So, there I was, trying to help my 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, prepare for her SATs exams. That's a tricky time for any young student, the first time they'll feel the pressure of a formal examination, at a moment where they're about to transition from the comfortable world of primary education into life at secondary school, with all of the expectations that come with that move.
Daisy's a bright kid: she takes after her mum. But, we'd been dealing with long-term illness at home, and she'd fallen behind in maths.
Maths Evolution: A Parent's Dilemma
I wanted to step up to the mark and help. So we spent time pouring over example papers to see where she had weaknesses: long division, squared and cubed numbers, written multiplication, percentages, dividing and adding fractions. From there, I planned to work with her on each subject area to bring her back up to the standard she should have been at by now. And I'm not a pushy parent, by the way!
We sat down to begin our revision sessions. That's when I realised the flaw in my plan. After watching my daughter attempted to solve the questions in her test paper, I heard my inner voice channel Mr Incredible...
"Why would they change math!?"
I'd been dabbling with ChatGPT3.5 out of professional curiosity and was already excited about how AI was finally set to 'have its moment' and achieve mass adoption.
But this particular maths conundrum just so happened to arrive on the same day as ChatGPT4. So now I had a real-life problem, rather than the random prompts I'd been throwing at the previous version, and a perfect test for the latest update.
I dug around online to find out how I might create a virtual maths tutor. I figured that if we could train an AI with relevant information about our needs, it could just work. And boy, did it work.
I found a video online, explaining how to train a chatbot to become a specialist personal trainer on any subject.
First, you ask ChatGPT to generate its own prompts, using an 'act as' request. So, a quick dig around online yielded a list of prompts to help. The prompt goes something like this:
"I want you to act as a prompt generator. So, first, I will give you a title like "Act as a Personal Trainer."
Then you give me a prompt like this: "I want you to act as a personal trainer. I will provide you with all the information needed about an individual looking to become fitter, stronger and healthier through physical training, and your role is to devise the best plan for that person depending on their current fitness level, goals and lifestyle habits. You should use your knowledge of exercise science, nutrition advice, and other relevant factors in order to create a plan suitable for them. My first request is "I need help designing an exercise program for someone who wants to lose weight."
The prompt should be self-explanatory and appropriate to the title."
Now, from that prompt and a couple of similar ones I used in my training, I could ask ChatGPT4 to write relevant prompts on any area of learning or development I needed.
With the AI capable of writing its own prompts in that style, I then typed this:
"I want you to act as a personalised Maths Tutor for a Key Stage 2 (UK) student preparing for her SATs."
Et voila, GPT4 wrote its own detailed prompt, which we pasted back into the chat, and the tutor was born.
The Birth of a Virtual Tutor
Understandably, the virtual tutor wanted more context before getting started, so I provided Daisy's age and the areas where she struggled in maths. We already had the list of weaknesses from when I'd analysed her test papers.
What I didn't want to do was to give Daisy a dry, boring experience so that learning felt like a chore. She's a bright kid with a love of language and a sharp sense of humour. Trust me, I've been on the receiving end of it enough times.
So things had to be engaging.
Laughter and Learning: Daisy's Journey with Izzy
I gave the AI this information, telling it that she likes a good pun, gag, or one-liner to keep her motivated.
I asked Daisy to give the tutor a name. "Izzy", she suggested. The AI didn't need to know this, but she loves dogs just as much as she loves a joke: Izzy is the name of our cocker spaniel puppy. They're as mad as each other.
Did you know TeacherGoals Publishing launched a book on artificial intelligence in education?
The AI Classroom is a must-read for all educators!
With the virtual tutor responding to the name of a crazy dog, we gave Izzy a whirl. And what followed blew my mind.
Izzy introduced herself to Daisy and started the first session with this cracker of a gag:
"Why was the maths book sad? Because it had too many problems!"
...before launching into its first explanation of long division, one of the key areas of focus we'd identified needed improvement. And, just like that, Daisy was hooked by the perfect balance of learning and humour.
We could have taken things further. For example, I could have asked the tutor to always feature dogs when explaining how to tackle a particular problem. I could have told the tutor she was indeed a mad cocker spaniel. And you know what, I still might, but I figured we'd better press on with some actual learning; otherwise, the whole exercise was at risk of being somewhat self-defeating.
Embracing AI: A Vision for the Future of Education
The sessions with 'Izzy' were scarily on point: they focused on Daisy's specific needs, targeting precise areas where she needed help. Izzy gave us clear explanations and step-by-step guidance, with the occasional well-placed quip. (Side note: ChatGPT isn't the best at generating its own jokes, but we appreciate the effort.)
Armed with a little bit of information and a lot of curiosity, I got my girl back on track with her maths.
My approach was a little ramshackle. I'd found information online to give me a starting point, then trained the Chatbot with context until it understood what I expected. But it has opened my eyes to how education has to change and will do for the better if we embrace AI.
It's insane to think that you could quickly train a virtual tutor to address any number of specialised needs among the students you're working with. That can make learning fair for all, offering personalised learning to students regardless of their current attainment or learning needs.