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Help Students Consider the Ethics of AI PBL Unit (FREE)

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AI is here. And everyone is paying attention. Many people are wondering if AI will take over their jobs, others how it can help them do their jobs. Some folks are asking if AI can help us solve global warming, while plenty of people fear that SuperIntelligence might eventually evolve beyond humanity and stop caring about us, dystopian sci-fi style. You will love this free Ethics of AI PBL Unit.

And what about our students? Maybe they’re wondering how it can help them with their work, while still making room for their originality, creativity, and sense of morality.

Maybe they’re wondering how it will change their future professions, or create the profession that will someday be theirs. Maybe they’ve heard some people say it should never be used in schools, and others say that to shut the door on it is like abandoning the calculator in favor of pencil and paper, except times a million.

At this point, the questions on our minds as educators and the questions on our students’ minds might not be so different. After I interviewed Ben Farrell from the New England Innovation Academy last spring, and he talked about bringing students into the conversation to let them share their ideas on how AI should be used, I was inspired to create my own version of an AI Ethical Use PBL unit, and now I want to share it with you. I designed this project in consultation with John Spencer, because I’ve always admired his work in the PBL and Design Thinking spaces.

Today on the podcast, we’re walking through the whole project, which you can sign up to have delivered free to your email below. I’ll guide you through the steps of the project, and hopefully by the end of the show you’ll feel ready and excited to find space for this unit in your curriculum this year.

You can listen in to episode 206 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Standard Options

First things first. I know for many folks, in many systems, having a clear connection to the standards is what makes it possible to do a project like this. So I want to set your worries at ease right away and let you know this PBL unit hits a TON of the ELA standards. Take a quick browse through this list from the Common Core – you could use any of these as key standards while working on this project. I’m sharing the 9/10 standards for simplicity’s sake, but you could quickly find their counterparts across grade levels.


W 9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

W 9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

W 9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

W 9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

W 9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

W 9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

W 9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

W 9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


SL 9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL 9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

SL 9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

SL 9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.


RI 9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

RI 9-10. 7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.RI 9-10. 8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

Ethics of AI PBL Unit Introduction

At the start of this project, the goal is to help students start to come up with the questions they want to answer, and to dip their toes in a range of different research sources. You’ll show them two Ted talks that come at the questions of AI from very different perspectives, show them an infographic of what their research journey might look like (and it’s not just them sitting at a library with a pile of notecards), share a choice board of possible starting points for finding quality conversation online about AI, and get them jotting down their questions.

Take a peek at these two fascinating Ted Talks on the Ethics of AI PBL Unit..

This early stage in the project is also the time for your first mini-lesson. You’ll be weaving in direct instruction at a few points throughout the project. As students begin to collect their sources, you want to make sure they understand citation format. You’ll give them a guiding poster and walk them through or review (depending on the age and level of your students) MLA format, so they can get the information they need from each source along the way.

You might like this TED Talk one-pager on TPT.

Set up and Organization of the Ethics of AI PBL Unit

Once students understand the project and have begun to generate questions, you can move into set up. Students will want to choose groups (or choose to work alone) and begin to organize their time and tasks using the project checklist, calendar, and task planning sheets.

Ethics of AI PBL Unit

Workshops & Mini-Lessons

As students begin work, answer questions and check in with groups in class for the Ethics of AI PBL Unit. Early on in their research, you’ll give the mini-lesson on identifying experts in the field and share the templates for reaching out to experts, question stems and interview script example, and thank you letter template. Every student or group should be speaking with an expert in the field as part of their research.

If you wish, you can also help students consider whether to use surveys or observations as part of their research using the options in the “Gathering Data” handout.

Reflection & Conferencing

Ethics of AI PBL Unit

As students continue working, conduct more formal conferences with each group and allow time for individual reflection and plans for improvement. Continue to answer questions and guide students as needed.

Prototyping & Feedback for the Ethics of AI PBL Unit.

As they finish their expert interviews and get deep into their research, groups will begin to brainstorm prototype ideas using the guiding handout full of ideas for inspiration, then give peer feedback on concepts. At this point, you might spend time on a team-building challenge to help counter project fatigue.

Ethics of AI PBL Unit

Launch and Reflection

Ethics of AI PBL Unit

As students launch their final product, take time in class to have students share their final product and its results. Use the final self-reflection (following up on earlier reflection options) and assessment tools to close the project.

Get the Project

Ethics of AI PBL Unit

OK, you’re ready! Here’s the place to sign up for the whole unit. I’ll send it along when you join 58,000 other creative teachers and sign up for my weekly teaching idea emails below (and don’t worry, if it turns out they’re not for you, you can unsubscribe at any time).

You might like the blog post on How Erica Used the AI PBL Project to give her Students Voice.

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