Many teacher education programs include a component of social justice or social reconstruction. These goals reflect a focus on preparing teachers who work toward equity for all of their students and act in culturally responsive ways. Teachers are in a unique position to change the present and future for their students, and by extension, for their greater communities as well. Teaching through a lens of social justice can have a powerful impact as schools send change agents into their communities.
Introducing justice into the classroom may be somewhat of a challenge for many teachers. Some might believe that their subjects are not really related to equity issues. Some worry about introducing lessons that some people see as controversial, as some parents might have the perception that the class is just focused on justice at the expense of “real” curriculum. Many teachers likely feel untrained or unprepared to tackle such important issues in their classrooms. These are very real challenges.
It’s common for teachers to feel unprepared or overwhelmed about including social justice topics in their lessons. It may be encouraging to be told that it doesn’t have to mean rewriting your entire curriculum, or knowing every angle of an issue. Even including one justice-themed question on an assignment, or one project in a semester, can increase students’ understanding and experience with equity issues.
ChatGPT as a Curriculum Planning Assistant
Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, is excellent at providing ideas for weaving topics and angles together. One of its greatest strengths is finding connections between seemingly distant concepts. It may be much simpler than you think to incorporate ChatGPT’s justice-related ideas into your lessons.
Here’s an example. You might expect to see this problem in any math class:
Sally has $17. She wants to use all of her money and get cookies for her classmates. There are 24 students in her class. Cookies come in boxes of 16 for $3 and 32 for $5. Which boxes should Sally buy to maximize the number of cookies each student gets, and also end up with no change? How many cookies does each student get?
This is a very normal-sounding story problem. The curriculum writers of this sort of problem seem to be attempting to connect the math to students’ lives, but have come up with a scenario that only a portion can relate to. There are likely many students who can’t imagine having $17 to spend, and being able to use all of it just to buy unnecessary gifts for classmates. Plus, this problem misses the opportunity to creatively connect the topic to social topics.
I asked ChatGPT for an idea that addresses almost the exact same mathematical problem, but with a social justice angle:
User: Give me a social justice version of this story problem. It does not need to be about cookies. “Sally has $17. She wants to get cookies for her class of 24 children. Cookies come in boxes of ____ for $___. Which boxes should Sally buy to maximize the number of cookies each student gets?”
ChatGPT: Samantha is organizing a community meal for a local shelter that serves 30 people. She has a budget of $45 to buy fresh fruits for the meal. The market offers apples in bags of 6 for $3, and oranges in bags of 8 for $4. Samantha wants to ensure each person gets an equal amount of fruit while maximizing the total amount of fruit she can provide within her budget. Which bags of fruit should Samantha buy to achieve this goal?
It may be eye-opening to realize that even math problems can be crafted to address social justice topics. One or two problems like this on an assignment can get students thinking about their ability to positively impact their communities. And this doesn’t have to be limited to individual assignments. Consider the possibilities of longer-term projects that get students focused on community issues.
Here are a couple of examples from different subject areas:
User: Please give me some ideas for longer-term projects for a Biology class that could be focused on social justice issues. Give me a one-sentence summary of each.
ChatGPT: [Provided six different ideas]
Community Health and Environment Project: Students investigate environmental factors affecting public health in various communities, highlighting disparities and proposing solutions for health equity.
Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture: This project examines global food security challenges and sustainable agriculture practices, emphasizing equitable and environmentally friendly food production and distribution.
User: Please give me some ideas for end-of-unit projects for reading Shakespeare plays that relate to social justice issues. Give me a one-sentence summary of each.
ChatGPT: [Provided seven excellent ideas]
“Othello” – Media Representation Analysis: For “Othello,” students analyze media portrayals of race and ethnicity, comparing them to the characterizations in the play and discussing the impact of these portrayals on societal attitudes and racial stereotypes.
“Hamlet” – Mental Health Awareness Initiative: Students launch a mental health awareness initiative inspired by Hamlet’s exploration of grief and mental distress, aiming to destigmatize mental health issues and promote wellness resources.
The power of these projects is clear to see. Each idea is solidly within the curriculum for the course, and a direct outgrowth of the material. None of them requires a stretch to make the connection to classwork. And all of them provide students with a justice or community focus.
ChatGPT offers teachers a dynamic asset in helping them integrate justice themes into their curriculum. Generative AI’s wide knowledge base and connection-making ability make it a tool that offers a huge amount of flexibility in creating innovative project and question ideas. And the best aspect is the efficiency of AI. All of the ideas listed above, and many more, came from just a couple of minutes with ChatGPT. Each idea spurs the creative process, and teachers can ask the AI for tweaks to project ideas to fit them more directly to their needs.
I encourage you to experiment with ChatGPT in your lesson planning. There is so much potential to increase student engagement and learning outcomes in ways that get their attention on justice issues. It can take a little practice and tweaking to get the information you want, but the possibilities for long-term benefits make it worth the work. As we incorporate tools like ChatGPT into our teaching, we’re paving the way for a future where education is not only about knowledge, but also about building a more understanding and just world.