When AI popped into educators’ awareness a year ago, many math teachers panicked: with AI able to solve math problems for students on demand, what would be the point of assigning homework – or what would be the point of teaching math at all?

In the months since, the panic has subsided. Math teachers are not only learning to live with AI, but also how to harness it to help students learn math more easily and effectively.

AIs can be structured or programmed not to blurt out answers to math problems but to provide hints or coaching customized to an individual student’s ability and weak spots, Jake Price, a math professor at the University of Puget Sound, told the Seattle Times.

If stumped, a student can ask for guidance and a chatbot can provide a key insight or offer examples of how to think about a similar problem, teaching by analogy.

That enables teachers to abandon one-size-fits-all textbooks or worksheets and use AI to plan lessons for individual students or specific groups.

“Computers are really good at doing tedious things,” Price said. “We don’t have to do all the tedious stuff. We can let the computer do it. Then we can interpret the answer and think about what it tells us about the decisions we need to make.”

Asking a computer to write code for students in an introductory computer science class isn’t cheating, Daniel Zingaro, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, said in an ST interview.  

Students in a basic course often try to write code that doesn’t work and that’s “not just uninteresting, it’s  frustrating,” computer science professor Leo Porter at the University of California San Diego said to the ST. 

“They’re trying to build something and they forgot a semicolon” or made some other mistake “and they’ll lose three hours trying to find that missing semicolon.”

Instead, students can learn by reading code that AI writes to create software to fit a specific task, then discussing why the AI chose to code the program the way it did.

“I think a lot of programmers read a lot of code, just like how I believe the best writers read a lot of writing,” Zingaro said. “I think that is a very powerful way to learn.”

Students also can learn by debugging AI-generated code.

Having AI type out dozens or hundreds or thousands of lines of code frees students, and professional programmers, to focus on conceptual strategies and other big-picture items, Zingaro and Porter noted.

“With the support of AI, human software engineers get to focus on the most interesting part of computer science: answering big software design questions,” Magdalena Balazinska, director of the University of Washington’s computer science school, told the ST. “AI allows humans to focus on the creative work.”

TRENDPOST: Students still will have access to AI at home and many will use it to do their math and other homework while they watch TikTok videos.

AI’s challenge to teachers is to find ways to use it in the classroom that engage students’ curiosity and creativity. That requires transforming “schoolwork” or “homework” into more encompassing and meaningful real-world projects that students would prioritize over mindless entertainment.

This transformation already is underway and began before general-purpose AI appeared a year ago. AI gives creative teachers another tool to use in taking that transformation further.

Skip to content