In this episode, we are joined by Aaron Maurer, STEM Lead for multiple school districts in Iowa. Aaron helps us unpack artificial intelligence (AI) and how this growing area of technology can be leveraged by educators and school systems to not only improve workload efficiencies but also take teaching and learning to the next level.
Working with an AI shouldn’t be about helping you do less work or helping you produce more work. It should be about helping you achieve better. And the way that we do that is by adding our own human abilities on top of the AI response.
Aaron Maurer, from his presentation, “Unlocking Professional Potential With ChatGPT”
- AI in the K–12 Classroom (article collection)
- Canva, a Versatile Creation Tool (podcast episode)
- Khanmigo, a Personal Tutor and Teaching Assistant (podcast episode)
- Preparing Students for an AI World (podcast episode)
- AI and Education, with Wren Hoffman (podcast episode)
- AI Prompt Engineering (podcast episode)
More Than Technology, It’s About Humanity
Our guest, Aaron Maurer, says, “AI is on the tip of all our tongues, but I think it’s really bringing to light some bigger issues of humanity in education that maybe we have glossed over in the last decade or so, and so while I love technology, I think it’s really getting at the core of humanity in a lot of good ways.” This amplification of our humanity can take many forms. It might mean improving the efficiency of administrative tasks to free up more time to work with others, especially students. This might involve simplifying interactions with technology to shorten the time it takes to learn a new system and to get to the outputs more quickly. It might mean refining our unique voice as communicators or to help us more effectively support a wide array of diverse learners in our classrooms. Regardless of how we end up using artificial intelligence, Aaron suggests, “We’ve got to rethink our approach, both as professionals and how we deliver instruction.”
Tune in to this episode as Aaron counts down his top ways for educators to use AI. The following are a few highlights from this episode:
- About Our Guest: Aaron Mauer is the STEM Lead for 21 school districts in Iowa. He helps expand STEM, computer science, authentic learning, and purposeful play into K–12 classrooms. Aaron is also an author and developer of professional development opportunities. He hosts his own podcast, Living On The Edge of Chaos. Aaron describes himself as “a passionate educator” who loves “nerdy stuff,” like Lego and Minecraft.
- Fear of the Unknown: “I think a lot of it is short-term fear, meaning that these tools, at the time of this recording … it’s the worst they’re ever going to be … so I think some of these short-term fears will be resolved in due time. It doesn’t mean they’re not warranted and needed. It doesn’t mean there isn’t space for conversation.”
- Improved Efficiencies: “We spend more time doing managerial meeting work than we do actually teaching,” points out Aaron. By improving efficiencies with these duties, educators can focus more on human interaction time with others. Offloading some of this also can have positive impacts on mental health and teacher burnout—things Aaron identifies as being “much bigger than AI.”
- Data Analysis: By having AI help sort through large amounts of data, we can potentially speed up this process and minimize personal bias. Aaron suggests that we ask, “What is it that we’re not seeing?” He acknowledges that our current system is often not very efficient. He says, “By the time that we’re actually ready to do something with the data, that data is irrelevant because the kids have already grown and moved. . .”
- Thought Partner for Idea Generation: Large language models are great at brainstorming, and educators can leverage this to help both themselves and students get ideas.
- Avoiding Miscommunication: “I think 99% of problems in life, particularly in education, come down to miscommunication,” says Aaron. “The system has so many layers to it. I don’t think it’s anyone’s particular fault.” To begin remedying this, AI can help educators refine their communication and make it better.
- 80–20 Principle: It’s important that educators don’t use AI to the point that they lose their individual voices. Aaron advises asking, “How do we still make sure that the majority of the thoughts are our own?” How can we ensure that 80% of our communication is still our unique selves, with 20% AI polish on top?
- Rethinking Things: Aaron believes, “We’ve got to rethink our approach, both as professionals and how we deliver instruction, and that mindset is going to take some time, but it can actually make your life a lot easier if we can lean into these a little bit more.” He acknowledges, “It’s a disruption, but we’ve had these disruptions time and time again.”
- An Opportunity to Go Deeper: “We can dive deeper into thinking,” says Aaron. “We can get to those depths of knowledge . . . faster because we’ve now got some abilities to be able to move through some of that lower-level stuff quicker to get to those spaces, and that’s what I’m excited about.”
- Improve Creativity: If used well, AI can open new opportunities for creativity. This includes having a powerful brainstorming partner, capturing ideas for future interaction, and boosting us to new levels. Aaron says, “This combination of human intelligence and artificial intelligence can push us to new levels that we previously were not able to do in schools.”
- A Place to Start: Identify the space you currently work within and find a tool that fits that space. Depending on which platform you typically engage with, you might choose Bard (Google), Bing (Microsoft), or ChatGPT (OpenAI). Then, start putting in prompts and experimenting with the tool you’ve chosen.
- It’s About the Human: Aaron says, “The human is the most important. It’s at the center of all this work. We’re not going to be replaced as educators. We’re actually more needed now than ever before, and that human pedagogy is going to be more vital regardless of how quickly the AI rapidly changes.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What do you currently know about artificial intelligence?
- What worries you about AI?
- What excites you about AI?
- How might you use AI to become more efficient and save yourself time?
- How might you use AI to help you communicate better?
- How might you use AI to improve creativity?
- What is a good place for you to begin (or continue) your AI learning journey?