3-12, Computer Science, Teaching Tools

Leveraging AI for Learning with ChatGPT or Canva

One of the top 4 most visited posts on my blog this year has been, “AI Generated Poetry.” To say that artificial intelligence attracts interest, no matter the motivation behind that curiosity, would not be an understatement. And, if you’ve been active on social media lately — especially Twitter and TikTok — you will see that there is a new tool out there that will definitely be a major game changer in education. It’s called, “ChatGPT,” and it is for us to decide if it will be our doom or salvation.

ChatGPT is currently free, but you need to sign up to use it. For that reason, I haven’t tried it yet. I like to sit back a little bit and observe the braver pioneers when I hear about something this powerful. Is it too good to be true? How much data will it collect from me? In addition, it turns out I already subscribe to something that includes a tool quite similar to ChatGPT — Canva. (Unfortunately, Canva for Education users do not have this access at the moment, but Twitter conversations seem to reflect that it may be an option in the near future.)

Let’s talk first about what these specific AI tools do (ChatGPT and Canva’s Magic Write option in Canva Docs). They can basically write anything you ask them to, in very coherent but generic language. I’ve seen people demonstrate lesson plans, recipes, and social media content. And when I say, “coherent,” I mean eerily human-like. Here are examples of some of the responses I received from Canva’s Magic Write (my prompts are in bold font):

Example of AI Responses from Canva’s Magic Write Tool in Canva Docs

If you have any Canva Plan other than Canva for Education, you should be able to create a new Canva doc, click on the “+” sign, and choose “Magic Write” to test this out for yourself. You can see a quick demonstration below:

From what I’ve seen demonstrated, ChatGPT has similar abilities. If you go to this page, you can see some of the limitations of ChatGPT, and this one will give you the lowdown on using Canva’s Magic Write.

It’s no wonder that some educators who have seen these tools in action are concerned. ELA teachers are worried their students will utilize the service to respond to essay prompts and even computer science teachers wonder how their students will ever learn to code correctly because — guess what — ChatGPT can find errors in your programming, too.

Like any technology these AI tools can be used for nefarious purposes — or for good. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to teach students the value of ethics and how to evaluate information. Forbidding students to use AI is just going to result in a game of Whack-A-Mole as they keep attempting to outwit us and we keep trying to eradicate the use of AI for “cheating.”

Matt Miller (@JMattMiller) recently published a thread on Twitter that describes 20 ways that you can use ChatGPT to help you “teach/learn”:

For a more in-depth look at ChatGPT, I also recommend Matt’s blog post.

As you can see from Matt’s suggestions, there are ways that AI can make educator’s lives easier, and make learning more interesting. I think that we need to be aware of the limitations and potential abuses, while also taking advantage of the benefits such tools can bring.

Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-12, Problem Solving

Let it Snow During Hour of Code!

It’s Computer Science Education Week (12/5-12/11), which means it’s time to do an Hour of Code with your students. I still remember when I first tried it with mine, and I was super worried it would be a complete disaster. I did not know how to code, so how could I facilitate a session of it? However, the Hour of Code tutorials are so helpful that I found myself just as engaged as the students — and we all celebrated whenever we figured out how to solve glitches in our coding.

Since then I’ve dabbled more in coding, and the Hour of Code website has become even better with searchable tutorials that you can filter by grade level, device, and ability level. Of course, there are also “unplugged” coding activities that require no device.

I think every student should get introduced to coding. Just like music or art, it could become their “thing” and they would never know if they don’t get the opportunity to try it out. My students and I also found many lessons in coding that we could apply to our own lives through Systems Thinking (some of which I outlined here).

One of my favorite HOC lessons was one I did with a first grade general education class. I had volunteered to help facilitate HOC on my campus, and it snowed the night before — a very unusual event in San Antonio. So, I switched gears and decided to help the students learn how to code snow in Scratch Jr. on the iPads. Now, there are several ways that you can do this, but I decided that the snow would be a character (or sprite, as Scratch likes to call them) so they could actually code how it behaved. You can learn more about the lesson, and see examples here. Keep in mind that this was a lesson from 2017, so some of the features may have been updated in Scratch Jr.

My Scratch Jr. lesson is one of many that I’ve collected and share on my December Wakelet, which has columns for: Computer Science Education Week, General, Kwanza/Hannukah/Other Winter Holidays, Creative Activities, Puzzles and Games, and STEM. Another popular post on there is my snow globe one, though it isn’t a coding lesson — If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I’d Wear a Bike Helmet to Bed. I’ll keep updating the Wakelet as I find more!

person pointing on a miniature toy robot
Computer Science, K-12

Day of AI

I know, I know. You’ve got tons of curriculum to cover and here I am telling you about learning that isn’t going to be on a standardized test. But here are a few things that might change your mind about participating in Day of AI 2022: it’s on May 13 (so many of you will be done with standardized tests, or close to finished and we all know how challenging it is to keep students engaged at the end of the school year), you don’t have to do it on the exact date, you need absolutely NO experience, and the resources and participation are absolutely free.

No matter what your opinion is of Artificial Intelligence, the fact is that it is becoming more and more prominent in our everyday lives. Explaining it to our students, and educating them on the potential good and bad ways that AI can impact their lives makes sense — and the resources provided on the Day of AI page are fascinating and relevant. (There are more to come, but you do need to sign up for the free registration to access them.) There will be activities for grade K-12, and you might find, as I did while looking at the materials, that you learn some things you didn’t know as well.

One of the most popular posts in recent months on this blog has been the one I did last year on AI generated poetry, so I know that there is definitely some interest in this topic among my readers. Code.org has dedicated an entire section on AI lessons for students here, and I have a Wakelet collection of other educational resources on Artificial Intelligence as well. From Blueprints for Alexa to Machine Learning for Kids, and multiple fun Google Experiments, there a multiple ways to help your students understand the basics of AI and consider its implications while having fun.

blue bright lights
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
3-5, 5-8, Computer Science

Gifts for the Gifted — Microbit v.2

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

I actually wanted to recommend Microbit V.2 in my 2020 list, but noted that it was difficult to find it anywhere to purchase in the United States, the location of a majority of my readers. After collecting even more resources for it throughout this year, I was once again eager to include it — but found it to be almost as elusive. However, I dove into locating some stock and I think we may be in luck.

The Microbit is a “pocket-sized computer” with LED’s, buttons, and sensors. The original version has been out a few years, but last year saw the release of version 2, which added audio sensing and a speaker. You can read all about it, and see some examples of cool things you can do with it, here. Many places still sell the first version, so be sure you are getting Microbit V.2 if you want the audio capabilities. This is the page that shows retailers, but I’ll also list a couple at the end of this post who currently have some in stock.

BBC Microbit V.2

To use your Microbit, you will need a computer (with micro USB cable) or mobile device (with bluetooth). You will create code for it on a device, and then transfer it to the Microbit. Directions for getting started can be found here. A battery pack will be needed if you are using a mobile device, or if you want to use your Microbit away from the computer. That’s why I recommend purchasing the starter pack which includes the cable and battery.

There are several platforms you can use to code Microbit (get a summary here) including Scratch and Make Code. You can also set up a free Microbit classroom if you are an educator. Technically, you don’t even need a Microbit if you are using the Make Code editor, as there is a virtual one for testing out your code, but what fun is that?

For some of the lessons and fun project ideas I’ve collected, you can check out this Wakelet. And don’t forget that next week, December 6-12, is Hour of Code week.

Here are some potential places to get a Microbit V.2 as of 11/29/2021:

  • Amazon (cable and battery pack included): $38.90, only 12 left in stock
  • Walmart (Microbit only, so you would need to purchase a Micro USB cable and batter pack separately): $40.79 + shipping is kind of a high price, to be honest, but the result of supply and demand at the moment, unfortunately.
  • PiShop.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $25.95 + shipping, which I think is $18 for the US based on this page
  • Elmwood Electronics.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $21.87 + shipping. The extremely helpful customer service rep, Stewart, told me, “Shipping to the USA from Canada (we’re in Toronto) can be extremely variable. Our US sister company Chicago Electronic Distributors – can accept educational orders, and are set up to work with US tax exemptions and payment systems. If your readers wish to contact info@chicagodist.com for a quote, we can transfer stock from Canada and fulfill from our warehouse in Florida. This might add 10 days or so to the order time, but we do have the stock.”

If you are not in a rush to get it, and you are good with buying your own USB cord and battery pack, SparkFun indicates they will have some Microbits in stock by December 5th for $15.95 + shipping. You can add yourself to a waiting list to be notified. You can also add yourself to a waiting list at Adafruit (no indication of when they will get new stock) for a $19.95 pack with the battery and cable.

3-5, 5-8, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Writing

Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.

Computer Science, K-12, Problem Solving

Hour of Code 2021

I don’t know about you, but December was always a difficult month for me the 29 years that I was in the classroom. In the States, many students come back from a Thanksgiving break at the end of November and have a hard time turning off Vacation-Mode as they eagerly anticipate the Winter Break less than a month later. So, when opportunities like Hour of Code come along to introduce some novelty and help students practice their logic and problem-solving skills in a different way, it can really make the month more fun for everyone.

Hour of Code is annually celebrated all over the world in December, and it’s planned by Code.org for the week of December 6-12 (Also Computer Science Education Week) this year. The goal is to get your class to spend at least one hour coding so they can see that coding is not a mysterious and unattainable skill. It can be done as a class, school, district, after-school, or even by yourself if you just want to take baby steps because it’s your first time. You don’t even have to use a digital device if you are tired of screens.

I gushed about the benefits I observed in my own classroom in last year’s post, and wanted to make sure I gave you plenty of time to consider participating this year. The tutorials on this page make it so easy for you to search for the grade level, type of technology (or none), and even by subject. And, there is absolutely no requirement for the teacher to know how to code (though it’s certainly fun to learn). In fact, I often argue that it’s better that you don’t know a lot, so you won’t be tempted to help the students too much.

I do have a bunch of Coding Resources in this collection (check out the Creative Computing Curriculum from Harvard for Beginners, which is great and not overwhelming), and if your school, group, or district ever wants to learn more about how coding, specifically with Scratch, can be used in the curriculum, I have a “Step Up Your Game Design” PD ready to present. Email me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com for more info!

PS. Want to try an Add-On to make your own Scratch Blocks? This is what I used to add the blocks in my image below.

Learn more about this PD here!