essential to approach AI with the understanding that it requires detailed management. Think of it as guiding a super-intelligent being who's excellent at handling one thing at a time but needs constant steering.

The key here is micromanagement, but not the frustrating kind. It's more like detailed collaboration. You need to be clear and specific about what you want AI to do. The better you define your objectives and the more precise your instructions are, the more likely you are to get the outcome you desire. This approach can lead to a harmonious relationship with AI, where its contributions complement your expertise, leading to results that exceed what either of you could achieve alone.

Mastering the Art of Prompting AI

Here’s a personal insight: I've always believed that I can outwrite any robot (shocking confidence, I know). Whenever I've tried to get AI to handle an entire project, it hasn’t saved me time. Instead, I found myself spending hours editing and reworking the output.

Learning to prompt AI effectively is akin to mastering a dance. It’s a delicate balance of leading confidently while being responsive to your partner’s moves. I've discovered that AI and I work best together when I'm steering the ship as the captain and AI is my first mate, ready to fill in the details and connect the dots.

Here’s a real-life example to illustrate my point: If I were using AI to write this blog, a simple, direct prompt like 'Write a blog post for K-12 teachers on getting started with AI, covering key tips and tricks' would likely churn out a rather uninspired piece. It is estimated that nearly 50% of all new content on the internet is AI-generated. Don't be that person. The world doesn’t need more useless noise, and the internet has plenty of garbage. Even when you apply this to your teaching-related tasks, commit to making something meaningful. You will enjoy it more, you will still save time, and your students are worth it. This requires you.

So, how do you make AI work for you without falling into the trap of blandness? Here's my approach:

  1. Set the Tone with a Reference: Start by giving AI a taste of your style. For instance, I’d say, 'Analyze this sample of my previous blog to match my writing style and voice.' This is a golden rule, whether you're crafting newsletters, emails, or student feedback.
  2. Bullet Point Your Brilliance: My brain works in bursts of ideas, often disjointed but each sparkling with potential. I jot these down as bullet points, as raw and authentic as they come. Then, I instruct AI to weave these into a cohesive narrative, always aligning with the focus of each section. For example: 'Emphasize [FOCUS TOPIC] in this section, drawing from these bullet points...' This method sets a clear path for AI, steering it towards your desired destination.
  3. Continuity is Key: Always show AI what you've written before and after the section you're working on. This helps maintain a consistent flow and tone throughout your piece.
  4. Edit in Real-Time: Don’t wait until the end to start editing. Tweak and refine as you go. This not only improves the quality of each section but also provides AI with updated context, guiding its future responses.
  5. Demand Perfection: Never settle for subpar output. If what AI produces doesn't hit the mark, be explicit about what needs to change. Adjust your approach and prompt as needed. Remember, if the output is off, it's often a reflection of the input.

Approaching AI with these strategies in mind transforms it from a mere content generator to a sophisticated assistant, capable of elevating your work while saving you invaluable time. This is about harnessing AI’s potential to create content that resonates, reflects your voice, and ultimately, makes your job as an educator a bit easier.

 

As we journey through the evolving landscape of AI in education, remember that this technology is not just a fad or a quick fix; it's a powerful ally that, when used thoughtfully, can significantly enrich your teaching experience. By committing to AI literacy, setting clear goals, choosing the right tools, understanding AI’s role, and mastering the art of crafting prompts, you're not just keeping up with the times – you're actively shaping a future where technology enhances human connection in the classroom.

So, take these tips, tailor them to your needs, and watch as AI becomes less of an overwhelming challenge and more of a trusted colleague in your educational journey. Here's to creating a classroom where technology lifts us up, rather than weighs us down, and where our students reap the benefits of our willingness to learn, adapt, and innovate.

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