The Educator's Notebook

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

Educator’s Notebook #448 (May 26, 2024)


  • It’s Memorial Day Weekend in the US, and for many schools, it’s Commencement weekend, too.  This is a short issue this week, but one with several powerful posts to review or bookmark for when the ceremonies are over.

    In the features, first find John Spencer’s excellent essay on the centrality of teachers in an age of AI. Spencer collects many reflections that have circulated over the last year and illustrates them in images and video as well as compelling prose.  Also in the features, find an excellent reflection in Times Higher Ed on talking with parents about university expectations in the admissions process.

    Throughout the issue, also find news about a lost slave narrative that has been discovered, a philanthropist’s remarkable commencement address, how some schools are advancing DEI work amicably amidst the culture wars, and much more.  Also, look for excellent reflections in the AI Update at the end of the issue, too.

    These and more, enjoy!




    Read this issue and all back issues online at

    • John Spencer
    • 05/23/24

    “Our humanity, as imperfect as it may be, is a gift to our students. In an age of A.I., our students still need a human to listen and empathize; to experiment and adapt; to make mistakes and apologize. They will need a guide who can build a relationship and help them navigate a complex world.”

    • Times Higher Education
    • 05/01/24

    “Everyone knows Oxford and Cambridge and the Ivy League institutions, but do they know that UCL, MIT and Delft University of Technology have the top three architecture programmes in the world? Do they know that Princeton University isn’t one of the top 10 universities in computer science? Do they know that Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, ranks higher than Cambridge and Oxford in the field of business management?”


    • NPR
    • 05/23/24

    “"The first $500 is our gift to you. The second $500 is for you to give to somebody else or another organization who could use it more than you.” As he spoke, security officers carried two black duffel bags onstage. They were filled with 3,000 envelopes, which he said were decorated by students at two local elementary schools, and labeled either "gift" or “give.""






    • New York Times
    • 05/23/24

    “The rediscovery of a long-forgotten slave narrative would be notable enough. But this one, scholars who have seen it say, is unique for its global perspective and its uncensored fury, from a man living far outside the trans-Atlantic network of white abolitionists who often limited what the formerly enslaved could write about their experiences. And it comes with an uncanny twist: Jacobs was the brother of Harriet Jacobs, whose 1861 autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” the first published slave narrative written by a formerly enslaved African American woman, is now seen as a cornerstone of the 19th-century literary canon.”


    • MiddleWeb
    • 05/19/24
    • Overdeck Family Foundation
    • 04/03/24

    “Over the past two decades, it’s become more clear that curricula matter for student learning. For instance, a number of compelling experimental studies have found positive impacts of high-quality instructional materials (HQIM)… Yet, as the field learns more about curricular use and adoption, it is also becoming evident that just using HQIM may not be effective for boosting student achievement… Curriculum-based professional learning (CBPL), which invites teachers to actively participate in the inquiry-based learning that standards-aligned instructional materials require, has emerged as a powerful way to help educators improve and strengthen their use of HQIM.”



    • Tablet
    • 05/20/24

    “When he was editing Robert Caro’s 1,500-page omnibus on Robert Moses, The Power Broker, Bob Gottlieb agonized over the more than 300,000 words he cut from the original manuscript. Yet unlike cuts he made from the plethora of books he’d previously edited, these were words he loved just as much as those that remained. “Here the problem was that I didn’t want to get rid of this material either. But,” said Gottlieb, “it had to go.” If writers see editors, with some justification, as a necessary evil, true editors often see themselves, appropriately, in the same way.”



    • EdWeek
    • 05/21/24
    • After Babel
    • 05/20/24

    “This time around, with rising concern about the phone-based childhood, the response could not be more different. Numerous youth-led organizations have spontaneously emerged in response to the harms that young people have experienced due to the design and nature of social media platforms. Today, members of Gen Z are teaming up with concerned adults to push back against companies so that they design their products in a way that will no longer harm them.”



A.I. Update


  • As we near the end of the first full year with AI, and while the AI sector continues to catapult forward, the teaching profession is coming to what I see as a double sided approach to the technology: both a warm embrace and a stark red line.

    The warm embrace comes from educators who have truly spent time with the technology, who have come to understand its opportunities and limits, and who have recognized how it has the capability to support the work that we do. What may seem controversial now is that this will eventually be all educators. The embrace will look different for each person, but AI will pervade so much of our workflow, and it will support us in ways that will seem second nature in the future: perhaps in our research work, perhaps in our planning, perhaps in our administrative tasks, but inevitably in numerous ways for each person. This is the warm embrace.

    At the same time, the stark red line is also becoming more clear. While technophiles pronounce the obsolescence of teachers, it is patently clear to those of us who work with students — and it is increasingly important to state definitively — that students will always need teachers. Real, human teachers. The featured post by John Spencer in the main section of this newsletter makes this case clearly. The piece by New York Times film critic Alissa Wilkinson featured here below also makes a similar statement. AI will continue to provide new and more ways to support teachers, but the relational component of teaching and learning will always require human connection.

    In this light, this week’s two features offer compelling provocations. The first piece — “Ninety Five Theses On AI” — offers an excellent set of talking points and topics for individual or class research. Each statement is worth a full discussion. Much of it is technical, but all of it prompts questions about the what the future might look like and what the best paths forward might be. And the second feature asks what it means for technology to look and feel and sound increasingly human. Written by a film critic, the piece reflects on the new ChatGPT and its remarkable semblance to the movie “Her.”

    These and more — including some leaps forward by OpenAI and Microsoft, as well as the announcement that Khan Academy’s teacher tools are now fully free — enjoy!


    • New York Times
    • 05/20/24

    “But if the point of living lies in relationships with other people, then it’s hard to think of A.I. assistants that imitate humans without nervousness. I don’t think they’re going to solve the loneliness epidemic at all. During the presentation, Murati said several times that the idea was to “reduce friction” in users’ “collaboration” with ChatGPT. But maybe the heat that comes from friction is what keeps us human.”

    • Second Best
    • 05/07/24

    “III. AI progress is accelerating, not plateauing. 20) The last 12 months of AI progress were the slowest they’ll be for the foreseeable future. 21) Scaling LLMs still has a long way to go, but will not result in superintelligence on its own, as minimizing cross-entropy loss over human-generated data converges to human-level intelligence. 22) Exceeding human-level reasoning will require training methods beyond next token prediction, such as reinforcement learning and self-play, that (once working) will reap immediate benefits from scale.”





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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