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On The Catherine Project, and Reading Plato in an Age of AI

Image by ChatGPT 4o based on the text of this post One of this past year’s great joys was participating in a reading group on Socratic Dialogues with The Catherine Project.    Every Tuesday night for 3-4 months I joined a zoom call with more than a dozen strangers from around the world to talk about Plato’s writing  for 90 minutes .   It was free and it was excellent.   As an educator, I had found references to Socrates unavoidable — the Socratic method, the maxim “Know thyself,” the pursuit of a “good life” — but I had never encountered Socrates on my own, and I felt I should do something about it. I had encountered the Catherine Project through a reader of the newsletter and I thought to try it out. Reading groups with the Catherine Project are free (donations are welcome; it’s a nonprofit), and they are led by volunteer facilitators. They pursue largely but not exclusively classical, philosophical, and other “Great” texts: not just Plato and Aristotle, but also Jane Austen and The T
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Why You Need to Talk About AI

Why You Need to Talk About AI Image: GPT-4/DALL-E It’s time to have "the talk." You’ve been avoiding it. It’s a little awkward because you’re not really sure how to go about it. Students are getting anxious for lack of clear information and they don’t know who to go to for advice. Some teachers really want to dive right in, but others don’t think it has any place in school. Parents are asking questions about how to navigate this important moment in their children’s education… It’s time to talk with kids about AI. Education has three purposes : to prepare students for the workforce, to prepare students for participation in civil and democratic society, and to prepare students for a fulfilling life. AI is already propelling significant changes in each of these areas. So great is the impact on each of these areas that failing to talk with students about the role of AI in their (and our) lives amounts to a level of professional negligence. As educators and citizens, we failed

Are Conferences Effective Professional Development? Are They Worth the Cost?

Image: An annual calendar of international EdTech conferences Short answer: yes.  Longer answer: follow up is necessary.  Why? Conferences don’t change practice, sustained professional development does. But conferences do provide new inspiration and ideas for what sustained professional development might include. Linda Darling-Hammond’s research reminds us that the best professional development is ongoing, collaborative, practice-focused, and student-centered. Conferences light the spark, but an ongoing, collaborative structure is needed to fan the flame into a fire. This past week, I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools, and I attended nearly every session on artificial intelligence. It was an enriching dive into how leading schools are thinking about AI in their classrooms, and it raised questions about pedagogy, law, ethics, equity, and more.  If I were currently teaching, I wouldn’t have walked away from most sessions with tactics I coul

Rethinking Academic Excellence in the Age of AI

This week, my 3rd grade son was working on a presentation on Greek myths. He had to make a tri-fold poster on Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and when it came time to find a picture, we decided it might be fun to create one with AI. It became a family activity — one that reveals magical opportunities and real limits of generative AI for all grade levels. It also became a clarifying moment for what it means to teach in the age of generative AI. Zeus and Cubism Our prompts were almost always simple. We started with “Please make me a picture of Zeus.” The first outcomes appeared in the style of a fantasy novel: stereotypical, bearded, and muscled. In our first few attempts, we tried specifications for details like how to hold a lightning bolt: Our son loves soccer, so we tried some other formats: “imagine he is a soccer player” wearing the school uniform and “make it more kid-friendly”: My wife had the idea to ask for a cubist Zeus. We learned that ChatGPT can’t do cubism.  Make it more abs

On Artificial Intelligence, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the Risks of Playing With Magic

  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  - Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962) When I uploaded to ChatGPT a picture of my family taken at a screening of Taylor Swift’s “Eras” Tour, and asked ChatGPT simply to “write a poem about the attached picture,” and when it returned to me a sonnet accurately describing my wife and children wearing “Swiftie” shirts in front of a poster of the singer herself, capturing the mix of love, fandom, and family, I couldn’t help but pause to appreciate what an incredible time we are living in.  Today’s technology might as well be magic. I’ve been thinking recently about another magical moment, too: Disney’s 1940 release of Fantasia , which includes the nine-minute, short film “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”  The animated film recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, but the story is actually much, much older.  And in its age, it serves as a timeless cautionary tale f

A Boarding School Musical

So, I wrote a one-act musical about boarding school .  Hamilton-inspired, it’s a hip-hop, pop, and classical music fusion that aims to both send up and speak authentically to the bizarre experience of being an adolescent in a boarding school. It went up at a school meeting, total surprise to the students.  25 awesome faculty members joined in.  The kids were ecstatic. Part satire and part tribute, it begins with learning about boarding school for the first time, carries through the first day of classes, and finishes, of course, with a dance number. While it’s about boarding school holistically, there are good chunks that apply to most any school, like the classes section, in particular.  Here are the time-stamps for different scenes: 00:00 Opening Number 14:04 Sit-down Breakfast 17:30 Classes (US History, Physics I, Math) 28:00 Co-Curriculars 30:30 Walk-Through Dinner 32:11 Epilogue & Dance Click "Show More" on the YouTube page to jump to a sce

"Know to Know No More": Teaching in the Age of Information

The last few years have been a time of particular information (and misinformation) saturation.  The essay below was a response, in 2011, to a school initiative inviting teacher reflections, but its themes feel even more relevant today.  Then, I had recently returned to teaching after four years as a musician and working on political campaigns.  I saw the world differently, and the essay was entitled: “On Going, Knowing, and Coming Back Again.” Same essay below, different title. It has been edited only slightly. The prompt was: We would like to put together a volume of "faculty meditations" or reflections on teaching in the broadest sense of the word… The most important element of this collection of texts is passion----love of what John Taylor refers to as "the calling." “Know to Know No More” On teaching in the age of information 1 When confronted with international crises and wars overseas, with the usurpation of attention by technology, and with