Everything Educators Need to Know About Prompting AI Tools: A Comprehensive Guide

prompting AI

As educators, we want to motivate our students and help them truly learn. However, designing impactful lessons and assignments takes significant time and creativity. I have found AI tools can be useful partners in developing engaging, personalized activities – if used thoughtfully. Artificial intelligence offers intriguing opportunities to enhance teaching and learning, but effectively prompting AI requires thought and care from educators. Like any instructional resource, we must understand how to strategically leverage AI to truly benefit students. This article explores best practices around prompting classroom AI tools, so you can tap their potential as an educator.

Why Prompting AI Matters

Prompting AI refers to how users frame instructions, questions, and information provided to AI systems to guide output. Researchers have found that “the way AI systems are prompted has significant impacts on their performance and behavior” (Bender et al., 2021). Without thoughtful prompting, chatbots and algorithmic tools cannot understand educational contexts and student needs.  

Well-designed prompts activate the most pedagogically productive responses from AI. Poor prompts yield irrelevant or even harmful suggestions. Just as classroom questions require intentional framing to spark thinking, prompts unlock an AI’s capabilities based on the user’s strategic input. Mastering this art empowers educators to shape AI tools into assets rather than allowing flawed technologies to shape our teaching.

Crafting Effective Prompts

When preparing to leverage classroom AI, take time to thoughtfully plan prompt strategies aligned to your curriculum and learners.

Get clear on your learning objectives first, then formulate prompts seeking AI contributions suited to achieving them. Researchers emphasize that asking “the right questions that will lead to beneficial responses from AI, is an essential literacy skill for the future” (Roller et al., 2021). 

Provide necessary context about your students and community to help AI respond appropriately. Share details on ages, abilities, cultural backgrounds, prior knowledge and more to enable personalized and relevant suggestions.

Iteratively refine prompts based on reviewing the AI’s output until satisfied it meets educational needs. Be prepared to guide the technology multiple times. Studies show continued prompting is needed to overcome AI limitations (Zhou et al., 2021).

Maintain a critical lens when evaluating AI responses before bringing into your classroom. Watch for inaccuracies, gaps or inappropriateness. Err on the side of caution and re-prompt when unsure.

Training Students in AI Prompting  

Equipping students with prompt literacy is equally crucial. Model and teach effective prompting as you integrate classroom AI tools. Emphasize that sound prompts require:

  • Framing questions and input with learning goals in mind 
  • Providing necessary background facts and context 
  • Checking responses for alignment to desired outcomes
  • Iterating and re-prompting as needed

Discuss examples of high and low-quality AI prompts and outcomes. Show how faulty prompts can lead to faulty results. Develop students’ discernment to assess the relevance and appropriateness of algorithmic responses.

Encourage students to go beyond passively accepting AI suggestions. Prompt them to actively analyze the value added versus potential limitations and bias. Researchers advocate this critical perspective be fostered alongside prompt literacy (Gleason et al., 2021).

By instructing students in smart prompting themselves, you cultivate AI interactors rather than just users. They become empowered to guide technology to serve their learning, rather than be misguided by it.

Navigating Risks

Like any instructional resource, AI comes with risks if used recklessly. Prompting mitigates these concerns. Bias and inaccuracy often stem from problematic training data, but teachers can counteract this through targeted prompts seeking responses tailored to their classroom needs (Benjamin, 2019).

Prompt carefully to avoid over-reliance on AI. Develop engaging activities and assignments where technology scaffolds human critical thinking rather than replaces it. Thoughtful prompting keeps the student at the center, not the machine.

By taking an intentional, iterative approach to prompts instead of passively accepting AI suggestions, we utilize these tools responsibly and effectively.

Research-Based Strategies

  • Formulate prompts aligned to defined learning goals (Buchanan et al., 2018)
  • Provide necessary background/context about students and curriculum (Schlesinger et al., 2018)  
  • Evaluate AI responses critically before use and re-prompt as needed (Nouri et al., 2020)
  • Train students to analyze prompts and AI output discernment (Gleason et al., 2021)
  • Monitor for over-reliance and course-correct prompts to re-center learning (Rauf et al., 2021)

The Next Steps for Prompt-Proficient Educators

As you explore classroom AI tools, take small steps to build prompt mastery:

  • Start by prompting an AI search engine or simple chatbot on uncontroversial topics. Practice iteratively refining prompts and analyzing responses.
  • Observe peers skilled in prompting AI technologies. Discuss their strategies and lessons learned. 
  • Explore research and best practices around AI prompts. Identify principles applicable to your subject area and students.
  • When selecting a classroom AI tool, prioritize those providing transparency about training data and capabilities to inform effective prompting. 
  • Prompt gradually at first. Use AI suggestions to inspire your own lesson ideas, but evaluate and enhance before implementing.  
  • Enlist student input on AI activities. Co-design prompts and analyze results together. Learn from their perspectives.
  • Prompt proactively to steer AI away from inappropriate suggestions before encountering them. Monitor use and continuously improve.

Mastering the art of strategic prompting allows us to utilize AI as a tool that enlarges, rather than diminishes, quality education. With care, prompts help activate the best in artificial intelligence and the best in human teaching. Our classrooms need both.

With deliberate prompting and oversight, AI became an asset helping me create lessons personalized to each student’s needs and interests. But as the teacher, I had to take responsibility for actively steering its contributions. Used thoughtfully, AI tools can enhance student learning without relinquishing the human element every teacher provides. We remain the irreplaceable guides lighting the path to knowledge and growth.

Some Specific Examples Of Evolving Prompts

English:

Claude: Should parents monitor kids’ internet usage? Why or why not? Use your experiences to support your view.

Teacher: Let’s make this more specific to our bullying unit.

Claude: Should parents monitor kids’ social media to prevent cyberbullying? Support your view using your own experiences.

Teacher: Instead of experiences, have them research statistics.

Claude: Should parents monitor kids’ social media to prevent cyberbullying? Support your view by researching and citing statistics on cyberbullying.

Science:

Claude: Predict and observe reactions between zinc and liquids. Follow my step-by-step procedure.

Teacher: Let them design their own experimental procedure.

Claude: Design an experiment testing how zinc reacts with different liquids. Develop a hypothesis, materials list, procedure, and observation table. Conduct the experiment safely.

Teacher: Provide equipment parameters and time limits.

Claude: Design a 5-minute experiment with these materials to test zinc reactions. Hypothesize, outline procedure, collect data.

History:

Claude: Here are 2 interviews with Rosa Parks about her experience.

Teacher: Recommend a credible secondary source to add perspective.

Claude: Read these 2 Rosa Parks interviews. Also, here is a scholarly article analyzing the interviews in historical context.

Teacher: Outline 3 questions to consider across the sources.

Claude: After reading the interviews and analysis, answer these questions comparing the primary and secondary sources.

Math:

Claude: Sara scored 6 points per game. She played 5 games and scored 30 points total. How many in game 2 if she scored double her average?

Teacher: Increase difficulty and add more steps.

Claude: Sara averaged 6 points over 5 games and scored 30 points total. Her points in games 1-3 were 6, 12, 3. How many points did she score in games 4 and 5?

Teacher: Make this about basketball practice drills instead.

Claude: Sara completed 5 basketball drills, averaging 6 points on each drill. She scored 30 points total across all 5 drills. If she scored 6, 12, and 3 points in the first 3 drills, how many points did she score in drills 4 and 5?

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