Exploring Compassion through Kind Words

What does compassion look like and how do we explore it in authentic, meaningful ways? This question led me towards developing a lesson with my Grade 8 advisory group in which we used the video game Kind Words as a vehicle for demonstrating kindness to others. At this point in the trimester, we had been exploring the topic of compassion using curriculum created by the SEE Learning program. Students understood what compassion was through collaboratively defining the term and identifying acts of compassion through scenarios. As a finale to our compassion unit, we explored using Kind Words to write kind letters to real people.


What is Kind Words?

Kind Words is a game about writing kind letters to strangers on the internet. While that sentence might arise concerns about child safety, the community on Kind Words is generally friendly and willing to offer advice. In addition, the game takes many precautions in warning its players to not share personally identifying information and instituting a one-way mode of communication. Players can cycle through letter requests written by other players until they fine one they’re interested in constructing a reply to. Upon choosing the letter request, the player is created with a digital paper on which they can craft a letter to the requesting player. As an added bonus, you can include stickers and as you play, your collection of stickers grows as other players gift you their delightful decals.


The Least Favorite Friend

After scrolling through a list of letter requests, that I had prescreened to ensure there was nothing I wouldn’t want my students seeing, we arrive upon a request from a player asking for help opening up to their friends group.

“Why do I always end up being the least favourite friend out of all of my friend groups? Also, I wish I could open up to them about my insecurities but I’ve only ever memed around so it’s hard to suddenly be serious.”

We now had to construct a response as an advisory group. As we discussed how to respond, I made sure to ask follow-up questions to have students contribute more detail and facilitated discussions around powerful ideas around relationships. “I would just tell him to leave this friend group because if your friends don’t see you as the favorite, you can just find another friend group who will.” one student stated. This turned our discussion towards value.

How do the friends in our lives add (or remove) value through our relationship with them? We spoke about the need for friendships to feel like they are a “two-way” relationship in which each person takes turns contributing value to the other through celebration, sharing, collaboration, and giving feedback. Good friendships require a value add on both ends the majority of the time and it’s ok if a friend subtracts value as long as they apologize and try to do better. 

“I think they should just tell their friend group how they feel and see how they respond.” another student contributed. “But that’s so scary!” responded a more introverted student. This turned our discussion towards strategies for making difficult discussions less scary. We discussed the solution of writing letters or text messages, recognizing the appeal but also noting that those can be shown to others which might be embarrassing. The choice everyone agreed was probably the best one in this situation was to identify the friend in the friend group that this person was the closest to then open up to that person. 

The consensus we finished the letter with was that communication is the most important aspect of friendships and relationships. Whether you are scared or not, having a conversation in the least intimidating way is the only productive path to resolving conflicts between people. At the end of the day, if the person doesn’t listen to you, they are probably not the type of person you are looking to be friends with because friends care about and value you as a person.




One of the other students in the class felt that compassion was a sign of weakness because you open yourself up to people manipulating and taking advantage of you. Our group discussion shifted to vulnerability and how without it, you may succeed in keeping yourself safe but risk missing out on positive experiences as well. We decided to use this topic as a letter request:

“I have a student in my class that believes that compassion and trust are weakness. What do you think”

Within 10-15 minutes we had three responses from other players. Each response offered a unique perspective into how compassion and trust make you stronger as a person. The final letter we received was the most well received because the writer told us about how they used to thought this way in middle school and now regret it later in life. My students were amazed that someone would share their lived experience and that it actually aligned with their current age group! (They were also super excited to receive the cat face sticker.)

This lesson was pretty impactful and brought out a lot of interesting conversations that might have been difficult to discuss while doing a normal classroom activity. The discussion and perspectives shared were higher in quality because we were authentically constructing a response to help a real live person based on our experiences. I’ve always felt that video games were excellent teaching tools.

Type: Education, News

Maker Activity: Cardboard Automata

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

In this Maker Activity join me in creating your very own moving automata out of nothing but recycled materials. This is a great activity to introduce any age student to mechanical engineering concepts such as axles, gears and cams and can be scaled to show different forms of energy by adding a motor and a solar panel.

Supplies Needed:

  • Tape
  • Straws
  • Wooden Skewers
  • Cardboard (along with something to cut it)
  • Glue Gun or Tape
  • Markers (Or anything you want to use to decorate your display)
  • Something To Poke Holes With (I use a screwdriver)
Type: Maker Activity, News

Laser-Cutting Workshops

The Student R&D Maker Task Force has been exploring new concepts in making, programming and other technologies, and using their learnings to create workshops for other High School students. The goals in creating and running these workshops are to introduce students to ways the tools in the maker space can be used, to diversify the types of making done and to demonstrate the importance of making through projects.

Inspired by the SAISA Art Festival New Media and Stencil Art workshops, the Student R&D Maker Task Force is exploring the types of activities they can run using the stencil and laser cutters. The task force started by first creating projects of their own. This required learning and testing different image editing softwares to understand how images had to be prepared for cutting. In addition, they practiced cutting on a variety of materials, each of which required different settings on the laser cutter.

The Student R&D Maker Task Force’s laser cutter workshop will task students to work together to create a laser cut piece that will later be added to a collage. Students will find digital images of their favorite characters, icons, and other things that inspire them. They will then use an image editor like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or Pixlr to edit the image in preparation for laser cutting and etching. The Student R&D team will be on hand to support the use of the image editing software and laser cutter.

We hope this workshop will inspire students to use the laser cutter more for creating art, prototypes, and push the boundaries of what can be done with it. Stay tuned.

Type: News

SAISA Art Festival: Stencil Art Workshop

Stencil art is a method of creating artistic pieces using cut out stencils. This style of art has been popularized in recent years by street artists such as Caledonia Dance Curry (also known as Swoon)Ron English and the infamous Banksy. While street artists typically use billboards, walls, and other public surfaces as their canvases, some artists create works on poster boards and other materials.The style of these street artists served as the inspiration for our South Asian Inter-Scholastic Association(SAISA) Art Festival workshop.

Students at the workshop were first introduced to the style of art by the workshop’s leader, Jon Denhartigh. Jon, spent time talking about some examples of stencil art he had created and the artistic process he followed with each piece. Each successive artwork demonstrated an evolutionary step in his mastery of stencil art which students appreciated. Afterwards, the students started on a quick activity to give them a taste of what it was like to go through the stencil art process.

Each learner was given a sheet displaying an image of themselves 4 times. They were tasked with cutting out a different color from each image, the whites, the highlights, etc. Students then layered these stencils and spray painted onto compressed wooden boards. They assessed their works and reflected upon the ways they could make them better.

The class then moved on to brainstorming works of art based on the festival’s theme, Justice. Students had used Art Knives for the earlier activity and were introduced to our Silhouette CAMEO Electronic Cutters. The CAMEO allowed students to alter their images digitally, in tools like Adobe Photoshop and GIMP, then select areas to cut out with the Silhouette software. After two days (about 15 hrs) of cutting, spray painting and sponging paint, students displayed their art for the rest of the festival’s students to see.

While it sometimes looks like technology does all the work for us, this workshop demonstrated that some technology shifts the work from one form to another. Students that used the Electronic Cutter spent a lot of time experimenting and reflecting on their art works as a whole while those that cut their stencils by hand spent time experimenting and reflecting on the best methods of cutting out their stencil. A few students used a combination of both methods to complete their pieces.

Type: News

Maker Challenges in the High School

When making happens in our classrooms, it usually occurs in a workspace where students create projects led by their curiosity or while applying something they have learned. This is an integral part of developing their maker skills. In addition, we wanted to push the boundaries of their knowledge and application of skills. To do these, we developed a series of different challenges that run periodically with our High School Students, called Maker Challenges.  

Check out our chapter, Maker Challenges in the High School, in Future Forwards Vol 5 here.

Type: News

Maker Activity: Interactive Display with MaKey MaKey

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Kick your project up to the next level by making it interactive! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, Linus teaches how to create a display that students can interact with using the MaKey MaKey.

Type: Maker Activity, News

Creative Coding: A Prototype Class in High School

Technology continues to change and enhance parts of our lives, from interactive workspaces to the ways we try on clothes. Technology changes the ways we interact, the ways we learn, and even the ways we express our creativity. This makes understanding and developing the ability to create new technology an increasingly important skill.

With this in mind, we envisioned a non-traditional type of programming class for our students, Creative Coding. Check out our chapter on Creative Coding in Future Forwards Vol 5 here.

Type: News

Hacking in the Classroom

HackathonsGame Jams, and the other incarnations of rapid prototyping-style events have been popular at companies around the world. These events create a highly collaborative atmosphere, inspiring participants to create assemble prototypes based on a theme . The limited amount of time participants have to work on their product means that decisions need to be made quickly and implemented immediately. We love hackathons, which got us thinking, how can we use the aspects of a hackathon in the classroom to create a similar atmosphere?

We planned for our first prototype of adapting the hackathon model to the classroom to occur over the course of one week. We contemplated only allowing students to work on their projects during class but after discussing it with them decided against it. Students can work independently or form their own teams. The theme the students would have to follow would be given to us by a random word generator.

Fast forward to this week, at the front of the room in big letters the word Affection was displayed on a screen. This is the theme randomly chosen for one section of the Creative Coding class. The other section was given the word “Shelf” as their theme.

“How do you even make a program for that?!?” exclaimed one student, but after 10-15 minutes of ideating, every student was developing a project. Titles ranged from “Shelf Sumos” to “Librarian Simulator” and one student is working on a game where the player plays as a piece of pizza trying to avoid being eaten by a gang of pizza lovers.

The challenge of creating something using things that seem completely unrelated often leads to innovation. It may seem weird or impossible at first, but so did the ability to talk to someone on the other side of the world or buy an item without seeing it in person. We’re looking forward to seeing the other takeaways our students have with this activity. Stay tuned.

Type: News

Prototyping a Coding Class for All

We believe that all learners should be exposed to programming regardless of their professional aspirations. Programming develops skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and structured planning through the experience of creating something. In addition to cultivating these important life skills, programming assists in demystifying technology, allowing the learner to make sense of how electronics work in the world around them. As we move into an era of enchanted objectswearable technology, and the Internet of Things, we believe learning programming is vital.

Creative Coding
This semester marks the start of ASB offering Creative Coding in the High School for students in grades 9 to 12. Students will learn the core concepts of programming through personalized projects, explore different methods of interacting with computer programs (Xbox Kinect, mobile phones, etc), and produce creative solutions of their own. In addition, learners will apply the concepts they’ve learned in math, physics, and other subjects within their programs. The goal of the Creative Coding class is to empower every student with the essential skills that coding develops.One of the most important decisions that we agreed for Creative Coding was to use the Processing programming language. The Processing website describes its language as:“…a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts. Since 2001, Processing has promoted software literacy within the visual arts and visual literacy within technology. There are tens of thousands of students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists who use Processing for learning and prototyping.” (Processing.org)

The power Processing offers over other languages is its’ ability to make programming available and engaging to learners that may not have ever tried programming. The code written in Processing creates a visual output that makes it easy for a learner to see what their code is doing. A drawing program can be made in less than 10 lines of code, something that would require a couple hundred lines of code in a language like C++ or Java.

This allows learners to engage in creating programs that are meaningful without have to include libraries, produce extra code, or any of the other hurdles that exist in traditional programming languages. It just works! Processing code looks very similar to and uses the same concepts as the popular computer science languages, making it easy to transition if the learner decides to study a computer science or related field.

We look forward to showing you some of the projects that come from the Creative Coding class in future blog posts.

Type: News

Putting it All Together

With exam week coming up, the Creative Coding class wrapped up Unit 3. This unit had students focus on one project which they developed over the course of 3 weeks. The goals were to get them to use the skills and knowledge they developed in the last two units to create a larger scale project, manage the project using real-world code management tools, and plan out their project’s timeline using milestones.

We started the unit with students choosing whether they wanted to collaborate or work on solo projects. Afterwards, they learned how to use a version control system, called Git, with an open-source, online repository named Github. The combination of Git and GitHub would allow students to easily manage and share their code with one another as well as the open-source community.

The students were then given a blank planning document with dates attached to milestones. Each of the three milestones had a specific goal: pre-production, initial prototype, and improving your prototype. During Pre-production, students ideated, chose a project idea, and planned out which tasks had to be completed by each milestone date. The next milestone’s goal was to have an operational prototype of their project completed. For the last milestone, projects had to be improved upon and polished so they were ready for presentation day.

Presentation day had two secret judges that were only announced on the date of the presentation. Throughout the semester, students practiced talking about their code without jargon, so that they could explain what they’re doing and how they did it to anyone. This presentation’s judges had little programming experience and were asked to judge based on the students’ ability to present and explain their projects and process in an easily understandable manner, address any questions about their projects fully, and presentation skills such as keeping the audiences attention, avoiding “um’s”, etc.

The projects the students made varied widely with a majority of students opting to use the Box2D Physics library or the Xbox Kinect. A team of two students created a “Curry Simulator”. During their presentation, the team mentioned how they did research on the different ingredients and types of curries. One of the students on the team called upon the expertise of his mother as part of his investigation.  Another project of note was titled, “Snow”. This student used the Xbox Kinect to display the user on the screen. Snow would slowly fall on the image of the user, allowing them to play, throw, and push it around the screen. Another student created a physics game based on American Gladiator’s Joust. Players would have to off-balance their opponent while keeping themselves balanced on their standing platform. He mentioned plans to work on this project to improve the game’s look and function.

On our last class before break, we informed students of the next unit which consists of various games, activities, and challenges made to strengthen their programming skills. One of the planned activities is a hackathon, in which students are challenged to rapidly prototype a project and can only work on their code in class. However, our students discussed the possibility of being able to work on their hackathon code at home as well as in class.

It seems, the longer term, larger scale project has increased their interest in doing projects like this in the future. Open sourcing their projects gave students the feeling of what it’s like to contribute back to a community they learned from. Throughout the unit, one student periodically checked the amount of people that had viewed her project, “Oh yeah! 300 views!”, she exclaimed. Awesome!

Type: News