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Amid ChatGPT outcry, some teachers are inviting AI to class

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Teacher Donnie Piercey, right, works with students as they perform a three-scene play written by ChatGPT during his class at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, Ky., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Parameters of the play were entered into the ChatGPT site, along with instructions to set the scenes inside of a fifth-grade classroom. Line-by-line, it generated fully-formed scripts, which the students edited, briefly rehearsed and then performed. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Teacher Donnie Piercey, right, works with students as they perform a three-scene play written by ChatGPT during his class at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, Ky., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Parameters of the play were entered into the ChatGPT site, along with instructions to set the scenes inside of a fifth-grade classroom. Line-by-line, it generated fully-formed scripts, which the students edited, briefly rehearsed and then performed. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Under the fluorescent lights of a fifth grade classroom in Lexington, Kentucky, Donnie Piercey instructed his 23 students to try and outwit the “robot” that was churning out writing assignments.

The robot was the new artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, which can generate everything from essays and haikus to term papers within seconds. The technology has panicked teachers and prompted school districts to block access to the site. But Piercey has taken another approach by embracing it as a teaching tool, saying his job is to prepare students for a world where knowledge of AI will be required.

“This is the future,” said Piercey, who describes ChatGPT as just the latest technology in his 17 years of teaching that prompted concerns about the potential for cheating. The calculator, spellcheck, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube. Now all his students have Chromebooks on their desks. “As educators, we haven’t figured out the best way to use artificial intelligence yet. But it’s coming, whether we want it to or not.”

One exercise in his class pitted students against the machine in a lively, interactive writing game. Piercey asked students to “Find the Bot:” Each student summarized a text about boxing champion and Kentucky icon Muhammad Ali, then tried to figure out which was written by the chatbot.

At the elementary school level, Piercey is less worried about cheating and plagiarism than high school teachers. His district has blocked students from ChatGPT while allowing teacher access. Many educators around the country say districts need time to evaluate and figure out the chatbot but also acknowledge the futility of a ban that today’s tech-savvy students can work around.

“To be perfectly honest, do I wish it could be uninvented? Yes. But it happened,” said Steve Darlow, the technology trainer at Florida’s Santa Rosa County District Schools, which has blocked the application on school-issued devices and networks.

He sees the advent of AI platforms as both “revolutionary and disruptive” to education. He envisions teachers asking ChatGPT to make “amazing lesson plans for a substitute” or even for help grading papers. “I know it’s lofty talk, but this is a real game changer. You are going to have an advantage in life and business and education from using it.”

ChatGPT quickly became a global phenomenon after its November launch, and rival companies including Google are racing to release their own versions of AI-powered chatbots.

The topic of AI platforms and how schools should respond drew hundreds of educators to conference rooms at the Future of Education Technology Conference in New Orleans last month, where Texas math teacher Heather Brantley gave an enthusiastic talk on the “Magic of Writing with AI for all Subjects.”

Brantley said she was amazed at ChatGPT’s ability to make her sixth grade math lessons more creative and applicable to everyday life.

“I’m using ChatGPT to enhance all my lessons,” she said in an interview. The platform is blocked for students but open to teachers at her school, White Oak Intermediate. “Take any lesson you’re doing and say, ‘Give me a real-world example,’ and you’ll get examples from today — not 20 years ago when the textbooks we’re using were written.”

For a lesson about slope, the chatbot suggested students build ramps out of cardboard and other items found in a classroom, then measure the slope. For teaching about surface area, the chatbot noted that sixth graders would see how the concept applies to real life when wrapping gifts or building a cardboard box, said Brantley.

She is urging districts to train staff to use the AI platform to stimulate student creativity and problem solving skills. “We have an opportunity to guide our students with the next big thing that will be part of their entire lives. Let’s not block it and shut them out.”

Students in Piercey’s class said the novelty of working with a chatbot makes learning fun.

After a few rounds of “Find the Bot,” Piercey asked his class what skills it helped them hone. Hands shot up. “How to properly summarize and correctly capitalize words and use commas,” said one student. A lively discussion ensued on the importance of developing a writing voice and how some of the chatbot’s sentences lacked flair or sounded stilted.

Trevor James Medley, 11, felt that sentences written by students “have a little more feeling. More backbone. More flavor.”

Next, the class turned to playwriting, or as the worksheet handed out by Piercey called it: “Pl-ai Writing.” The students broke into groups and wrote down (using pencils and paper) the characters of a short play with three scenes to unfold in a plot that included a problem that needs to get solved.

Piercey fed details from worksheets into the ChatGPT site, along with instructions to set the scenes inside a fifth grade classroom and to add a surprise ending. Line by line, it generated fully formed scripts, which the students edited, briefly rehearsed and then performed.

One was about a class computer that escapes, with students going on a hunt to find it. The play’s creators giggled over unexpected plot twists that the chatbot introduced, including sending the students on a time travel adventure.

“First of all, I was impressed,” said Olivia Laksi, 10, one of the protagonists. She liked how the chatbot came up with creative ideas. But she also liked how Piercey urged them to revise any phrases or stage directions they didn’t like. “It’s helpful in the sense that it gives you a starting point. It’s a good idea generator.”

She and classmate Katherine McCormick, 10, said they can see the pros and cons of working with chatbots. They can help students navigate writer’s block and help those who have trouble articulating their thoughts on paper. And there is no limit to the creativity it can add to classwork.

The fifth graders seemed unaware of the hype or controversy surrounding ChatGPT. For these children, who will grow up as the world’s first native AI users, their approach is simple: Use it for suggestions, but do your own work.

“You shouldn’t take advantage of it,” McCormick says. “You’re not learning anything if you type in what you want, and then it gives you the answer.”

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NASA Awards University Research Projects to Support Agency Missions

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“NASA’s EPSCoR awards are a tool to strengthen research capacity in areas across our nation that have historically been underrepresented in government research,” said Torry Johnson, deputy associate administrator of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement Programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The goal with each award is to provide institutions a long-term and sustainable pathway to participating in the aerospace industry by cultivating competitive research capabilities and fostering strategic relationships with NASA experts.”

The EPSCoR awards will compliment NASA’s research portfolio to benefit future missions. Selected proposals cover a range of science and technology needs including in space manufacturing, heliophysics, astronaut health, and climate research.

The NASA EPSCoR Rapid Response Research grants, funded by the agency’s Office of STEM Engagement, will award approximately $100,000 to each project over the course of a one-year performance period for fiscal year 2024.

The awarded institutions are:

  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • University of Delaware in Newark
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Kentucky in Lexington
  • Louisiana Board of Regents in Baton Rouge
  • University of Mississippi in University
  • Montana State University in Bozeman
  • University of North Dakota in Grand Forks
  • University of Nebraska in Omaha
  • New Mexico State University in Las Cruces
  • Nevada System of Higher Education in Reno
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island
  • College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Wyoming in Laramie

NASA establishes partnerships with government, higher education, and industry to create lasting improvements in research infrastructure while enhancing national research and development competitiveness. The program is directed at those jurisdictions that have traditionally been underrepresented in competitive aerospace and aerospace-related research activities.

For more information about NASA STEM, visit:

https://stem.nasa.gov

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NASA Selects First Lunar Instruments for Artemis Astronaut Deployment

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Artist’s concept of an Artemis astronaut deploying an instrument on the lunar surface. Credits: NASA

NASA has chosen the first science instruments designed for astronauts to deploy on the surface of the Moon during Artemis III. Once installed near the lunar South Pole, the three instruments will collect valuable scientific data about the lunar environment, the lunar interior, and how to sustain a long-duration human presence on the Moon, which will help prepare NASA to send astronauts to Mars.

“Artemis marks a bold new era of exploration, where human presence amplifies scientific discovery. With these innovative instruments stationed on the Moon’s surface, we’re embarking on a transformative journey that will kick-start the ability to conduct human-machine teaming – an entirely new way of doing science,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “These three deployed instruments were chosen to begin scientific investigations that will address key Moon to Mars science objectives.”

The instruments will address three Artemis science objectives: understanding planetary processes, understanding the character and origin of lunar polar volatiles, and investigating and mitigating exploration risks. They were specifically chosen because of their unique installation requirements that necessitate deployment by humans during moonwalks. All three payloads were selected for further development to fly on Artemis III that’s targeted to launch in 2026, however, final manifesting decisions about the mission will be determined at a later date. Members of these payload teams will become members of NASA’s Artemis III science team.

The Lunar Environment Monitoring Station (LEMS) is a compact, autonomous seismometer suite designed to carry out continuous, long-term monitoring of the seismic environment, namely ground motion from moonquakes, in the lunar south polar region. The instrument will characterize the regional structure of the Moon’s crust and mantle, which will add valuable information to lunar formation and evolution models. LEMS previously received four years of NASA’s Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation funding for engineering development and risk reduction. It is intended to operate on the lunar surface from three months up to two years and may become a key station in a future global lunar geophysical network. LEMS is led by Dr. Mehdi Benna, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (LEAF) will investigate the lunar surface environment’s effects on space crops. LEAF will be the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space-radiation and partial gravity. Plant growth and development data, along with environmental parameters measured by LEAF, will help scientists understand the use of plants grown on the Moon for both human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond. LEAF is led by Christine Escobar of Space Lab Technologies, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado.

The Lunar Dielectric Analyzer (LDA) will measure the regolith’s ability to propagate an electric field, which is a key parameter in the search for lunar volatiles, especially ice. It will gather essential information about the structure of the Moon’s subsurface, monitor dielectric changes caused by the changing angle of the Sun as the Moon rotates, and look for possible frost formation or ice deposits. LDA, an internationally contributed payload, is led by Dr. Hideaki Miyamoto of the University of Tokyo and supported by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

“These three scientific instruments will be our first opportunity since Apollo to leverage the unique capabilities of human explorers to conduct transformative lunar science,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These payloads mark our first steps toward implementing the recommendations for the high-priority science outlined in the Artemis III Science Definition Team report.”

Artemis III, the first mission to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon in more than 50 years, will explore the south polar region of the Moon, within 6 degrees of latitude from the South Pole. Several proposed landing regions for the mission are located among some of the oldest parts of the Moon. Together with the permanently shadowed regions, they provide the opportunity to learn about the history of the Moon through previously unstudied lunar materials.

With the Artemis campaign, NASA will land the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the Moon, and establish long-term exploration for scientific discovery and preparation for human missions to Mars for the benefit of all.

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NASA Administrator Names New Head of Space Technology

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Dr. Kurt “Spuds” Vogel will serve as the new associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Tuesday. His appointment is effective immediately.

Vogel succeeds James Reuter, who retired from the agency in June 2023. Dr. Prasun Desai has served as the acting associate administrator since and now will return to his previous role as deputy associate administrator for STMD.

“With more than three decades of public service, including his most recent role as NASA’s director of Space Architecture, Spuds brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate,” said Nelson. “I am confident his leadership will help NASA continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with space technologies and advancing American leadership in space.”

In this role, Vogel is responsible for executive leadership, overall strategic planning and direction, and effective management for all elements of the Space Technology Programs executed under STMD’s $1.2 billion budget. He plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the full range of space technology programs and activities including budget formulation and execution, and represents the program to appropriate officials within and outside the agency.

Previously, Vogel was appointed as the director of space architectures within the Office of the Administrator at NASA Headquarters, a role he has served since July 19, 2021.

He joined the agency with 34 years of government experience, primarily in the Department of Defense.

Prior to his NASA appointment, Vogel served for six years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), leading innovative research in stealth technology, electronic warfare, air-space integration, and space control systems. He managed a portfolio of classified, state-of-the-art, high-risk programs that spanned multiple DARPA offices.

Before joining DARPA, Vogel led research and development efforts at the Air Force Research Lab’s Systems Technology Office where he directed a Defense Department science and technology portfolio. He also served as the acting chief technologist for the National Reconnaissance Office’s Survivability Assurance Office. He retired from active duty in 2010 after serving more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force in both the air and space domains.

Vogel holds a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a member of the national honor societies for both engineering and aerospace engineering.

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