The Educator's Notebook

A weekly collection of education-related news from around the web.

Educator’s Notebook #439 (March 3, 2024)


  • A quiet week on the news front, but a bustling week of learning.  

    Two hot button issues in the feature articles this week.  First, Merriam-Webster has proclaimed that it is now permissible to end a sentence with a preposition. Prepare yourself for battles on this one.  Second, and more seriously, Pew Research has released the results of their polling of teachers, teens, and the public on how we handle race and LGBTQ issues in schools. This is good data for informing discussions and decisions within your community.

    In other news, see several wide ranging and interesting posts in assessment, several articles on how a process called “deliberative polling” can help build empathy and bridges across difference, and a helpful piece in pedagogy on why kids might be zoning out in class and how to address it.  The selection on deliberative polling (in diversity/inclusion) draws on an experiment done before the 2020 election, and it may be useful in your preparations for the upcoming election cycle.

    This past week included an extraordinarily valuable several days at the NAIS Annual Conference. It inspired this short blog post: “Are conferences effective professional development? Are they worth the cost?”  Perhaps as a preview of my answer, I’ll be at the following two conferences in the weeks ahead:

    • SXSWedu (Austin, TX) is the premier location for conversations across all stakeholders in education. Here is my planned schedule at SXSWedu, which takes place this week (March 4-7). This is the one conference I have attended more than any other to get a bead on what’s happening across the whole education landscape.
    • The ASU-GSV Summit (San Diego, CA) is a West Coast EdTech pilgrimage. The AIR Show(April 13 – 15) promises to be the largest gathering specifically focused on AI in schools. It’s free, and excerpts from the musical I’ve been working on will be performed there. I’ll also be on the ground during the GSV Summit (April 14-17) and will be sharing more of what’s percolating here in future weeks.


    Looking forward to crossing paths with you if you are attending either.  Until then, enjoy this week’s articles!


    • NPR
    • 03/01/24

    “"It is permissible in English for a preposition to be what you end a sentence with," the dictionary publisher said in a post shared on Instagram last week. "The idea that it should be avoided came from writers who were trying to align the language with Latin, but there is no reason to suggest ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong.”"

    • Pew Research
    • 02/22/24

    “Amid national debates about what schools are teaching, we asked public K-12 teachers, teens and the American public how they see topics related to race, sexual orientation and gender identity playing out in the classroom.”


    • EdWeek
    • 02/29/24
    • Washington Post
    • 02/27/24

    “The effect of a thoughtful test scores policy ought to be exactly what Yale described when it announced its recent decision: The students across racial and socioeconomic groups most likely to excel become those most likely to be admitted. Diversity, meanwhile, doesn’t suffer. Such an outcome is possible: Most research on the past years’ test-optional and test-blind policies has not shown a dramatic rise in diversity attributable to them.”

    • Saturday Evening Post
    • 02/26/24

    “There are a few points that are incontestable about Stiles’s four categories of achievement. First, they together comprise what is almost certainly the first documented grading system in the history of American education… Second, the clear purpose of this mode of evaluation was to publicly rank and sort students according to their achievement, not to give them feedback on their learning or to suggest how they might improve before the next exam… This is grading’s original sin, and — despite centuries of change in American schools and colleges — we have never been able to move past it. From the very beginning, grading was more about sorting, signaling, and certification than it was a system for supporting or enhancing students and their learning.”






    • The Art of Noticing
    • 02/28/24

    “My favorite monument here in New Orleans is in Crescent Park, on one of my regular bike routes. But I must have ridden past it 50 times before I actually paid any attention to it. And even when I did stop and consider it in the moment, and I thought something along the lines of “that’s cool!,” my curiosity basically ended there. But when I rode past it again this weekend, I decided it was time to find out more about this object that I have actually come to think of as a sort of personal landmark.”





A.I. Update


  • Made with GPT-4/DALL-E

    Artificial intelligence is moving faster, getting bigger, and devouring more, but humans learn at only one speed — ours. Every teacher knows this difference, but technologists, sometimes imagining a Matrix-like world in which we can upload information, often forget.

    While we can summon any piece of information from the internet, until we slowly and deeply engage with it, we will not have mastered it enough to transfer what we learn to other settings. Recent research seems to be bearing this out: no one is a “fast learner”, we just have different starting points. Indeed, learning science reminds us that spacing and interleaving over time is necessary for longer term retention: Students forget what they cram; they remember what they recursively return to. Technology is fast, but learning is slow. It takes time.

    Similarly, anyone who has led an initiative at their school knows it takes time for adults, too, to understand a new idea, to take individual ownership of it, to integrate it into their work and lives, and to share that understanding with others. Meaning making is a deliberative process. The social and emotional experience of collective learning and professional development is slow.  It takes time.

    What does this mean?

    Now, in a time of emerging artificial intelligence, narratives are emerging about accelerating learning and about revolutionizing the experience of school, and these narratives should be challenged. The brain works the same way it has for thousands of years. AI tools can interact with it in different ways, but the building of knowledge, skills, habits, and character will remain a slow, iterative, and social process.  

    AI does invite opportunities for removing administrative distractions for students and teachers alike, and it is full of promise to support and enhance the learning experience. Further still, it may provide more personalized opportunities for students to engage materials on their time and at their own inspiration. This creates more opportunities for learning and more pathways for learning, but it does not accelerate the process of learning — at least not the kind of learning that matters most.

    In this spirit of following both the speed of the industry and the speed of humans, schools I have been speaking with have been moving quickly to set clear but flexible guardrails while allowing more space for teachers to engage and experiment deliberately. Now is the time to look to the end of the year, the summer, and the start of next year as growth opportunities to align the practice of AI with its now more clearly apparent promise.

    This in mind, enjoy the slower pace of this quiet week: just three posts in this AI section. 

    The feature articles below contrast each other: the first article describes the blowback from Google’s image generator, and the second article reports on research indicating that people find AI content as reliable as human content.

    These and more, enjoy!


    • Vox
    • 02/28/24

    “When asked for an image of a Founding Father of America, Gemini showed a Black man, a Native American man, an Asian man, and a relatively dark-skinned man. Asked for a portrait of a pope, it showed a Black man and a woman of color. Nazis, too, were reportedly portrayed as racially diverse… Raghavan gave a technical explanation for why the tool overcompensates: Google had taught Gemini to avoid falling into some of AI’s classic traps, like stereotypically portraying all lawyers as men. But, Raghavan wrote, “our tuning to ensure that Gemini showed a range of people failed to account for cases that should clearly not show a range.””

    • Arxiv
    • 09/05/23

    “While participants also do not report any different perceptions of competence and trustworthiness between human and AI-generated content, they rate AI-generated content as being clearer and more engaging. The findings from this study serve as a call for a more discerning approach to evaluating information sources, encouraging users to exercise caution and critical thinking when engaging with content generated by AI systems.”


    • New York Times
    • 07/07/23

    “Weekly meal planning is a major chore, and gift giving can be daunting, with various birthdays and holidays throughout the year. And any adult who has read books for children knows that it can become repetitive, and the books aren’t always relatable to a child’s situation or growing pains. Here’s how AI can help.”


Every week I send out articles I encounter from around the web. Subject matter ranges from hard knowledge about teaching to research about creativity and cognitive science to stories from other industries that, by analogy, inform what we do as educators. This breadth helps us see our work in new ways.

Readers include teachers, school leaders, university overseers, conference organizers, think tank workers, startup founders, nonprofit leaders, and people who are simply interested in what’s happening in education. They say it helps them keep tabs on what matters most in the conversation surrounding schools, teaching, learning, and more.

Peter Nilsson


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