Exploring the Walled Garden of School AI | Trafalgar Castle School
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June 11, 2024

Exploring the Walled Garden of School AI

Megan McLeod

Recent technological developments have found various forms and functions of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) to be rising in popularity in everyday life. With generative AI continuing its rapid development, Trafalgar Castle School has furthered its exploration of this new technology as it intersects with education. Staff have set a goal to provide students with a guided, supervised experience with AI so that it may be used critically and thoughtfully inside and outside the classroom.

To increase the student body’s familiarity with AI, Trafalgar staff has employed a few key systems, such as SchoolAI. The platform consists of “spaces”—private, tailored learning grounds that teachers can personalize for individual grades, subjects, and students. 

Dean of Academics Laurie Kuchirka assures that bringing SchoolAI into the castle walls was a careful decision. The platform was selected not only for its unique purposes but also for the safety features it ensures. SchoolAI offers a “walled garden,” meaning all data developed on the platform stays within the platform’s walls, and no personal or identifying data is stored or used in the training of the AI platform. When a space is created using tailored criteria and learning prompts, teachers are given real-time access to all student interactions with the system. They are able to monitor, intervene, redirect, or completely shut down the interaction at any point in time. 

Grade 8 STEM and Grade 9 and 10 Technology Teacher Penny Senior employs SchoolAI as a way to begin and end classroom time. Using the answers collected, she can tailor her lesson plans to reflect the current needs of her students.

This is not the only form of AI that Senior incorporates into her education plan. She has assigned her Grade 9 students to explore the timeline of AI in conjunction with facial recognition software. Building on that knowledge, Grade 10 students are asked to research where AI came from and predict where they believe the technology will go next. Each of these assignments is paired with a reflection that prompts students to consider whether this use of AI is “good or bad.” Senior encourages her students to approach all forms of AI through a lens of constructive doubt, considering the possible gaps in the technology. 

Senior conducted an experiment with her Grade 8 students that exemplified these gaps: Students were assigned a “math tutor” through SchoolAI, with whom the class engaged. Students quickly discovered that while the tutor’s process was correct, the answers they were given were not.

Understanding these gaps in AI functions, Kuchirka explains that AI’s educational purposes at Trafalgar do not include providing students with unverified information, but rather, it is intended to prime their thinking and provide guided, probing questions that help them generate their own ideas and conclusions. This encourages what Kuchirka refers to as a “scaffold learning” approach: a guided opportunity for students to build upon their own ideas and critical thinking skills. Senior’s experiment furthered classroom understanding of AI and how to effectively incorporate the technology into individualized educational opportunities without allowing AI to “give” students the answer. 

Kuchirka explains that AI can be used to prime our thinking, cut out pressure points, and create efficiencies. Yet, Trafalgar continues to remind students that with any great piece of work, a human element is required. Trafalgar Castle School is committed to providing students with a safe environment in which to familiarize themselves and think critically about the various functions, advantages, and disadvantages of artificial intelligence, both inside and outside the classroom. 

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