AI in the Agile Classroom | Jessica Cavallaro | 8 Min Read

March 20, 2023

Artificial Intelligence is on the tip of every educator’s tongue as ChatGPT has suddenly emerged onto the scene. Its ability to be prompted by individual users to create whole essays undermines one of the major assessments and ways of showing knowledge that the education system has relied upon. There have been varied responses, mostly based on fear. The idea that we must ban it or find ways to identify the use of ChatGPT, lets us continue to facilitate the same practices unchanged. While this response is understandable, it is neither feasible nor in the best interests of our students. AI and new technologies are the tools that our students will need to have mastered to be competitive as well as solve complex international and ethical issues. It is an approach to problem-solving that will define their generation.

Our mindset about what learning and education are must change to our students’ point of view and recognize that the world as we know it is shifting quickly. We must become an Agile profession and model that way of thinking for our students. 

Creating Agile Classrooms

While this sounds like an intimidating change that requires billions of dollars and years of restructuring, changes in the classroom can be small and quickly implemented. This is the basis of Agile. Small incremental changes that can be adjusted in real-time help us produce better, more effective, and more efficient outcomes. When we stop thinking about a multi-year curriculum redesign and focus on daily practice, we find that we can tackle this looming issue immediately, without an enormous budget or a slow-moving bureaucracy. Each teacher, administrator, and school can start to make small changes by working within their teams to focus on the AI-proof skills that Agile classrooms offer. There is no need to fear change when we can adjust our mindset to value small incremental shifts as we reflect on student engagement and outcomes. 

Let Go of Anti-Cheating Measures and Small Measures of Real-World Application

Teachers spend a considerable amount of time and classroom resources trying to prevent cheating, as is evidenced in the use of cardboard blinds, rearranged desks, and several versions of the same test. However, if we designed opportunities for authentic application, students would not be able to cheat, and they would benefit from the contextualization of new knowledge. Real-world application in the classroom means students get to apply their learning in a real context, which is essentially a shift in approach from traditional to agile:

  • In an elementary classroom where spelling words are a weekly assessment, students can write a story using all of their words. This allows students to practice writing and spelling as well as show comprehension and develop contextualization in a single assignment. In this assessment, there is no need for rearranged desks or privacy boxes because each student’s story is different.
  • In a middle school classroom, students need to learn the basics of algebra. Instead of a quiz with the same questions using different numbers, students design furniture or create a new recipe. This is how students in the same class period use the new skill or formula that needs assessment but also practice previously learned skills in the context of a real problem.
  • In high school, students need to explore the relationship between world events and understand the consequences of actions. Instead of a test or a take-home essay, ask students to find a similar situation in current events or create a concept map where relationships and power dynamics are visual. These types of assessments have students bring their newly acquired knowledge into their world and help them understand the world around them.

These examples of small changes assess understanding instead of knowledge. They take no more time than the test, essay, or quiz, but help students apply their knowledge, understand the purpose of the lesson, and practice the skills or content in context. Not every application of real-world purpose needs to be a project. This way of assessing students goes far beyond the rote memorization of multiple choice and gives educators a more in-depth understanding of how the student is learning. 

This is a key part of an agile classroom because it prompts students to apply knowledge in different ways. They are not doing repetitive tasks or learning skills and content in a vacuum. Students are developing flexible cognitive models as well as learning how to adapt to change and apply knowledge. Not only does this practice of real-world application help the teacher limit cheating but it also benefits students by modeling the diverse ways new knowledge can be applied. 

Embrace Technology as a Tool

ChatGPT is not the first technology that disrupts education nor will it be the last. In fact, its astonishing skills in writing text will only evolve from here. Imagine what AI can create in the next five years and what that will mean for our way of life! 

It is our duty to embrace these new technologies and teach students how to use them to accomplish their goals rather than pretending these tools do not exist. If we can find ways to integrate new technology into our classrooms, it loses its mystique: it models to our students an agile mindset and helps students find applications for new technology to positively affect their lives. Some disciplinary approaches are:

  • For essays, students can write their own papers in class and then figure out what prompts to enter into ChatGTP for a similar product. Then they compare the two essays to analyze tone, structure, imagery, and more.
  • For history classes, students can fact-check AI-created papers to find false information or build stronger cause-and-effect relationships that the technology cannot piece together. This builds more flexible thinking and encourages the evaluation of facts to build deeper connections in their knowledge.
  • In all levels and classes, ChatGPT can be used as a way to generate questions that encourage higher levels of critical thinking and analysis. To do this, students will have to have an agile mindset and position themselves from a different perspective than usual. Students learn how to ask questions, break down large open-ended questions into smaller questions, and gather information to ask better questions. This is a unique skill set that often gets overlooked in traditional classrooms.

Using AI in the classroom should be implemented in small increments based on reflection. Therefore, the teacher can feel comfortable navigating this new terrain, and students can see the purposefulness of its use. Diving into new ways of learning should always be done with an agile mindset, tested in small pieces, and reflected upon to ensure it is meaningful and impactful. 

Writing is an extremely important skill to help students reflect and think. AI should not replace our writing lessons but can be used as a supplement to help develop critical thinking and analytical skills that students will need with the continued growth of AI in all fields. 

Focus on AI-Proof Skills

We are in the middle of a technological revolution, and we are just now at the tipping point. It is incredibly important to learn new knowledge and even memorize certain key pieces of information. It is still more important that we shift to focus on how we apply that knowledge. As a system, we need to shift from focusing on content to teaching the processes of teamwork, collaboration, and building unique connections. 

In the classroom, this change can happen immediately. Again, through small incremental steps, teachers can make changes that shift the focus from content to showing students how to become independent learners able to find critical information and build creative solutions to complex problems. Two such approaches are: 

  • Kanban: One of the best ways to develop AI-Proof skills in the classroom is by employing a Kanban board to visualize learning. The Kanban board is a tool, which allows team members to see their work and understand the flow. It helps students develop time management and executive functioning skills as well as brings team members together to collaborate. Our students need these skills, regardless of AI. When students from a young age navigate work together, they learn how to listen, have disagreements, reflect on processes, and make well-informed decisions. They develop interpersonal skills that technology cannot automate.
  • Collaborative Teams: Our mindset of what learning or work looks like needs to shift from the traditional setting of quiet classrooms with desks in rows to treating each content area as a lab. This will encourage experimentation with new knowledge and force collaboration. Collaboration is a highly developed skill that needs scaffolding, modeling, and developing in the classroom, especially for our students that may have spent 2 years at home during COVID. Whether students were in person or in distance learning, our current generation of students has experienced technology pushing them apart from each other instead of bringing them together. The skills required for real collaboration are going to need attention and practice to become a normal way of working. 

These two small changes can be made immediately and will impact the depth of learning in any classroom. They are purposeful ways of working that will help students master the curriculum and provide them with opportunities to develop the interpersonal AI Proof skills they will need to navigate life. While the Kanban board and collaborative teams are fundamental to an Agile learning space, they can be implemented in any classroom with a little scaffolding. If students are working through complex problems visually and navigating the dynamics of a team, AI will not be able to replicate that work. It provides students with the chance to understand that technology is a tool and not the ultimate solution to all problems. 

When new technology enters our collective consciousness, it is easy to be intimidated. ChatGPT is the next set of new tools that will fundamentally change the systems that we operate within. It is important to remember that we, adults in schools, are working to prepare generations of students for their future, and their future includes navigating a complex world filled with AI. If we can shift our mindset about how to approach these new tools, it is easy to see how small agile increments can be implemented to adapt to this new technology while maintaining high standards of learning.

You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Jessica Cavallaro for Intrepid Ed News.

Jessica Cavallaro

Jessica Cavallaro is the co-founder of The Agile Mind, which interweaves Agile frameworks into K-12 education. She is passionate about the benefits of project based learning and creating purposeful education to drive innovation through inquiry. She is an advocate for developing systems that give students agency. Jessica earned her Bachelor’s degree at Pace University and Master’s in Education from Mercy College.

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