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Durango School District 9-R embraces AI technology

Students utilize Adobe Firefly to create imagery for narrative and expository writing
Durango School District 9-R announced that it will use AI technology to supplement student’s learning this week. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

Durango School District 9-R has committed to using artificial intelligence in the classroom.

The school district announced this week its intention to integrate A.I. technology into the classroom, but one question remains: how far will that technology span?

Durango High School principal Jon Hoerl told The Durango Herald earlier this year that the school had been looking at how the technology could be useful in classroom settings, but he understands it could be used to commit academic misconduct.

Durango School District 9-R Instructional Technology Coach Matt Smith said teachers have had in depth conversations with their students about appropriate usage of AI.

In fact, the implementation of the technology has allowed teachers to have discussions about the ethics of AI.

“I think we want to embrace it, right? This is the future and it's our job to prepare the kids for their future. To just like put our heads in the sand and try and block everything, we're not really doing our job,” Smith said.

At the elementary and middle school levels, students will be learning how to use Adobe Firefly, which allows students to generate AI artwork to help enhance writing projects.

“It just really ramps up engagement because it's almost like the kid has like a professional illustrator there to help them tell their stories,” Smith said.

Not only does it help with students’ narrative writing, but they are also benefiting from using Firefly with their expository essays, Smith said.

In one example, he said the students had to research ancient Babylon and the more detailed research the students could input into the AI generation software, the more detailed imagery the students would develop, incentivizing the research aspect of the project.

Teachers at Escalante Middle School are utilizing Diffit to tailor texts to the unique needs of each student, which creates a personalized and inclusive educational environment.

Across the district, educators are using AI technology like ChatGPT and Magic School AI to streamline the creation of instructional materials such as rubrics, questions and exemplars.

“I think it just helps streamline tasks that make teachers lives a little easier. Teacher burnout is real and a lot of teachers don't have a ton of planning time during the day,” Smith said. “If they can get AI to create a rubric, or help write like a weekly newsletter, or give these bullet points, starting a task like that, anything like that can help save them time.”

DHS English students are using Adobe Podcast’s “enhance with AI” feature to refine speeches for scholarship contests.

While there has been skepticism about the usage of AI in academic settings, the district says these tools can be an indispensable ally in K-12 education, enhancing learning, promoting inclusivity and advancing innovation.

Smith said that many teachers are having students utilize AI similar to how websites like Wikipedia would be used for research, meaning it's a great initial source but not something to reference in an academic paper.

So far the district has experienced positive feedback from both students and teachers.

“It's fascinating to hear the wide range of opinions they have about whether AI... is positive or negative, and should we use it or not? Including (students) in the discussion has been huge,” Smith said.