Early Learners Can Think Critically Too

Hello! I’m Valerie Badica, Operational Support at Thinking Nation. I was excited to take over this week’s blog to be able to share a bit about myself and experience in the education field. Although I have a few years of experience in the role of operations, before this, I was a preschool teacher for six years and received my Masters in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Early Childhood Development. During my teaching career, I had the privilege of working at a preschool that supported children with their intrinsic motivation to explore, learn, and think critically. This really shaped the way I viewed teaching and helped me to understand that all children are curious about the world around them and inherently want to learn and create. 

I think it’s safe to say that we all learn better when we’re engaged in activities we’re already interested in, right? The same goes for children! That’s because learning seems interesting when we can relate to it. This thought is already found in research as one approach for successful ways to integrate social studies into elementary classrooms– by making content relevant to student’s lives as stated in 2023 CCSSO Guidelines: “Effective Social Studies Integration in Elementary Classrooms.” (Check out our past blog post for more research around elementary social studies).

One of the things I found most rewarding in working with young children was building close relationships with them but most importantly, knowing that I was helping them add social and learning skills to their toolbelt that are required of them by the time they get to elementary school. An example of what these relevant teaching opportunities looked like was when I would help children through conflict resolution if they were fighting over a toy. I never resolved the situation for them by telling them what they needed to do but rather, act as a narrator and state what I noticed and then helped facilitate a solution that was agreed upon by all children involved. This might sound like me simply stating, “It looks like you both want to ride the bike right now but we only have one bike, I wonder what we can do about that?” This helped students think critically and start a conversation about coming to a resolution while learning about perspective and empathy.

Another favorite memory of mine was watching children engage in pretend play. This happened every day at preschool but I especially remember a time where children built an ice cream shop using big wood blocks and later took on different roles such as customer, cashier and even traffic officer. So much learning is happening during this play time; children are engaged physically, socially, cognitively and developing turn-taking, negotiation skills, authority and so much more. Children can relate to this because they are clearly imitating what they see in the social world and by allowing these types of learning experiences to happen in the early years of a child’s life, we allow their curious minds to think critically and continue being curious and harness their love for learning later in life as they move on to grade school and on.

Thinking Nation’s Disciplinary Thinking Skills

Similarly, Thinking Nation’s mission to cultivate critical thinkers goes hand-in-hand with the skills taught as early as preschool age to become thoughtful leaders in society. In fact, one of the reasons why I enjoy working for an organization like Thinking Nation is because I noticed that the disciplinary skills used to empower students and feel confident in their thinking, are similar skills I taught early learners and complement each other.

I’d like to leave you with some good news! Thinking Nation is working to develop a curriculum for young learners in the near future and I’m excited to be a part of something that helps students’ ideas feel important and think critically so that they have a voice wherever they go, at any age.

Integrating AI into Thinking Nation: The Journey and Story Behind Our Innovation

Since December, Thinking Nation has embarked on an exciting journey of integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into our platform for grading essays. This initiative represents a significant step forward in our mission to transform social studies education by providing detailed, instant feedback to students. For more on AI’s role in the mission, check out this EdSurge Podcast with our executive director. This week, we delve into the story behind the process of developing, implementing, and refining our AI integration.

Developing, Training, and Integrating Our AI System

The journey began with the intricate task of building the AI algorithm. Our team of engineers and data scientists worked tirelessly to develop a robust infrastructure capable of assessing complex writing tasks. This involved extensive coding and system design to ensure the AI could accurately evaluate essays based on our rubric standards.

Training the AI with past data was a critical phase in the process. We fed the system thousands of previously graded essays, allowing it to learn from a wide spectrum of writing styles and proficiency levels. This training enabled the AI to recognize various writing patterns and understand and apply the rubrics and argumentation criteria.

Once the AI was adequately trained, we moved on to rigorous testing. This phase involved running numerous simulations to evaluate the AI’s performance and accuracy. We made iterative adjustments based on the results, fine-tuning the algorithm to enhance its reliability. This extensive testing was essential to ensure that the feedback provided by the AI was both precise and meaningful.

After the AI demonstrated consistent and accurate performance, we integrated it into our platform through an API. This integration was designed to be seamless, allowing the AI to interact efficiently with our existing systems. The API ensures that once a student submits their essay, the AI can instantly grade it and provide detailed feedback within seconds.

Even after integration, the work didn’t stop. Continuous fine-tuning is essential to maintain and improve the AI’s performance. Our human graders play a crucial role in this process. They review the AI’s feedback to ensure it aligns with our rubric standards and to identify any potential biases and inaccuracies. This ongoing moderation helps refine the algorithm, ensuring that the AI’s assessments remain accurate and unbiased over time.

Survey Results and Case Study Insights

To evaluate the effectiveness of our AI integration, we conducted surveys and case studies. The results highlighted several key benefits of our AI-powered feedback system:

  1. Understanding the Rubric: 68% of students reported a better understanding of the rubric due to the detailed feedback provided by AI.
  2. Enhancement of Literacy Skills: 70% of students observed significant improvements in their writing skills, attributing this growth to the precise and actionable feedback from AI.
  3. Accuracy of Feedback: AI grading proved to be 77% more accurate than human grading. This increased accuracy is largely due to the elimination of human biases and the consistent application of standardized rubrics across all essays, leading to fairer and more objective assessments.
  4. Comprehensive Feedback: The detailed feedback provided by AI, allows for longer explanations and deeper analyses. This demonstrates promise for enhancing students’ understanding of assignments, offering clearer insights into strengths and areas for improvement.

These findings underscore the transformative impact of integrating AI on student learning and teacher effectiveness (full report here). The instant and detailed feedback provided by AI empowers students to reflect on and improve their writing skills in real-time. This not only enhances their understanding of historical thinking but also boosts their overall academic performance. After all, we want to ensure that we use AI for human flourishing.

As we continue to improve our AI system, we look forward to sharing more updates on this exciting journey and the positive impact it will have on social studies education.