PHS teacher tells kids ins and outs of AI

Candice Harding

Since artificial intelligence is here to stay, Permian High School English II honors teacher Candice Harding says she is showing students how to use it properly and as a tool.

Students are using it “like crazy,” Harding said.

Meanwhile, the organization Texas 2036 noted that AI will be very important in the workforce. They reported that a recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas showed that nearly 40% of Texas companies already use artificial intelligence, with another 17% planning to use it in the coming year.

A recent joint report by Microsoft and LinkedIn found that 75% of global knowledge workers use AI at work today, and 46% of users started using it less than six months ago. Users say AI helps them save time (90%), focus on their most important work (85%), be more creative (84%), and enjoy their work more (83%), Texas 2036 says.

New research finds nearly 25% of children are using AI tools to complete or help with their schoolwork. Also, 40% of children say they have engaged with generative AI, including over half of 13- and 14-year-olds.

One of the firms ECISD uses for high-dose tutoring is trying out an artificial intelligence feature that gives tutors different options to respond to students who are struggling.

The Texas Education Agency used AI to grade part of the STAAR test as well.

“There’s lots of various AI platforms and databases they can get onto. It’s not like they’re just using ChatGPT. Most of my students are predominantly using Snapchat AI,” said Harding, who just finished her first year of teaching in high school.

Previously, she was a writing fellow, researcher and teaching assistant at the University of Texas Permian Basin.

If it’s a good AI platform, you have to pay for it. The majority of high school students have Snapchat Premium accounts and they use artificial intelligence on that.

“They’ll ask it questions and it is by no means rather advanced AI. In my classroom, we’ve used it for title ideas whenever I was teaching my students how to write two-part titles for their MLA formatting. You can give it your topic and then ask it to give you ideas. We’ve used it to check papers, so when you’re done, upload your paper and asked to check if there’s any syntax issues, or if there’s any punctuation issues. You can ask direct questions,” Harding said.

MLA stands for Modern Language Association which is used for citations, for example, for English papers.

Harding said she has also shown students the ways AI fails so they know they can’t use AI in her classroom because you won’t get the grade you were expecting.

“For example, AI is horrible with poetry. You can even tell it to write in a certain form, and it’s not good at it; it can’t do it. So unless you’re paying for a really great AI service, you’re not going to be able to get what you want out of it. I’ve really spent a little more time showing all the flaws of it than using it,” she added.

About a year ago, Snapchat came out with My AI. It even offers a warning that the responses may be biased, incorrect, harmful or misleading. It uses information such as content you share and location to personalize its responses. You can customize it, she said.

“It’s basically like an imaginary friend for the students. … People use their AI almost like a diary. A lot of times they’ll get on there and just talk to their AI as a friend and their friend replies to them,” Harding said.

You can also ask it historical questions, as an example.

“You ask the questions, it gives you answers. It’s using the internet for it so that’s what the students use it for. So the way I go through this, I’ve had them get on there, give me your best AI. Show me what you got. Every one of them then I put it next to a piece of their writing. … Every writer has a voice and there’s no way to get around it. I run all my students’ stuff through plagiarism checkers and AI checkers. They know that, but a lot of times I don’t even have to because I can just catch it right off the bat just by reading their stuff. I know that you don’t use the words totalitarian regime. I know that’s not you and since you don’t have a citation at the end of that, that tells me that you’re cheating because you still have to cite. AI doesn’t cite. That’s another big thing. AI does not cite it for you. Unless you’re paying for a good AI service. There is no citation; it’s all just information randomly pulled from the internet,” Harding said.

Similar worries were expressed when spellcheck came out. Some people thought you were cheating if you used it.

“It’s a tool, so I want them to use it as a tool. But then again, all of my students know that I check for it. So if there’s a teacher that’s not actively monitoring and checking for the use of AI, well, they’re playing themselves because the kids are using AI. … I asked certain questions that AI can’t answer because it’s not something you could just Google. You definitely have to change your questioning type. It can’t just be so black and white, yes or no, because they’re going to easily be able to cheat on that,” Harding said.

She noted that AI will keep improving, so checkers will have to keep improving as well.

“The way the schools are going to have to combat it is they need to pay for AI check databases for the school. … Colleges pay for research databases, historical art, access to archives. High schools it’s going to have to be something they pick up — a good one that actually catches everything because the free ones it’s just like the free AI the kids are using. It’s not the best,” Harding said.

She’s not worried that kids won’t think for themselves if they use AI. Her class, which was for sophomores, involved doing a lot of group research projects. Next year, she’ll be teaching seniors.

“It’s not just a classical classroom in the way that I’m standing up here lecturing, so I definitely don’t think that it’s taken away from them creatively. If anything, I think it’s actually adding,” Harding said.