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Embracing AI in Education: A Thoughtful Journey at Our School

Embracing AI in Education: A Thoughtful Journey at Our School
Tanya Olander

It’s been less than a year since we held our first parent session about Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI). With platforms like ChatGPT seemingly appearing overnight, it’s not surprising that reactions around the world have ranged from skepticism and apprehension to excitement and optimism.

For many, keeping up with GAI advancements since that first parent session may feel overwhelming. The market has been flooded with thousands of new tools, while many existing GAI tools have introduced new features, making GAI easily accessible to anyone.

“The future is here,” observes Don McNamee, SSIS Director of Educational Technology. “With such rapid developments, ensuring that our teachers can guide students in the ethical, creative, and productive use of these powerful tools is critical. As an organization, we’re committed to the thoughtful and intentional implementation of GAI.”

Diverse Perspectives, Collective Learning

The formation of the SSIS AI Council aims to facilitate knowledge sharing among faculty and ensure that questions are addressed in meetings with divisional subcommittees every six weeks (above, Science Teacher Lennox Meldrum, an avid and skilled GAI user, shares a perspective during a High School subcommittee meeting). The AI Council’s mission is to guide SSIS’s strategic integration of artificial intelligence into our educational and operational infrastructure. 

Mr. McNamee shares that the AI Council’s executive leadership is in the process of inviting community members from the corporate sector to join an advisory group to broaden perspectives beyond the educational sphere and engage parents in curriculum development through the lens of AI. 

That learning is best leveraged collectively is a belief held in high esteem by Head of School Dr. Catriona Moran, who, with Mr. McNamee, have also shared their insights and how SSIS is approaching this topic at conferences such as the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) Leadership Conference, the Digitization of Learning Panel at the American Chamber of Commerce in Ho Chi Minh City, and the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) Leadership Conference, to name a few.

Nomer Adona, HS Art Teacher and accomplished AI artist, shares interesting insights during a recent High School AI Council sub-committee meeting.

AI as an Effective Team Member 

Some SSIS teachers have already discovered innovative ways to enhance student learning through GAI. Their curiosity about how education will evolve with AI has led them to actively explore and apply new practices within their teaching units. 

High School English Teacher Sara Refai encourages students to analyze how different generative AI platforms respond to the same prompts to understand system biases. Another powerful practice Ms. Refai teaches her students is a method to uncover what they "do not yet know that they don’t know." Sound complicated? Ms. Refai explains: “Sometimes, before you know a topic, it can be hard to know which questions to ask and where to begin. Using a prompt like ‘What counterarguments, alternative framings, and perspectives might exist for the following thesis statements?’ turns AI into an effective team member for students.”

Sara Refai wants students to know how GAI can be used as an effective team member and to also understand the biases within systems.

In Middle School, teachers Andrew Ward and Blaire Hart teach students an AI prompting framework, which the students then use to access challenging texts and build their academic vocabulary in both English and their chosen Modern World Language or home language. “This approach opens up new learning opportunities for students who are not yet at a certain reading level but need to grasp a chapter’s content, while also showing that we value their culture and language,” explains Ms. Hart, an MS EAL Teacher.

MS Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Andrew Ward, pictured here, and EAL Teacher Blaire Hart use AI to help students build academic vocabulary.

"Although children under 13 are legally restricted from using ChatGPT, companies like Magic School AI and School AI provide tools for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12," shares ES Instructional Coach for Technology, Danai Maramba, who helps teachers evaluate and explore ethical uses of AI. In Grade 3, for example, students used the Magic Media app in Canva to generate characters and scenes for story books they wrote and published, learning vital skills in generating and engineering prompts. 

Grade 3 students used Canva's Magic Media app to create scenes for their stories, which were later published as a physical book.

Operationally, there are also carefully implemented uses of GAI. For example, our IT/ Educational Technology department is using it to support coding in the day-to-day service management of some of our systems development. 

Preparing Students for the Future

“As we equip students for a future that is already here,” shares Mr. McNamee, “maintaining academic integrity is foundational to everything we do. It’s crucial for schools to actively educate students and faculty on the effective and ethical uses of these tools and their underlying principles.” SSIS is introducing a new high school course next school year, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” which will, in part, give students a comprehensive view of how society manages AI.

Top educators agree that as learning evolves, skills in questioning, literacy, and critical thinking are more important than ever. At SSIS, our commitment to nurturing these abilities in our students remains steady. 

As we continue our thoughtful journey of integrating AI, we will be guided by a spirit of collaborative learning and leveraging resources within our community and beyond.  

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