I wanted to compare an article I had written myself with one generated through artificial intelligence, so I prompted ChatGPT to draft a blog for me on my recent trip to Israel. My parameters were simple: write from the perspective of a former Catholic school educator who went on a pilgrimage. Within seconds, this latest of all headline grabbers spun a well-written account of “my” trip in “my” voice about many of the sights and wonders I experienced in “my” two-week visit to the Holy Land. Thus began my conversation with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Compare Chat’s first sentences with the original blog I previously posted on this site.

Me: Visiting the birthplace of Christianity proved to be as disconcerting as it was inspirational. I felt like I had jumped into the pages of a book I had been required to read my whole life but still didn’t fully comprehend. As a Roman Catholic, the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, communion, confirmation, and marriage have put flesh on the bones of my very being.

AI: As a Catholic school educator from Arizona, I have dedicated my entire career to nurturing the hearts and minds of my students. While my passion for teaching is unwavering, I am always seeking new opportunities to learn and grow myself. That’s why, when I had the chance to embark on a trip to Israel, I seized it with open arms, excited to explore the rich history and cultural diversity of the Holy Land. In this blog post, I’ll share some of my most memorable experiences and takeaways from my journey.

Immediately, I felt defensive – quick to point out that the last sentence of Chat’s first paragraph should be deleted. Just tell the story…don’t tell me you are going to tell the story! One point for me, one less for AI!

Then, I asked Chat to turn the blog into an assignment I could use with middle school students. The bot proceeded to chop the blog into manageable chunks, turn it into third person, and generate a list of questions. While I might have edited the pronouns, I’ll give this point to AI…I used to spend hours scavenging for ideas to help me develop engaging assignments for my students.

AI assignment: A Catholic school teacher from Arizona recently visited Israel to learn more about the history, culture, and religious significance of the region. This trip allowed the teacher to visit important sites for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as experience the beauty of the Israeli desert and the Dead Sea.

During the trip, the teacher visited Jerusalem’s Old City, where they felt a deep connection to their faith while standing inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They also visited the Western Wall, where they saw Jewish worshippers placing handwritten prayers into the ancient stones. In the desert, the teacher learned about the resilience of the human spirit at the ancient fortress of Masada. Finally, they experienced the serenity of the Dead Sea, floating effortlessly in its mineral-rich waters.

Throughout the journey, the teacher engaged in conversations with locals, fellow travelers, and tour guides to gain new insights and ideas. They plan to use these experiences to inspire their students to develop a global mindset and a lifelong love for learning.

Questions:

Name two religious sites the teacher visited during their trip and explain their significance.
What was the teacher’s experience at the Dead Sea, and why was it important?
Why do you think engaging in conversations with locals and fellow travelers was valuable for the teacher?

Optional Activity:

Imagine you have the opportunity to visit a foreign country with a rich history and diverse culture. Choose a country and write a short paragraph explaining why you would like to visit that country and what you hope to learn from the experience.

This entire conversation with and about AI evolved over lunch with one of my former students who now lives and works in Washington, D.C. While my husband and I chatted with him across the table over wood-fired pizza and a tossed salad, I reminded him about our first encounter about a decade ago at St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. It was my first year at the school. He was a junior. He came to my office inquiring about an online Latin class he might take in lieu of the on-site Spanish classes we offered. Less than 10 years ago, accredited online classes were just becoming viable options for students searching for curriculum beyond our course catalogs. I called him my “test pilot.” Little did any of us know how vital online learning would become over the next several years.

“And now,” I said to him, “we have artificial intelligence. Enlighten us.”

Apologizing to us for taking his phone out at lunch, he said it would be easier to show us some examples rather than trying to explain. And just like that, we had the blog post on Israel, the middle school assignment, and before we could get a refill on our iced teas, we also had a Shakespearian sonnet based on the blog:

Upon the Holy Land our teacher flew,
From desert sands of Arizona’s clime.
To learn of sacred truths and stories new,
In Israel, they ventured for a time.

In Jerusalem, where ancient echoes ring,
The teacher stood within the hallowed place,
Where once our Savior’s cross and tomb did cling,
And felt connection to His love and grace.

At Western Wall, the prayers of faithful rose,
And in the desert’s heart, at Masada’s peak,
Resilience of spirit our teacher knows,
And Dead Sea’s waters gentle solace seek.

So read this tale and ponder questions wise,
For in these words a world of knowledge lies.

Okay, that is kind of amazing! Another point for AI!

While I could easily feel intimidated – even existentially challenged – by this technology, my educator mind has kicked into high gear. It is true that students are probably “writing” everything from five-paragraph essays to AP compositions with ChatGPT, but this may finally be what we need to inspire a huge shift in how we teach and learn. Imagine using AI to assist students in their research and then assigning those students to act on what they have found through a performance-based assessment. Think about generating examples of thesis statements and asking students to debate the effectiveness of those samples. Instead of spending two weeks on “how to write a thesis statement,” we can now potentially re-direct that time into developing, supporting, and refining the thesis. And when it comes to iambic pentameter…the possibilities are endless! How many more plays could Shakespeare have written if he didn’t have to concentrate so hard on the syntax!?

Of course, there are negatives and positives – certainly fodder for stories circulating by the dozens in news and social media. There are and should be debates on ethical use of AI and beyond-the-Jetsons (remember that television show?) implications of a society potentially manipulated by non-human forces. I have participated in the information revolution since joining the career force during the late 70s. AI is re-igniting my curiosity.

In my heart of hearts, however, I believe that AI will never destroy humanity’s greatest gift – the one that allows us to nurture and build relationships with one another. We do this by embracing our God-given talents that will always include hands on expressions through the arts and sciences. If isolation during the pandemic taught us anything, I hope it is that while we can physically survive without each other, we need human connections to bring dimension, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

To all my students, especially those who have reached out over the years since their graduations, I say thank you for allowing me to learn from you too. God created an amazing machine when he made us…there is nothing artificial about that!

Lynn Cuffari has been committed to faith-based education for nearly 30 years. Most recently, she worked as a teacher and principal for both the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona and the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Lynn graduated from the University of Arizona in 1982 with a B.A. in Journalism. In 1983, she married Joseph Cuffari, an Air Force officer. While stationed in Naples, Italy, Lynn earned her M.Ed. from Framingham State University of Massachusetts, which had a program for military families stationed overseas. In 2001, she joined the faculty at Immaculate Heart School in Tucson, Arizona as the middle school ELA teacher. In 2006, she became the principal at IHS, leading that school from 2006 until 2011 when she became principal at St. Augustine Catholic High School. In 2019, Lynn “retired” from St. Augustine to join her husband who had accepted a position in Washington, D.C. Not quite ready to sit still during the pandemic, she completed the 2020-2021 academic year as the middle school ELA teacher for the Diocese of Arlington’s Saint Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. Lynn is also a mentor for Notre Dame’s Latino Enrollment Institute. She continues to work part-time as an educational consultant for Curriculum Trak as well. She and her husband enjoy cherishing every moment they can spend with their son Joe, daughter-in-law Grace, and grandchildren Vinny and Carolina.

Recent Posts