Sunday, October 22, 2023

Choosing the Right AI Tools for Elementary School Students: A Guide for Parents and Educators

Robot reading a guidebook
In today's digital age, technology plays a significant role in education, and AI tools are becoming increasingly popular in elementary school classrooms. These tools can provide personalized learning experiences, engage students, and offer valuable insights into their progress, but with the plethora of options available, choosing the right AI tools for elementary school students can be a challenging task.
This quick guide is designed to help both parents and educators make informed decisions when selecting AI tools for young learners. There are eight areas to consider. It is important to first understand what each entails, and then decide how to approach it:
  1. Data Privacy and Security
  2. Age-Appropriate Content
  3. Define Learning Goals
  4. Personalized Learning
  5. Engagement is Key
  6. Data-Driven Insights
  7. Accessibility
  8. Balancing Screen Time

Understanding the Needs of Elementary Students:

Before diving into the wild world of AI-powered education, it's important to understand the unique needs of elementary school students. Children in these formative years require a balanced approach that combines digital resources with traditional learning methods. The AI tools you select should, most importantly, align with the age and developmental stage of the children. Doing the planning work ahead of time would save lots of valuable time later on.

1. Data Privacy and Security (Do not underestimate the importance of this!!!):

  • For Educators: Familiarize yourself with the AI tool's data privacy policies and security measures. Ensure that student data is handled in compliance with educational standards. Remember that failing to comply with such policies can be detrimental to your job. I strongly recommend you share any platform you wish to use with your IT department and get approval from them.
  • For Parents: Verify that the tool prioritizes data privacy and security, keeping your child's information safe. Read reviews and get recommendations on sites such as CommonSense Media and check for endorsements from educational institutions.

2. Age-Appropriate Content:

  • For Educators: Ensure that the AI tool's content aligns with the grade level and curriculum standards you are using. It should seamlessly integrate into classroom instruction. A tool like Minecraft: Education Edition offers an immersive and age-appropriate learning environment for math, social studies, or different creative projects across a variety of grade levels and learning objectives.
  • For Parents: Verify that the content is suitable for your child's age and grade. The tool should provide a fun and educational experience. Platforms like Duolingo offer child-friendly language learning activities for different age groups.

3. Define Learning Goals:

  • For Educators: Identify specific curriculum objectives and areas where students need additional support. Consider how AI tools can align with classroom learning goals. For instance, in mathematics, a tool like Zearn Math can be tailored to your curriculum needs, helping students grasp foundational math concepts.
  • For Parents: Determine your child's learning needs and academic challenges. Choose AI tools that complement classroom instruction and cater to your child's unique strengths and weaknesses. Tools like ABCmouse for early learners and BrainPOP / BrainPop Junior offer engaging content that supports various subjects. TIP: Ask your child's educators/librarians if they are already subscribed to such platforms, so you don't double-pay.

4. Personalized Learning:

  • For Educators: Look for AI tools that offer personalized learning experiences. Adaptive platforms like DreamBox Learning can adjust content to suit each student's abilities. Personalized learning pathways can help you to differentiate instruction by challenging each individual learner at their own stage, and can potentially save lots of valuable time planning, guiding, and assessing!
  • For Parents: Choose tools that can adapt to your child's learning style and provide content that matches their abilities. Prodigy is an example of a math game that adapts to students' math skills, ensuring an individualized learning experience.

5. Engaging Platforms:

  • For Educators: Ensure that the AI tools you choose are engaging and interactive during in-class or remote learning. Gamified content and interactive elements can help maintain interest. Tools like Minecraft: Education Edition create a fun, engaging immersive learning experience.
  • For Parents: Look for tools that make learning enjoyable for your child and can keep your child motivated and eager to explore. Look for those with gamified content or interactive features that keep them motivated and eager to learn. Khan Academy (or Khan Academy Kids) offers a fun and interactive way to explore subjects like math and reading. *** The AI-Guide option is currently available only in the US.
6. Data-Driven Insights:
  • For Educators: Select AI tools that provide detailed reports on student performance. Use these insights to inform instruction, differentiate learning, and address specific needs. Platforms like IXL Learning offer comprehensive reports and provide valuable data insights for educators.
  • For Parents: Consider tools that give you a clear picture of your child's progress and understand where they excel or require additional support. The math site Times Tables Rockstars provides valuable data that can help you assess their math facts understanding and fluency.

7. Accessibility:

  • For Educators: Consider the appropriateness of the tool to your learners and ensure it can be seamlessly integrated into lessons. Google Classroom has new AI-powered features and provides accessibility for both educators and students.
  • For Parents: Choose AI tools that can be used on both home computers and mobile devices (and make it suitable for both in-school and at-home learning). Most of the tools nowadays are designed to work on various platforms and devices, but it's still a good idea to double-check.

8. Balancing Screen Time:

  • For Educators and Parents: It's crucial to strike a balance between screen time and other off-screen activities. Any digital tools should complement traditional teaching methods, not replace them entirely. Encourage learning from nature, physical activity, and face-to-face interactions.
  • For Educators: Encourage students to balance AI tool usage with other educational activities and classroom interactions. Stress the importance of moderation and responsible screen time use.
  • For Parents: Set reasonable limits on screen time and promote physical activity, reading, and social interactions as essential components of a well-rounded education.
I hope these guidelines will help you make well-informed decisions when choosing AI tools for your students or child. The right digital tools should enhance the learning experience, engage children, and provide valuable insights into their educational journey.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.
In the next blog post, I will share a list of some of my favorite AI-powered educational tools. I hope you find those useful as well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

AI Tools for Elementary School Students- The WHAT and WHY

This image was created using the AI image generator Bing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) used to be a concept reserved for scientists, tech experts and software engineers, but that's a thing of the past. Since the release of ChatGPT to the general public, a wide range of AI tools for all types of users have been created, covering almost every aspect of our daily lives.

An increasing market of AI tools is the education field, and some fantastic tools are now making their way into classrooms everywhere, offering exciting opportunities even for our young learners, and they are changing the way children interact with technology and learn. It is important to learn about how exactly these tools are enhancing our offerings and at the same time to be mindful of the lack of regulation and privacy issues.

In this blog post, I will share some basic information about what are AI tools for students, their benefits, and what to be cautious of when introducing AI to our students. In the next posts, I will share how we could go about selecting AI-based educational tools, and finally, I will share some great tools I have been exploring and using with my students. I hope you find this blog series useful.

What are AI Tools for Students?

AI tools for students are software or applications that utilize artificial intelligence to enhance the learning experience. These tools can be used across various subjects across the curriculum. They often incorporate features like personalized learning, interactive lessons, and adaptive assessments. Some AI tools for elementary school students are designed for in-class use, while others are accessible online for remote learning.

Benefits of AI Tools for Elementary School Students:

  • Personalized Learning: AI can adapt to each student's individual learning pace and style. This ensures that students receive lessons and exercises that match their abilities, allowing them to progress at their own speed. (Examples: Khan Academy, TTRockStars)
  • Instant Feedback: AI tools provide immediate feedback, helping students understand their mistakes and correct them. This real-time response can boost students' confidence and encourage a growth mindset. (Examples: Prodigy, IXL)
  • Engaging Content: AI-powered apps often come with interactive and gamified content that makes learning fun. Students are more likely to stay engaged and motivated when lessons are enjoyable. (Examples: Minecraft Edu Edition, Canva)
  • Accessibility: Many AI tools are accessible online, enabling students to continue learning outside the classroom. This is especially valuable for homework, independent study, or remote learning scenarios. (Examples: DuoLingo, Read&Write for Google Chrome)
  • Data-Driven Insights: Teachers and parents can monitor students' progress and identify areas where they may need additional support. AI-generated data can inform educational strategies. (Examples: Cognii, IXL)

Possible Drawbacks and What to Be Cautious Of:

  • Quality Control: Perhaps the most important drawback is each tool's overall educational value. Not all AI tools are created equal. Some may offer low-quality or inaccurate content/feedback, have inconsistent performance, or lack pedagogical rigor. Some apps and tools marketed as educational may in reality be poorly designed, which would lower the quality of education we intend to provide to our students. Do your research and try tools on your own before you introduce them to your students!
  • Over-Reliance: Another concern is that students may become overly reliant on AI tools and neglect time-tested effective "traditional" learning methods. It's important to strike a balance between technology-based and conventional learning. Some students might become too dependent on AI tools and neglect traditional learning methods like reading physical books or engaging in hands-on activities, which, as a consequence, may cause them to struggle to adapt to non-digital learning environments.
  • Privacy and Data Security: Using AI tools may involve sharing data about students' performance and preferences. Ensuring data privacy and security is crucial, and parents and teachers should be aware of how data is used. There have been cases of data breaches in educational technology platforms, potentially exposing students' personal information. One notable example is the Edmodo data breach, which impacted millions of users.
  • Screen Time: Excessive screen time can have negative effects on children's health and well-being. It's important to set reasonable limits on the use of AI tools (and any digital tool) and encourage physical activity and face-to-face interactions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other reputable institutions, warns about the negative effects of excessive screen time on children, such as sleep disturbances, reduced physical activity, and potential behavioral issues.
Education has been and will continue to change quicker than ever, and so embracing AI tools is just one step in the journey to provide the best learning opportunities for our children and students. I hope this blog series proves to be a valuable resource for both parents and educators, helping you to make sense of and begin navigating the dynamic world of AI tools with confidence. Our children's educational journey is a promising one, and AI tools, if understood and selected with the above in mind, are here to enrich that path. All the best!

Next up: How to properly choose AI tools- a guide for educators and parents.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Weekend Project: Using Poe to Create Your Own Chatbot

I've been using Poe for a few months now. It's basically an AI chatbot app that uses big data from ChatGPT and Claude, and allows you to create your own chatbot (for free!) by creating a filter for specific purposes. I've seen some fun ones like someone who created a "meow chatbot" that replies to prompts with all kinds of cat-like replies. Useless but fun. Other creative examples are the "Talk to a Pirate" chatbot, the Emoji translator app that translates messages into emojis 😏, or even the Japanese tutor that helps you learn Japanese.

Here are a few of the existing bots people created (which can be found and played with on the app itself):

So I decided to try it out on my own. My goal was to create a chatbot that would introduce users to beautiful poetry from around the world. The results- a fun informative chatbot that will share great poetry!

Here I'll walk you through the super simple process of creating your own chatbot:

  1. Download the app
  2. Log in
  3. Tap the "hamburger menu" (those three horizontal lines at the top left corner)
  4. Click "Create a bot"
  5. Give your bot a name (the URL will eventually be, "")
  6. Describe the bot (optional)- What is your bot "specializing in"? You can read description samples above. This was mine: "Find great poetry to fill up your time, space and mood."
  7. Choose a base bot (Claude-instant or ChatGPT)- Read for more information about each below
  8. Toggle to choose if you'd like your prompt (see next step) to be visible to viewers when they use your bot
  9. Create your prompt- This is where you make your bot focus on whatever you choose. See example below.
  10. Create an intro message- This is the initial greeting you will see when you open the chatbot. Depending on your purpose, it could be funny, explanatory, etc. You can also give users options to choose from. Again, see my choices below.
  11. Preview your bot
  12. Review and test
  13. Share with the world!
That's it. Here are some screenshots of my "Your Poetry Bot" chatbot creation:

The different bot bases you can choose from: After experimenting a bit, I chose ChatGPT as my base.

My intro message: "Hi there, I’m here to help you find wonderful poetry. Let’s get started. Would you like me to share a poem based on: 1. Topic/theme 2. Poet 3. Language 4. Other 5. A randomly great poem Please make your selection for the magic to begin."

My prompt: "You are a resource for those who seek to find great poetry from around the world. You like diversity so you offer a variety of poets. You will question users by asking them what type of poetry they would like to read, if they have any preferences (such as theme, poet, mood, region, time, etc). The poem you choose to share must be absolutely fantastic- deep meanings yet contain simple descriptions. Begin by briefly introducing the poet and share one fun fact about him/her."

Additional options (I'd just decide if you want the bot to suggest replies or not):

Finally, a note about choosing a bot:

Overall, according to my research and experience, ChatGPT (from OpenAI) seems to be better when it comes to coding problems, result explanations and general output formatting, while Claude (From Google's Anthropic) is better with creative tasks, following instructions, trivia questions and prompt injections. Also, it seems that Claude is "less likely to produce harmful outputs" and is “easier to converse with.” (from The Verge).

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Reflection: Best Practices in Education: Reading Instruction

Reading Instruction

In this blog entry, I am sharing the summary of a podcast series that examines some of the instructional strategies and tools many educators (including myself...) have been using to teach and assess reading and writing. I must say that listening to this podcast has both shocked and awed me, and I feel it is extremely important to share this with others. To be clear, my goal here is to reflect upon and refine my own practice to more powerfully impact my own students' growth by examining research-based strategies.

Enter Sold a Story...

I begin my dive into reading instruction with an American Public Media 6-episode podcast. It was created, researched, and narrated by Emily Hanford, and is called "Sold a Story". It is basically her research on how children learn to read, how reading is taught, and why some students struggle. To quickly get us on the same page, here are summaries of the six episodes (taken from the author's summaries on Spotify):

  • 1: The Problem: Corinne Adams watches her son's lessons during Zoom school and discovers a dismaying truth: He can't read. Little Charlie isn't the only one. Sixty-five percent of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient readers. Kids need to learn specific skills to become good readers, and in many schools, those skills are not being taught.
  • 2: The Idea: Sixty years ago, Marie Clay developed a way to teach reading she said would help kids who were falling behind. They’d catch up and never need help again. Today, her program remains popular and her theory about how people read is at the root of a lot of reading instruction in schools. But Marie Clay was wrong.
  • 3: The Battle: President George W. Bush made improving reading instruction a priority. He got Congress to provide money to schools that used reading programs supported by scientific research. But backers of Marie Clay’s cueing idea saw Bush’s Reading First initiative as a threat.
  • 4: The Superstar: Teachers sing songs about Teachers College Columbia professor Lucy Calkins. She’s one of the most influential people in American elementary education today. Her admirers call her books bibles. Why didn't she know that scientific research contradicted the reading strategies she promoted?
  • 5: The Company: Teachers call books published by Heinemann their "bibles." The company's products are in schools all over the country. Some of the products used to teach reading are rooted in a debunked idea about how children learn to read. But they've made the company and some of its authors millions.
  • 6: The Reckoning: Lucy Calkins says she has learned from the science of reading. She's revised her materials. Fountas and Pinnell have not revised theirs. Their publisher, Heinemann, is still selling some products to teach reading that contain debunked practices. Parents, teachers and lawmakers want answers. In our final episode, we try to get some answers.

*** Complement this reading with: Emily Hanford’s collected reporting on reading


“Sold a Story” podcast, Episode TK (TK, 2020).

Friday, March 10, 2023

Reflection: Best Practices in Education: Prologue: Why Bother?

Throughout my 20+ year career as an educator, I have had the privilege of working with inspiring educators and receiving professional development from thought leaders in education, psychology, social and cognitive science, technology, and more. However, I recently began questioning some of the "progressive" or "innovative" practices that I have learned, implemented and even taught others throughout my journey.

My reflections on the relationship between "best practices" and "innovation" were triggered by my experience at a forward-thinking educational institution where teacher freedom in teaching and learning was encouraged. Upon receiving my new class in August, I realized that my students were lacking basic skills, such as literacy, self-management, and understanding of processes, which were assumed in other schools I have worked at.

This made me realize that innovation must be defined, agreed upon, planned, and contained to create an institution that pushes boundaries while ensuring our students have the necessary skills to lead a successful life. Why contain innovation? Because the more we innovate, the less we teach what we know works well. Therefore, finding a balance between "Highly Effective" and "Learning Progressive" is essential to continue finding the best ways to serve our students (I wrote about this balance here)

although I am fascinated with the ways in which AI will affect humanity and the field of education in particular, I am going to work hard to go on a hunt for some educators and cognitive scientists who are making it a point to always look for instructional strategies that have demonstrated significant research-based evidence, examine their work, and reflect on my own practice.

I invite you to join me on this journey, and if you have any thoughts, ideas, comments, or suggestions, please share them with me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Joining the ChatGPT Conversation: #1- Limitations***

As an educator, I have always been interested in the ways technology can enhance the classroom experience for students. In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been gaining more attention in the field of education and I have been keen to explore the potential of these tools to support student learning. As I researched more about AI tools, I realized that it is crucial to start by understanding the limitations of these tools before we can fully explore their potential. With this in mind, I decided to re-start my blog writing and share my insights on the topic.

ChatGPT is one such AI tool that has caught my attention. It is a large language model developed by OpenAI that can generate human-like text based on the patterns it learned from the data it was trained on. While it can be a powerful tool for students to generate text, it's important to be aware of its limitations and to use it in a way that is beneficial to student learning.

If you're not sure what ChatGPT is, here is a short introduction:

In this post, I'll be discussing some of the limitations of ChatGPT and how they can be addressed in the classroom.

Issue 1: Data Bias 

"The real risk with AI isn't malice but competence. A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble." - Nick Bostrom, philosopher, and scientist
One of the biggest limitations of ChatGPT is that it is only as good as the data it was trained on. If the training data contains biases, the model will likely reproduce those biases in its output. For example, if a student uses ChatGPT to generate a persuasive essay on a current event, and the model was trained on a dataset that contains a disproportionate number of perspectives from one political party, the essay may contain bias towards that party. To mitigate this, students should be made aware of the potential for bias in the model and encouraged to seek out multiple perspectives on a topic before using ChatGPT.

Issue 2: Lack of Context

"Context is the key to understanding" - Dr. Seuss
ChatGPT is a language model, not a context model. It lacks the ability to understand and interpret the context of a given input, which can lead to inaccuracies or misinterpretations. For example, when students use ChatGPT to summarize a historical event, they may receive a factually correct summary, but it may not be the most relevant or nuanced summary given the context of the event. To address this limitation, students can be taught to consider the context of the information they are using and to fact-check the information generated by ChatGPT.

Issue 3: Lack of Domain Expertise 

"Expertise is the weightless, all-purpose panacea of the sentient" - Douglas Adams

While ChatGPT can generate text on a wide range of topics, it does not have the same level of expertise as a human in any specific domain. Therefore, students may not always receive accurate or detailed information when using ChatGPT for research. For example, when students use ChatGPT to generate a report on a scientific topic, they may receive information that is not entirely accurate or current. To address this limitation, students can be taught to verify the information generated by ChatGPT with multiple sources and to consult subject-matter experts when necessary.

 Issue 4: Creativity 

"The key to creativity is to begin with the end in mind and then never stop" - Dr. Edward de Bono

ChatGPT is based on patterns it learned from the data it was trained on, it can generate text that is similar to examples it has seen before, but it does not have the ability to create something truly new or original. For example, when students use ChatGPT to generate a poem, it might generate a poem that is similar to examples it has seen before, but it will not be something truly unique or creative. To address this limitation, students can be encouraged to use ChatGPT as a tool to generate ideas, but to also use their own creativity and originality to develop their work. 

 Issue 5: Common Sense

"Common sense is not so common" - Voltaire 

ChatGPT is not capable of understanding common sense, it can generate text based on the patterns it learned, but it may not be able to make sense of certain situations which involve common sense reasoning. For example, when students use ChatGPT to generate a story it may not understand the story's plot and might generate something that doesn't make sense. To address this limitation, students can be taught to review the output generated by ChatGPT for logical consistency and common sense reasoning before using it. 

Issue 6: Consistency

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative" - Oscar Wilde
ChatGPT is a statistical language model, it can generate responses based on the patterns it learned, but it might not always give the same answer to the same question. For example, when students use ChatGPT to generate a summary of a text, it might generate different summaries for the same text. To address this limitation, students can be taught to review the output generated by ChatGPT for consistency before using it.