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Lessons learned from the first year of AI in Poway Unified classrooms

How using artificial intelligence in classrooms helped Poway teachers and students
Posted at 8:28 AM, May 31, 2024

POWAY, Calif. (KGTV) - As artificial intelligence becomes part of the technological landscape, the Poway Unified School District decided to embrace AI this school year rather than fight against it.

"It really is something that can be leveraged to enhance learning and increase teacher efficiency," says Amy Fousek, the district's Director of Educational Technology.

Back in August 2023, ABC 10News met with Poway Unified officials as they launched their "Digital Citizenship" initiative, treating AI like any other technological advance that has come along. They compared it to computers, the internet, and cell phones, which are now all vital tools in education.

"This year has been amazing and really opened some amazing opportunities for our staff and for our educators," says Fousek.

The district spent the last year offering teachers in person, online, and self-guided lessons in AI and Digital Citizenship. It focused on four main concepts: digital footprints, online security, balance and bias, and digital literacy. Fousek says getting everyone on the same page with that made the transition to AI easier.

Teachers now use AI tools in the program "Canva" to enhance their lesson plans.

Danielle Reyes, a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Black Mountain Middle School says it's made her more efficient, because AI can do a lot of the busy work, allowing her more time to work directly with students.

"(That's) building relationships with students," she says. "Or providing meaningful feedback right then for them while Canva's doing all this work on the back end."

Reyes says Canva's "Magic Studio" can translate lessons, break down information based on depth of knowledge or grade level, summarize lessons, create notes, or pull out key vocabulary terms and concepts from long passages in a matter of minutes. It's work that would traditionally take her as long as a half hour or more.

"Those things all take time to do, but they're the right thing to do," Reyes says. "So for AI to do those things for me, as long as I read through it and approve it and push it out to students, it's making me a better teacher."

The district only allows students in the high school grades to use AI. Fousek says they're leading with empathy for any problems that arise from mis-use.

They're also remembering that it's not a replacement for teachers, as AI doesn't offer the "human-centered" connection that teachers provide.

But as a tool, it's something they feel is worth embracing.

"AI is providing an opportunity for us to personalize education, make it more efficient, and more inclusive," says Fousek. "We wanted to embrace it. But that started with the foundation of digital citizenship. And we always come back to that."