Skip to main content

West Jordan Journal

Jordan District teachers give AI a try

Sep 11, 2023 01:57PM ● By Jet Burnham

Editor’s note: this is partof an ongoing series about artificial intelligence in schools. 

Jordan School District collaborated with to test and develop an AI tool specifically for use in the classroom.

“We did a summer pilot with 100 teachers, and 100% of the 100 teachers loved it and want to continue it,” Jordan District Communications Director Sandy Riesgraf said.

The original 100 pilot participants quickly became 300 users as teachers spread the word to colleagues about the tool, and once teachers got back to school, they shared the tool with others so that more new users are signing up every day.

Due to participants’ enthusiasm, the pilot was extended and Jordan District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey is looking into ways to provide AI tools for all teachers for the long term.

“I'm excited to embrace new opportunities that can help support the work of teachers and students,” he said. “I think that AI has some big possibilities and I want to be sure that we are providing a responsible option for teachers and students who want to explore this opportunity.”

Jill Firkins, a sixth grade teacher at Jordan Hills Elementary, was excited to participate in the pilot.

“I didn't really know what AI was, I just knew that it was coming, and so I wanted to figure out how I could make it work for me instead of fighting against it,” she said.

She spent the summer exploring the tool’s features.

“Now I'm super duper excited about it, just thinking about all the possibilities,” she said. “I'm just excited that the district is embracing it and will allow it to be used as a tool, because I think it's coming no matter what, and so we can choose how we want to deal with that.”

The SchoolAI platform features tools for teachers, students and administrators. Spencer Campbell, principal at Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School, even came up with ideas for how front office workers can use the technology to streamline their jobs.

One advantage of SchoolAI is that it is aligned with state educational standards. When a teacher asks the AI to generate a lesson plan or group activity, the appropriate grade-level state standards are automatically incorporated into the response.

“Teachers can narrow down to a specific state standard for creative writing prompts, or create these little moments when kids are working with the AI live,” Campbell said.

Other tools pilot participants discovered were ways to quickly assess students and to provide meaningful feedback.

 “The kids are getting instant feedback on their content, their writing, about whether or not they're hitting the specified target by the teacher,” Campbell said. “Ultimately, as educators, that's our goal, to give students feedback as efficiently, accurately and quickly as possible.”

Andrew Holmes, a science teacher at West Jordan Middle School, said the feedback SchoolAI can provide him about student’s comprehension will help him use his time more efficiently.

“I have six classes, all of them with about 34 students in each class, so if I ask all of them to give me a one-paragraph description of what they saw on a science experiment, that means I have 200 paragraphs to read and give meaningful feedback in a timely manner so the kids can learn before we move on,” he said. “And so I don’t think this is going to replace me, this is helping the overworked teacher do what they want to do.”

During the summer pilot, Holmes discovered ways to use SchoolAI to enhance his teaching, develop lesson plans and create interactive activities.

One feature he is excited to use with his students is an interactive forum in which they can have a conversation with the chatbot about a topic within parameters Holmes has specified. The bot can ask questions, adapt the conversation to the students’ responses and assess students’ comprehension.

“It can get deeper with 36 kids in the same amount of time it would take me to get to the same depth with one,” Holmes said. “They’re having personalized conversations with artificial intelligence, basically using a clone of me because I told it what to say.”

Kevin Morrill of said they are developing a tool that will help teachers become overall better teachers.

“Teachers know if you can find ways to keep the students engaged, participating and excited, then learning is increasing, the outcomes and objectives of the day are increasing,” Morrill said.

One teacher used the chatbot to review the elements of mitosis in the voice of SpongeBob Square Pants for young students.

Firkins said using SchoolAI helps increase her creativity, giving her a jumping off point to develop her ideas.

“It's like having an extra teammate that has fresh new ideas and then you can tweak them,” she said.

Another of SchoolAI’s features analyzes students’ responses to prompts to give the teacher a snapshot of their students’ emotional state and readiness to learn. 

“Until this generative AI came out, doing something like that was an extremely manual grading process of reviewing handwritten or open text,” Morrill said. “Most of the time, teachers don't even do that because it takes too long to read all of that information.” 

Pilot participants said the biggest benefit of using AI was the time it saved.

Firkins, who has been teaching for 20 years, said it simplified some of the paperwork and preparation work she does as a teacher.

“The less time I'm at my desk, the more time I'm with kids,” she said. “So it really helps me to focus in more on the learning side and focus on the reasons why I got into the profession and why I love the profession.”

Holmes said there are limitations to using AI. It can’t access live information or recent events.

“There are limitations at the moment, but give it a couple of months,” Holmes said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be in another six months or a year and I feel like I’m with it. The applications are growing faster than we can realize to use them.”

So far, he has been impressed with SchoolAI’s efficiency and accuracy. He asked the AI to organize a semester of lesson plans to teach about 30 different ocean species, which would have taken him about four hours. In just 30 seconds, the AI provided all the information for the lessons and even organized them into weekly themes.

Holmes was pleasantly surprised when he checked the content for accuracy.

 “I’m not just trusting that it’s perfect, but as I was going through it, at least on that example, it was 100% correct,” he said.

Jordan District Digital Teaching and Learning Administrator Jared Covili said the pilot was a good opportunity to ease people’s fears about artificial intelligence.

“Most of the stories people hear about AI talk about how negative it is or how it will impact students and teachers negatively,” he said. “Our experience has been very different from that. AI is going to influence every part of our world and education is no different, and so for us to assume we shouldn’t have this in classrooms, that’s backwards thinking.”

Covili said people worried that Google search and Wikipedia would cause students to cheat until educators taught them how to use them responsibly as tools and not replacements for learning.

Some worry that AI will replace teachers.

“The teacher is not getting replaced by AI, they're just leveraging AI to be a better teacher, to be more prepared when they go in front of the class,” Morrill said. “They use our platform to do a lot of the heavy lifting. They get about 80% down the road using the platform on any given thing and then they can put on their creative hats, their experience, and then bake that into it. So we're seeing more prepared lessons, more prepared courses and units. We actually think that AI has the potential to increase humanity in the classroom by giving teachers more time to connect more deeply with students.”

Another appeal of SchoolAI is that it provides an AI experience that can be controlled by teachers.

“We want to make sure that AI is used responsibly, safely and in a way that supports the learning process, and supports students and teachers so that it doesn't take anything away, but adds to that experience,” Riesgraf said.

Morrill said there are protections against cheating written into the programming. Students can use SchoolAI’s writing companion as a coach, but can’t trick it into writing their essay for them.

“The writing companion will help them with sentence structure, writer's block, and be a companion through the writing process in a way that complements the learning process, not circumvents it,” Morrill said.

This summer’s collaboration with Jordan District is the first time, an American Fork company which launched last year, has worked with an entire district. Pilot participants, which included teachers and administrators at every level, gave honest and frank feedback to the SchoolAI program engineers. Their comments helped influence and shape the tool into what they needed and wanted, which resulted in a better product, Morrill said.

“Week after week, we were just shaping the way AI in the classroom is going to look,” Morrill said. λ