ChatGPT and Science Education

Me: Does ChatGPT enhance or undermine science education?

ChatGPT: I can be a helpful tool for science education, as I can provide accurate and relevant information on a wide range of scientific topics. However, it’s important to note that science education is not just about acquiring information; it’s also about developing critical thinking skills and learning how to evaluate and analyze scientific claims. In that sense, relying solely on an AI language model like myself may undermine science education if it leads to a lack of engagement with the material and a reduced emphasis on critical thinking. Therefore, while I can be a useful resource for science education, I should not be seen as a replacement for human teachers, mentors, and educational resources.

In my 9th grade physics class we’ve been exploring the pros and cons of using AI tools to learn physics. Students were excited to try out ChatGPT on some of the problems we were working on in class. Chat GPT was able to solve basic kinematics problems, but sometimes gave the wrong answer when given slightly more challenging problems. The example below demonstrates the risks of relying on ChatGPT to do your homework.

Problem: A baseball player can throw the ball straight up into the air with a speed of 134 kilometres per hour. What is the total time that the ball will be in the air?

Oops: ChatGPT started out on the right track and knew the basic steps to solve the problem, but still ended up with the wrong answer. Read on to find out where ChatGPT went wrong.

ChatGPT was able to correctly identify the given value for the initial velocity and recognised that it must first be converted from km/h to m/s. It then chose the correct equation of motion to solve the problem and even identified the important fact that the final velocity will be zero meters per second.

But this is where ChatGPT starts to go wrong. The ball really has “two” final velocities: 0 m/s at the ball’s maximum height and -37.22 m/s when the ball returns to its initial position. ChatGPT chose the former velocity but then forgot an important last step. The problem asks for the total time in the air, which includes the time for the ball to reach its maximum height and then return to its initial position. In choosing 0 m/s as the final velocity ChatGPT only calculated the time for the ball to reach its maximum height.

To get the total time in the air, ChatGPT’s answer of 3.8 seconds must be multiplied by two to include the time for the ball to come back down to its initial position. ChatGPT overlooked this basic step in calculating a solution since the problem clearly asked for the total time the ball was in the air.

What a relief! AI is not yet ready to replace me as a secondary science educator. As a sentient being with good critical thinking skills, I can play an important role in helping my students understand the beneficial uses and pitfalls of tools like ChatGPT. AI also cannot replace me as a mentor to students who need help meeting their personal and academic challenges.


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