Do your lesson plans got soul?

Hey John, I remember a few weeks ago when you were upset that a colleague of yours didn’t have their lesson plan book. I winced because, as it turns out, I didn’t even know we had to have one of those things. I played it off because I needn’t be so honest with someone about […]

Hey John,

I remember a few weeks ago when you were upset that a colleague of yours didn’t have their lesson plan book. I winced because, as it turns out, I didn’t even know we had to have one of those things. I played it off because I needn’t be so honest with someone about to get his doctorate. I’ve been experimenting with different modes of lesson plans that at some point, I didn’t really write them daily, but by unit. That’s 140+ lesson plans my first year of teaching to 15 last year. I figured that, because I knew the content so well, I didn’t have to lesson plan too much. I had them all in my head, only filling in activities when I needed to before rushing in to class. I didn’t realize how much I missed lesson planning until last week, when I realized I needed to improve my pedagogy.

This got me thinking about the recent news out of the New York Times. Professors Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum have led a start-up called Narrative Science where they can compile sports briefs and financial reports as if a human wrote them … but they’re not. Instead, over a decade-long study, they’re created software that uses artificial intelligence to replicate a human writer. Kris Hammond predicted that a computer could probably win a Pulitzer Prize and he really hopes it’s his. Naturally, the article jarred me because, for all I know, the names we see in the papers writing our news now are little more than pseudonyms for robots doing this sort of thing.

We live in amazing times where we’ve handed over lots of the “mundane” work to software. Those of us inclined to use lesson planning software, for instance, find it useful to have our state and national standards at our fingertips ready for click and insertion into our headers. We might find an activity from the given curricula and quickly tap into it, and the computer might generate some “appropriate” homework. For some of our less fortunate colleagues, they may get mandated to use a scripted curriculum pre-written for them.

This method has some validity with those who don’t get the training in their ed-schools (and trust me, there’s lots), but should teachers prescribe to this method? At some point, we have to ask ourselves, are lesson plans reflective of a student’s needs and passions or are they just a reflection of a standard communicated to them? When I lesson-plan, for example, I write down pieces of my rationale for how to solve a certain problem, or certain reminders I need to write on the board (“… write down big on the board: “THIS CAN ONLY BE USED IF YOU SEE AN EQUAL SIGN!!!”).

There’s value in honing in one what we need to teach, but does it have to be standardized?

If Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum’s methods become viral, we could soon see lesson plans written with some of the same logic they used to write articles and other texts. My only question is: can computers replicate soul?