AI Lesson Plan Generators: The Good, The Bad, and The Misleading

It’s not just an exaggerated headline from a futuristic sci-fi movie: AI has taken over the world!

Well, okay, maybe there’s a teeny-tiny bit of exaggeration there. Artificial intelligence may not have taken over the world, but it has certainly taken the world by storm, and for good reason! These technological models are able to sense, act, comprehend, and learn with almost eerie human-like intelligence. It’s no wonder that AI models are being used on virtually every site, from businesses to recreational use—its abilities are endless!

AI has truly become a lifesaver in many ways and saved time in many more. With its seemingly limitless capabilities, there’s little it can’t do, even in the realm of education. In fact, I even wrote a blog post not too long ago covering the variety of ways you can take advantage of AI models to kick your back-to-school season into high gear, such as through icebreakers, newsletters, brainstorming, and more. What can’t AI do?

Excellent question. There are a few obvious answers, of course: AI can’t get to know your students, AI can’t add your personal touch, AI can’t ensure your classroom is a positive and comfortable learning environment… The list goes on. However, not everything is so black and white when it comes to determining what AI can and can’t do for your classroom.

That being said, here’s the million-dollar question: can teachers use AI lesson plan generators for regular lesson planning? After all, if we’re using AI for everything else, we may as well let it tackle lesson plans too, right? It seems like a natural choice.

Well, I’m not so sure. Let’s take a few minutes and explore the good, the bad, and the misleading of AI lesson plan generators.

A gray image with an Earth in the middle. Across the image of the Earth are the words AI Lesson Plan Generators the good the bad and the misleading.

AI Lesson Plan Generators: The Good

If you’ve already taken ChatGPT for a spin, then you’re likely already aware of the many benefits it offers. I don’t blame you, either—it can be lots of fun! But for those of you who haven’t tried it yet or just plain aren’t interested, I’ll go ahead and fill you in.

We all fall into a rut sometimes or start to yearn for a change. If you’re ever stuck and need some ideas, AI models such as ChatGPT are great brainstorming tools! They can quickly brainstorm ideas, tools, resources, or even lesson plans. This is a huge lifesaver when you’re in a hurry and need something quick.

Another plus is that ChatGPT is always ready to explain concepts or ideas to you. You can ask just about any question and it’ll be answered in a snap! I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve even asked ChatGPT to simplify its explanations for me and have always been pleased with the results. These explanations can help you flesh out the background you need before teaching a subject or content area you aren’t confident in, including cultural backgrounds and history.

One thing to remember is that ChatGPT works best with specific instructions and guidelines. For example, you’ll get much better results if you ask for an activity related to a particular standard rather than simply asking for “third grade science activities.” You aren’t limited to activities, either—if you ask ChatGPT to create twenty questions that check for understanding of a standard, those twenty questions will be ready to go in the time it takes to sip your coffee! Even better, every AI lesson plan generator is available at all hours, too; no need to wait for active times. It’s no surprise that this tool is extremely time-saving when it comes to planning out your week.

With so many benefits to using AI models in your classroom, what’s not to love? Let’s make those AI lesson plans already, right? Well, we’ll get to that shortly. First, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin.

AI Lesson Plan Generators: The Bad

Despite the many benefits of using AI in the classroom, there are also several valid concerns about its use, especially when it comes to creating lesson plans. I hate to rain on the AI parade, but it’s important to be fully informed on tools that can impact your students’ learning experience! With that in mind, let’s explore a few reasons why you might want to steer clear of using an AI lesson plan generator.

When we get down to the absolute basics, we see that these AI models work by interpreting and generating text using the patterns that it was trained on. More simply, AI models generate an output that matches patterns found in its database related to our input. This means that, while our current era of AI is certainly more advanced than past editions, these models are still unable to “think” outside their programming.

But if AI models are providing us with ideas and information from this database that we haven’t considered, then isn’t it still helpful? Sure, but the fact of the matter is that AI models are unable to provide lesson plans with richness and diversity. They simply are not capable of genuine creativity and coming up with entirely new ideas or approaches in the same way that a human teacher can. It doesn’t know what will resonate with students, and it struggles to incorporate relatable events that will draw connections to make the content meaningful.

Besides that, since AI models draw from a finite database (ChatGPT’s database, for instance, contains 570GB of information), their ideas eventually begin to repeat themselves. I have seen this personally with many topics on ChatGPT, too—not only with brainstorming lesson plan ideas. In that same vein, imagine if everyone in your building were to use an AI lesson plan generator. Wouldn’t everyone’s way of teaching start to look the same? It could stifle innovation and individual teaching styles, leading to a homogenized teaching experience. Who wants that? At that point, it’s almost as if the AI models have become the teachers. No one wants that.

AI Lesson Plan Generators: The Misleading

AI models can be beneficial, but their pros don’t always outweigh the cons as outlined above. Further, there are several misconceptions about these AI models that should be cleared up.

For example, while it seems that ChatGPT is accurate in most situations, its database doesn’t contain any information past September 2021. How much has changed since then? How many scientific breakthroughs have surfaced in 2022 and beyond? The James Webb Space Telescope, for instance, launched on December 25th, 2021. That means that ChatGPT cannot verify that the telescope even launched, let alone access any of the information that NASA has gleaned from the telescope in the past year and a half.

Beyond that, there are a lot of times that AI models simply make mistakes. Sure, we make plenty of mistakes too as teachers—I’m not denying that! However, when you ask ChatGPT to create entire resources around a standard only to discover that the model is mistaken on the standard’s importance, then these simple mistakes turn into a waste of time and resources. Even worse, these mistakes could lead to confusion or misunderstandings, which we know is detrimental to the learning process. Your knowledge base is crucial to students in an ever-changing world.

Furthermore, while you think you’d have control over the content being created, the AI lesson plan generator may select certain materials or topic information to include that you may not have chosen yourself, or it might omit information that you believe is important. Past that, it might include only multiple choice questions while you prefer a mix of open-ended and multiple choice. Sure, you could tell Chat GPT what you want, but by time you get done rewriting your prompts and narrowing down your instructions in order to produce specifically what you wanted, you may as well have created the resource yourself in the same amount of time.

Most importantly, however, is the biggest buzzword in all of educational history: differentiation. ChatGPT can define “differentiation” for you and give you examples of differentiated resources, but the AI model simply doesn’t have a deep understanding of the context, nor of pedagogy or your students’ specific needs. It cannot provide you with scaffolding steps, differentiating tiers, or ways to help the diverse needs in your particular classroom. You can tailor any lesson that the AI lesson plan model gives you, of course, but then aren’t you just back to writing the plans? Is it really saving you time in the long run?

AI Lesson Plan Generators vs Teacher Author Created Materials

Now, since we’re on the topic of outsourced lesson plans, I want to address the elephant in the room: using platforms such as my store on Teachers Pay Teachers to purchase teacher-authored lesson plans and materials is different from using AI lesson plan generators like ChatGPT in several ways.

For instance, the resources on TPT are hand-made and tailored by experienced educators who understand the nuances of teaching. The teacher-authors creating these lesson plans have plenty of in-person knowhow, from managing classroom dynamics to adapting to different learning styles and especially addressing individual learning needs. While ChatGPT can understand and generate text-based pattern in the data it has been trained on, it doesn’t have this practical experience or understanding.

A chart comparing AI lesson plan generators with Teacher author materials

Most resources on TPT are high-quality, accurate, and effective materials. In addition, they’re plenty more up-to-date with researched best-practices than ChatGPT’s two-year-old database! Personally, I set standards to maintain and receive feedback that demonstrates this fact; that is to say, I regularly check and update my materials to stay up to date.

When it comes to the accuracy of information, ChatGPT can occasionally produce incorrect or misleading dialogue, and there’s no system of checks and balances to correct it besides your own feedback to the AI model that doesn’t truly interpret your words. In that same vein of feedback, you can read every review I’ve ever received on my resources, but the only review you see about ChatGPT is what you hear from your colleagues.

While you may need to adapt and modify lessons created by both a teacher-author or ChatGPT to fit your teaching style and your students’ needs, you’ll find that you’re more likely to need to edit an AI lesson plan model due to its inability to relate to the classroom environment. Further, on TPT, you’ll find a large number of unique resources crafted from diverse backgrounds and individual teaching experiences, along with a broad variety of teaching styles, techniques, and perspectives.

Finally, on a more personal level, when you purchase a teacher-author’s resource, you are helping them with their classroom or family, just as they are helping you with your classroom with their resource. Teachers need to stick together as a community—we need each other!

An image of a science vocabulary game.
AI Lesson Plan Generators cannot produce board
games such as this science vocabulary game.

It’s important to note, though, that these shortcomings do not indicate that AI models should be neglected for use in education as a whole. AI lesson plan generators certainly have the potential to be a valuable tool in education! However, careful thought needs to go into its use, determining what tasks it can be used for, and how it can be integrated with traditional teaching methods.

One of the key characteristics that distinguishes human teachers from AI lesson plan generators is the ability to be creative and innovative in teaching methods. This creativity allows educators to make lessons more engaging, adapt to the unique needs of their students, and produce the growth we love to see. While AI models can assist in many areas of teaching, it is not a substitute for the professional experience, judgment, and personal touch that an educator brings.

Now, with those guidelines set… Go forth and create, or don’t! The choice is yours.

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