Raising the Standards of Curriculum Design Using Generative AI

Sep 21, 2023

In this age of rapid technological evolution, generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is now featuring prominently in conversations surrounding the intentional and ethical use of AI. Now that the barrier to the automation of written texts has been lowered, both students and teachers must navigate the new reality in which the benefits of expediency have to be weighed against authenticity and originality. As GenAI becomes increasingly adopted into our educational processes, one key challenge is ensuring that AI augments human intelligence — rather than replacing it.

To address this concern, schools are adapting their Academic Integrity Policies and Responsible Use Agreements. Meanwhile, teachers are reconsidering the nature of assignments and assessment in a landscape where unit plans can be rapidly produced. With just a few well-worded prompts, a light review and a few refinements, units and lesson plans can be generated. While this will come as a relief to time-pressed and energy-squeezed educators, it is critical that teachers’ expertise and knowledge of their students continue to be the driving force behind the process.

In this article, we demonstrate how a unit plan can be designed authentically in a way that synthesizes the best of both worlds. By using GenAI as a consultative asset, unit plans can retain a holistic awareness and situational knowledge, connecting the many dots that go into developing learning experiences.

Authentically Contextualizing the Learning Process

While GenAI is excellent as an idea generator and is able to provide a list of engaging content-related contexts that could frame a unit’s learning experiences, it lacks the teacher’s unique insights such as knowledge of specific school circumstances and student needs.

For example, an appropriate GenAI prompt that might be used to generate the possible contexts for a particular unit could be the following:

You are a creative, experienced International Baccalaureate MYP Year 1 Individuals and Societies teacher.Provide a range of engaging, “real-world’ contexts through which students could explore Ancient Civilizations.

Identity contexts that allow students to connect their learning to relevant patterns in present day civilizations and cultures. Some possible broad contexts are: [list the contexts]

Such a prompt would result in: (ChatGPT 4)

Urban Planning and Architecture:

  • Ancient: Explore the urban layout of cities like Mohenjo-Daro (Indus Valley Civilization), Alexandria (Egypt), or Rome. Discuss elements like roads, sanitation, buildings, and public spaces.
  • Modern Connection: Compare ancient planning to modern cities. How do ancient methods influence today’s urban planning? Discuss the importance of green spaces, zoning, and city planning in today’s context.

Trade and Economics:

  • Ancient: Dive into the Silk Road, Mediterranean trade routes, or the trade networks of the Maya civilization.
  • Modern Connection: Discuss global trade today and compare ancient trade goods (like spices or silk) to modern commodities (like oil or electronics). How have trade routes evolved with modern transportation and technology?

Fashion and Aesthetics:

At first brush, these potential contexts appear to be relevant, engaging options. However, a teacher would need to consider the extent to which the suggestions align with the intended learning outcomes, student readiness and interests, and other school-specific factors.

Tips on selecting authentic contexts with GenAI in the learning process

  1. For each GenAI suggestion, consider the extent to which they could provide a cohesive and deeply meaningful context throughout the learning process. Teachers can ask themselves:
    • “Why does the world need the knowledge and skills included in this unit?”
    • “Why is it important that students explore this content in order to better understand and navigate the world?”
  2. Bearing these types of questions in mind, a teacher might eliminate suggestions, follow up with a more specific prompt, combine and/or rephrase suggestions. This iterative process of customizing the context would be steeped in the teacher’s own knowledge and understanding of factors such as:
    • students’ prior knowledge, learning and language needs, and personal interests
    • unit-specific information (time-frame, external curriculum and/or programmatic requirements, conceptual focus)
    • the school setting, circumstances and vision
    • the facilities, materials, tools and resources that are accessible to students
    • current local and global events that could be relevant contextual drivers for learning.

Providing a Thought-Provoking and Relevant Conceptual Focus

While breaking down topics into conceptual components is a strength of GenAI technologies, using GenAI to select concepts and suggest conceptual understandings requires perceptive prompting and insightful analysis of the resulting suggestions. The teacher’s situational awareness and discernment is also needed to ensure that the conceptual ideas are authentically relevant to the focus of the unit, applicable to students’ readiness level, and can be connected in meaningful ways.

For example, an appropriate GenAI follow-up prompt that might be used to generate possible concepts for the unit described above might be the following:

For a unit exploring Ancient Civilizations: Identify 2-3 of the most relevant concepts from the following list which could be used to organize specific content related to Ancient Civilizations. [list potential concepts]

Represent 5 meaningful relationships between those concepts, using a double arrow ↔ to show a two-way dynamic relationship, and a single arrow → to indicate it is unidirectional.

For each relationship represented, also provide one succinct sentence that uses an active verb to connect the concepts. Do not use the verb “to be”.

Ensure that at least one relationship is represented and described that includes all three concepts.

Such a prompt could result in: (ChatGPT 4)

For the study of ancient civilizations in the context of the MYP year 1 Individuals and Societies, the most relevant concepts might be:

  • Civilization
  • Culture
  • Time, place and space

Here are five meaningful relationships between these concepts:

  • Civilization –> Culture <–> Time, place and space
    Civilizations cultivate unique cultures, which dynamically shape and are shaped by their encompassing time, place, and space.
  • Time, place and space –> Culture –> Civilization
    The time, place, and space in which cultures emerge play a pivotal role in shaping the civilizations they give rise to.
  • Culture < — > Time, place and space
    Cultures are molded by and adapt to their temporal and spatial contexts, influencing and being influenced as they traverse different environments.
  • Time, place and space — > Civilization
    The birth and growth of civilizations hinge on their specific temporal and geographic contexts, such as the fertile riverbanks that nurtured ancient river valley civilizations.
  • Culture — > Civilization
    Prevailing cultural practices and beliefs catalyze the emergence and evolution of civilizations.

These relationships highlight the intricate interplay between civilization, culture, and the temporal and spatial contexts in which they exist, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these concepts in understanding human history and societal evolution.

The kinds of prompts given above can produce valuable ideas for teachers to consider as they brainstorm the concepts and conceptual relationships that could be used to frame a unit. Because the resulting statements include relevant concepts and are phrased coherently, they may all seem to be viable options that teachers could include in their unit plans.

However, the ultimate goal is not to simply come up with a conceptual sentence that students can understand, and can therefore be incorporated into a “statement of inquiry”, then popped into the unit plan. Again, the teachers’ unique awareness and understanding of their students’ readiness level, along with their knowledge of the unit’s content and the purpose of concepts in framing the learning process are needed to ensure that conceptual understanding is accessible and authentically supported.

Tips on using GenAI to identify relevant conceptual ideas

  1. Consider the extent to which the suggested concepts are the most relevant organizers for the unit’s content and learning process.
  2. Consider the GenAI suggestions through your own knowledge and understanding of factors such as your students’ maturity level and prior experiences with developing conceptual understanding.
  3. Ensure that the relationship(s) between the concepts could promote thoughtful inquiry, and that the language is accessible.

Clarifying the Appropriateness of the Unit’s Assessment tasks

GenAI’s sophistication becomes clear when used as a completion engine, where hints are given in the prompt itself to provide clear descriptions, as shown above with the use of arrows to indicate the direction of relationships. This can be applied in the building of summative assessment tasks as well, where GenAI is asked to link selected concepts to a given content-related objective.

However, to move beyond merely generic types of assessments, it is necessary to further refine the prompts and adjust the task descriptions in order to ensure that there is true alignment between the tasks and the criteria used to assess them. Similarly, teachers will need to make sure that tasks allow students to demonstrate conceptual understanding and provide them with an impactful opportunity to apply their learning in a real-world context.

For example, an appropriate GenAI follow-up prompt that might be used to generate possible assessment tasks for the unit described above could be the following:

For the Ancient Civilizations unit described above:

Provide a clear description of a summative performance task that allows students to demonstrate their learning and their understanding of the relationship between the concepts civilization, culture and time, place and space.

The assessment criteria are:

Criterion A: Knowledge and understanding
i. consistently uses relevant vocabulary accurately
ii. demonstrates excellent knowledge and understanding of content and concepts through detailed descriptions, explanations and examples.

Criterion B: Investigation
i. explains the choice of a research question
ii. effectively follows an action plan to explore a research question

[List all intended assessment criteria descriptors]

Such a prompt could result in: (ChatGPT 3)

Summative Performance Task: Exploring Ancient Civilizations Through Time, Place, and Space

Task Description:

For this summative performance task, you will embark on an investigative journey to explore the relationship between the concepts of civilization, culture, and the influence of time, place, and space on ancient civilizations. This task will require you to delve deep into the historical contexts, geographical settings, and cultural aspects of two different ancient civilizations of your choice.

Task Components:

Multimedia Presentation (Criterion Ai, ii):

  • Create a multimedia presentation to share your research findings, ensuring the consistent use of relevant vocabulary (Ai) and detailed exploration of the content and concepts (Aii), showcasing your understanding through visual and auditory examples.

Research Question Selection (Criterion B i):

  • Choose two ancient civilizations from different regions or time periods that interest you. Formulate a clear research question that investigates how the concepts of civilization and culture were shaped by the unique factors of time, place, and space in these civilizations.

Action Plan and Research (Criterion B ii):

  • Develop a detailed action plan outlining the steps you will take to explore your research question. This plan should include research methods such as analyzing primary and secondary sources, visiting relevant websites, and consulting academic texts. Execute your plan to collect information about each civilization’s history, geography, societal structure, cultural practices, achievements, and interactions with other civilizations.

Assessment Criteria:

Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding

  • Accurate use of relevant vocabulary.
  • Detailed descriptions, explanations, and examples showcasing excellent knowledge and understanding of content and concepts related to ancient civilizations, culture, and the impact of time, place, and space.

Criterion B: Investigation

  • Clear explanation of the research question’s significance.
  • Effective execution of the action plan, including methods used to collect and record relevant information.
  • Thoughtful reflection on the research process and results, addressing challenges and insights gained.

Providing detail about evaluation criteria in the prompt provides the GenAI tool with useful information that allows it to produce clear task descriptions, particularly in terms of the connections with the identified criteria. At first glance, the above description may appear to be ready for inclusion in a unit plan. However, while students’ summative work could clearly be assessed with the identified criteria, the teacher’s insights are needed to determine if the task is rigorous and relevant to their own students.

Tips to use GenAI to develop effective, rigorous performance tasks

  1. Consider the extent to which the suggested task(s) provide enough rigor and allow students to demonstrate:
    • a high level of achievement in the criteria,
    • depth of thought in conceptual understanding,
    • and, as applicable, a connection with an authentic audience for a currently relevant real-world purpose.
  2. Consider the GenAI task suggestions through your own awareness and knowledge of situational factors such as:
    • your students’ readiness levels,
    • any differentiated learning and/or language needs,
    • prior achievement levels in the criteria,
    • prior experiences with developing conceptual understanding.

In order to strengthen this example task, either through direct editing or through additional adjustments in subsequent GenAI prompts, teachers need to consider any generated task suggestions in terms of their own understanding of the characteristics of an authentic performance task, their knowledge of the breadth and focus of the unit’s content base and learning process, and their students’ readiness to engage in a deeper and more currently relevant investigation.

For example, a teacher may wish to write a follow-up prompt to deepen the relevance of the example task, instructing the GenAI tool as follows:

Change this task to allow students to explore an issue or problem that is still relevant in today’s world, and to take action that will impact an authentic audience.

A generated response might include a shift in the description, such as:

Students will embark on a research project to investigate how a particular issue or problem from an ancient civilization still resonates in today’s world. They will focus on how the culture was shaped by its time, place and space, explore the cultural, societal, and spatial aspects of the issue/problem in the ancient context, and draw parallels to its modern manifestations. The culmination of this project will be a multimedia presentation and an actionable initiative aimed at an authentic audience, addressing the modern-day relevance of the issue.

If the teacher would like to see some example research questions to share with students, a follow-up prompt could be entered:

Provide 2-3 research questions that could be relevant for MYP year 1 students to investigate as a part of this summative task.

A generated response might include example research questions, such as:

Absolutely! Here are some research questions that MYP Year 1 students could explore as part of their summative task:

Environmental Sustainability

  • How did ancient civilizations manage their natural resources, and what lessons can we learn from their practices to address current environmental challenges?
  • How have ancient agricultural practices influenced modern sustainable farming methods?

Urban Planning and Architecture

  • How did the spatial organization and architectural designs of ancient cities cater to the needs of their inhabitants, and how can these principles be applied to modern urban planning?
  • How have ancient drainage and sanitation systems inspired modern infrastructure, and what can we learn from their approach to managing waste and water resources?

Social Justice and Equality

  • How did ancient civilizations approach social hierarchy and class divisions, and what parallels can be drawn to modern society’s struggles with inequality and discrimination?
  • How did ancient legal systems uphold justice, and what can we learn from their principles to foster fairness and equity in today’s world?

Each of these research questions encourages students to delve deep into a specific issue or problem from an ancient civilization, explore its cultural, societal, and spatial dimensions, and draw meaningful connections to its modern manifestations. The questions also pave the way for students to develop actionable initiatives that address the contemporary relevance of the issue, targeting an authentic audience.

Or, a teacher might like to see ideas for additional task details, and a follow-up prompt could be entered:

Please add instructions for students on what the multimedia presentation should include, for example maps and artifacts.

A generated response might include additional details, such as:

Sure! Here is an updated task description …Students will compile their findings into a comprehensive multimedia presentation. This should include visuals, such as maps, images of artifacts, and timelines, accompanied by detailed descriptions, explanations, and examples that bridge the ancient and modern contexts.

If a teacher would like to see examples of actionable initiatives that students could take as a part of this summative task, a follow-up prompt could be entered:

Please provide examples of actionable initiatives that students could take as a part of this summative task.
Based on their research, students will design and implement an initiative that addresses the modern-day relevance of their chosen issue. This could be a community awareness campaign, a school workshop, a digital platform, or any other project that impacts an authentic audience.

These types of iterative queries could be used to develop each element of unit planning, combining the teacher’s expertise and insight with a GenAI tool capable of tracking previous prompts and its own generated responses.

Raising Standards of Curriculum Design Using GenAI as a Consultative Asset

As GenAI tools continue to expand in scope and become more adept at reflecting the nuances needed in effective unit design, the temptation to utilize them as a turn key solution is strong. However, as we have explored here, it is critical to recognize that effective, responsive unit planning depends on a deliberate process in which GenAI plays a supportive role to the teacher’s awareness, insights, and knowledge. In other words, with the ethical and deliberate incorporation of this technology, we see a path where teachers are supported in not only saving time but, more importantly, in intentionally raising the standards of unit design and implementation.

About the authors

Diane Smith

Diane Smith
Independent MYP Consultant

Diane Smith has over 20 years of experience in IB MYP coordination, curriculum design, unit evaluation, and teacher support materials development. She is intrigued by the potential of tech tools to help make learning more relevant and engaging for students, and teaching more energizing and rewarding for teachers. She is currently an independent MYP consultant, enjoying island life in Hawai’i.

Adam M

Adam Morris
Schools Technology & Integrations Director
Book Consultation

Adam Morris is Faria Education Group’s Schools Technology & Integrations Director. Previously, he was an international school educator for 20 years, teaching English Language Acquisition and Computer Science, with roles in Social Emotional support teams. Adam is passionate about empowering the use of innovative technologies to advance international education.