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PBL and ChatGPT: A Great Pairing (if you think about it)

“Students are just cheating”

“How are we going to assess our students?”

“Students can’t learn anything this way”


Introduction

The last time I heard comments like that from educators was with online learning at the start of the pandemic. Those were some dark days and required us as teachers to think about what it meant to assess our students and what they would like to do virtually. Now, we face our next challenge: ChatGPT.


If you are unfamiliar, ChatGPT is a conversational artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI. You can enter any question, and it spits out information that is easy to understand. I first heard of ChatGPT from my brother-in-law, Shaun, who works in IT, over Thanksgiving dinner. I listened but didn’t think much of it at the time, presuming it sounded cool, but I would never use it. Then suddenly, over the last several weeks in my coaching sessions, I started to hear educators saying the comments I used to open this blog post. The parallels between comments about online learning and ChatGPT became increasingly apparent because they were both driven by the same thing - fear.


Even if you do a Google search, all these articles will come up about the fears of students plagiarizing, ending high school English as we know it, and school districts such as New York City Public Schools banning ChatGPT amid fears of AI assisted cheating. The articles are endless, and I am not going to lie, I was suddenly distraught.


Experimenting with ChatGPT

So, I decided to see what ChatGPT was all about for myself. I asked questions about all sorts of topics, from parenting advice to makeup tips, and I was impressed with the answers. One of my first questions? Of course, I had to ask how I could prevent my students from using ChatGPT to cheat. See the response below:


There is no guaranteed way to prevent students from using any technology, including ChatGPT, to cheat. However, you can take some steps to minimize the risk:  Educate students on academic integrity: Emphasize the importance of honesty and fair practices in their academic work, and make sure they understand the consequences of cheating.  Use plagiarism detection software: Tools such as Turnitin or Grammarly can detect if students have used AI-generated text.  Provide original assignments: Design assignments and tests that are unique and difficult to obtain answers for through external sources, including ChatGPT.  Monitor technology use during exams: Consider limiting access to the internet or other distracting technologies during exams.  Ultimately, the best way to prevent cheating is to foster a culture of honesty and integrity among your students. Encourage them to take pride in their work and emphasize the long-term benefits of honest and fair practices.

When I looked at the responses, one stood the most out to me, number three: Provide original assignments: Design assignments and tests that are unique and difficult to obtain answers for through external sources, including ChatGPT. I realized this would require a significant shift in teaching for many, and some professors are already responding at the college level. According to the NYT, "some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work, and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones." While I liked that thinking, my mind went a step further. As a firm believer and advocate for human & learner-centered design, I immediately made connections to constructivism and project-based learning to prevent cheating and use ChatGPT as a tool instead.

As a firm believer and advocate for human & learner-centered design, I immediately made connections to constructivism and project-based learning to prevent cheating and use ChatGPT as a tool instead.

Constructivism & PBL to Combat ChatGPT Fears in Classrooms

Constructivism is an approach to learning based on the belief that people actively construct or make their own knowledge through various experiences by the learner. That is something that ChatGPT can not provide--authentic learning experiences that impacts the learner long-term.


Sure, ChatGPT can be used to find specific information and facts, but I already forgot that makeup tip I got earlier because I didn't do anything with that knowledge. ChatGPT will only help students regurgitate facts rather than dig into what they are learning and why.


You might be thinking, is constructivism all that different from what I do now? The answer depends on your starting point. In Simply Psychology, Saul McLeod shared the features of a constructivist classroom compared to a traditional one. Take a moment to reflect on your classroom using the self-assessment table below.

​Traditional Classroom

Constructivist Classroom

Strict adherence to a fixed curriculum is highly valued.

​Pursuit of student questions and interests is valued.

Learning is based on repetition.

Learning is interactive, building on what the student already knows.

Teacher-centered.

Learner-centered.

Teachers disseminate information to students; students are recipients of knowledge (passive learning).

Teachers have a dialogue with students, helping students construct their own knowledge (active learning).

Teacher's role is directive, rooted in authority.

​Teacher's role is interactive, rooted in negotiation.

Students work primarily alone (competitive).

​Students work primarily in groups (cooperative).

Saul McLeod, 2019


As you can see, in a traditional setting, ChatGPT could be a real threat as it is more rooted in a passive classroom. In contrast, in a constructivist classroom, the learner is at the center, and knowledge is co-constructed.


There are lots of strategies that can help establish a constructivist classroom. One way is to implement project-based learning regularly for your students. What is PBL? According to PBLWorks, "Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects." In other words, PBL is a form of constructivism because students can construct their own knowledge through the experiences projects provide.


Many of us have experiences with projects, but is it project-based learning? To ensure it is John Larmer, John Mergendoller, and Suzie Boss created the table below in their book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning to help distinguish the difference.

Project

Project Based Learning

Supplemental to a unit

The project is the unit, or a major vehicle for teaching content standards within a unit

​Task is based on following directions from the teacher and is repeated year after year

Task is open-ended and involves student voice and choice; often differs from year to year

Typically done individually

Done in collaboration with a team

Done independently, often at home

Done with teacher guidance, much of it during school hours

Focused on the product; the product may even be called "the project"

The project includes a sustained inquiry process and the creation of a product

Not authentic to the real world or to the students' lives

Authentic to the real world or the students' lives or both

(Larmer et al., 2015, p. 70)

If you want more information on project-based learning, check out several of our blogs, PBLWorks, or Defined Learning- where John Larmer has written some recent amazing blog posts on PBL.


ChatGPT as a Tool for Project Ideas

At this point, you might say to me, "That's cool, Alicia. You've made a great case for constructivism and project-based learning to remedy my fears about ChatGPT. But PBL is a little scary to me, and I haven't had much luck with it in the past, partly because it's so hard to come up with ideas." Don't get deflated just yet because, believe it or not, I encourage you to use ChatGPT to generate project ideas.

Before I show you how you can use ChatGPT for project ideas, I want to give you a word of caution. ChatGPT can be a tool but can never replace your expertise or serve as the end-all solution to all the things. During all my research and playing around, I found myself eliminating ideas, needing to personalize ideas I liked, and discovering that sometimes what was generated was not feasible in my context. You will need to rely on your professional expertise and judgment. Nothing can replace you and what you bring to the world of education, but ChatGPT can help get you started. Let me show you some examples.

Nothing can replace you and what you bring to the world of education, but ChatGPT can help get you started.

Using Real-World Examples to Spark Project Ideas

One aspect of PBL is including authenticity in your projects; sometimes, that can be difficult. To minimize that barrier in my coaching session with one of my math teachers, we used ChatGPT. At the start of our coaching session, he stated that he constantly needed help teaching factoring because students got bored with the topic. So, that was our starting point. I asked, "what are some real-world examples of factoring in math." Here is what ChatGPT generated:

Here are some real-world examples of factoring in mathematics:  Loan Amortization: When calculating the payments on a loan, the amount of interest and principal paid can be represented as a polynomial expression. Factoring the expression helps in determining the interest and principal components of each payment.  Engineering: In engineering, factoring is used to determine the strength of structures, such as bridges and buildings, by analyzing how forces are distributed and balanced.  Resource Allocation: In businesses and organizations, factoring is used to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. For example, a company may use factoring to determine the most cost-effective way to produce a product.  Cryptography: Factoring is used in public key cryptography, where the security of the system relies on the difficulty of factoring large numbers. The RSA algorithm, one of the most widely used encryption methods, is based on the mathematical concept of factoring.  Economics: In economics, factoring is used to analyze market trends and make investment decisions. For example, factoring can be used to evaluate the profitability of a business by analyzing its revenue and expenses.  Physics: In physics, factoring is used to simplify equations and solve problems. For example, in kinematics, factoring can be used to determine the velocity and acceleration of an object based on its position.  Statistics: In statistics, factoring is used to analyze data and make predictions. For example, factor analysis can be used to identify the underlying factors that contribute to a particular outcome.

From there, we determined that his students might be most interested in Number 3, Resource Allocation. We then personalized it slightly but copied and pasted mostly what was given to us, ensuring we plugged in PBL and a specific location - Rochester, NY. Check out how we framed our new question:

ChatGPT Original Idea: 3. Resource Allocation: In businesses and organizations using factoring is used to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. For example, a company may use factoring to determine the most cost-effective way to produce a product. Our New Question: What is a project-based learning experience students could do in Resource Allocation: In businesses and organizations located in Rochester, NY, using factoring is used to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. For example, a company may use factoring to determine the most cost-effective way to produce a product

We mainly used the exact words ChatGPT gave us, but we added the location and specifically named project-based learning. Here are the results it gave:

Here is a project-based learning experience for students exploring the use of factoring in resource allocation in the context of businesses and organizations located in Rochester, NY:  Researching Rochester Businesses: Students can research local businesses and organizations in Rochester, NY, to learn about their operations, products, and services.  Resource Allocation Analysis: Students can select one of the businesses they researched and use factoring to analyze their resource allocation. This may include examining the costs of production, labor, materials, and equipment and identifying ways to reduce expenses and improve efficiency.  Cost Saving Strategies: Students can develop cost-saving strategies for the business they selected, incorporating the results of their resource allocation analysis.  Field Trip: Students can visit the business they selected and meet with representatives to learn about their operations and present their cost-saving strategies.  Reflections: After the field trip, students can reflect on their experience and discuss what they learned about resource allocation and cost-saving strategies.  Presentation: Students can present their findings and recommendations to the class, including their cost-saving strategies, resource allocation analysis, and reflections on their field trip.  This project-based learning experience provides students with a hands-on opportunity to apply their mathematical knowledge in a real-world context, while also exploring the businesses and organizations located in Rochester, NY.

Is this a perfect project? No. Was it enough to help my teacher? Yes! How did we know? We used the HQPBL Rubric and trusted our professional expertise in PBL. The most promising aspect for me was that he immediately asked if we could meet again to connect with local businesses that might be interested. Overall, I liked that it gave us enough to get started without spinning our wheels for hours. The best part? When I plugged in the ChatGPT trying to get an answer, it would only generate a process, nothing more.


Starting with a Standard to Generate Project Ideas

Another route I decided to try was to start with a standard. This process taught me that playing around with wording is essential to generate additional ideas. Check out this example from a third-grade science standard and notice the different responses.

I decided that I liked the simulation software the most and asked for more details of what that could look like. This is what ChatGPT gave me:

How can students use simulation software to create a virtual model of an object in motion, and use it to make predictions about how the object will move under different conditions to make a high quality project based learning expirence  There are several ways that students can use simulation software to create a virtual model of an object in motion and use it to make predictions about how the object will move under different conditions. Some steps that students can take include:  Research simulation software options: Students can research different types of simulation software that are available for their project, such as physics simulation software, game engine software, or computer-aided design (CAD) software.  Create a virtual model of the object: Students can use the simulation software to create a virtual model of the object they are studying, such as a car, a ball, or a rocket. The model should include all relevant physical properties of the object, such as its mass, shape, and size.  Set up the virtual environment: Students can use the simulation software to create a virtual environment in which the object will move, such as a ramp, a track, or a field. They can also set up any other variables that will affect the object's motion, such as gravity, air resistance, or friction.  Run simulations: Students can use the simulation software to run simulations of the object's motion under different conditions. They can change the variables in the virtual environment, such as the angle of the ramp or the speed of the car, to see how it affects the object's motion.  Analyze the data: Students can use the data from the simulations to analyze the object's motion and make predictions about how it will move under different conditions. They can create graphs, tables, and charts to represent the data and make it easy to understand.  Create a report or presentation: Students can use the information they have gathered and analyzed to create a report or presentation that explains their research and findings. They can also include a discussion of the potential real-world applications of their research and any limitations of their study.  Overall, using simulation software in this way can provide students with a hands-on, interactive way to explore the concepts of motion and prediction, which can lead to a high-quality project-based learning experience.

Again, this isn't perfect. I had questions about what I could use as simulation software, how to make it authentic to my students, and so on. I was reminded during this inquiry dive that ChatGPT isn't a 100% solution, but it was enough to get me started, and that's all I needed. Too often, we quit before we implement because we need help developing an idea or understanding the process. ChatGPT helped me with both.


Too often, we quit before we implement because we need help developing an idea or understanding the process. ChatGPT helped me with both.

Top Tips for using ChatGPT to Generate Project Ideas

I could show you more examples of what I tried, but that wouldn't be as helpful as some tips. Here are some do's and don'ts that I learned while experimenting. If you already have been using ChatGPT, I would love to hear some of your top tips to add to this list. I hope it helps you generate project ideas using ChatGPT for yourself successfully.


Conclusion

Change is always problematic, but one thing I know about the world of education is how adaptable we can be. ChatGPT is not a change that we need to fear. It will require us to be different in our classrooms, which is okay. As one of the late great founders of progressive education, John Dewey, said, “education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process.” ChatGPT could be a tool that we can use to further our journey toward that vision.

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