Ariam's ARCADE

Many Abilities//Many Paths//Many Communities

A few weeks ago I attended the Scratch Benefit and it was wonderful to see the genuine love and support for the Scratch community. Mitch’s opening presentation powerfully illustrated it’s reach. With 200 million Scratchers globally it has the user base of the 6th biggest country in the world.


Scratch has 200 million users.

For a learning technology that’s pretty remarkable but not surprising…for Scratch that is.

Many of the solutions I’ve tested and evaluated designed for low resource settings are disappointing replicas of rote learning models, only amplifying bad practice. They rarely (if ever) provide children and adolescents with opportunities to harness their own creative potential. They don’t demonstrate evidence of impact, they’re not engaging or fun, and they’re not grounded in learning science and design, which is why they have low rates of adoption and ultimately fail.

There’s a movement in the United States (with some level of institutional buy-in) to employ technologies like Scratch to support children develop 21st century and STEAM skills through project-based learning and similar pedagogies, but this hasn’t been as prevalent in other parts of the world. There are a number of makerspaces on the African continent, but so far these are emerging to meet demands in the technology and manufacturing industries.

It’s understandable why in “developing” regions of the world there’s considerable focus on closing gaps around traditional literacies like reading, writing and math, but platforms designed and deployed in these contexts can still support meaningful learning versus rote learning. It’s paradoxical when there’s evidence that shows that technologies which support and align with progressive education can help children develop these basic foundational literacies.

When I reflect on the failures around many of these technologies and the success of Scratch, I think the key differentiator is that Scratch is a community which supports learners, families and educators. Scratch is not a technology, but a movement around how to participate in quality and joyful learning, which all children deserve.

I hope we can start designing more leaning technologies which challenge colonial and top down models of education, rather than amplify them.

In the fall of 2016, I had a chance to speak with 21Toys about the critical intersection of STEM/STEAM and real-world problem-solving. So glad this conversation is up on their community page!

It’s encouraging to see how this recent article in The Atlantic further supports this discussion by highlighting interdisciplinary programs which are a “hybrid of liberal-arts and technical education” and is “what is most needed in training programs to allow workers to better navigate the ambiguity of the future job market.”

In education we generally teach STEM/STEAM to build things, but sometimes we fail to take an interdisciplinary approach. Young people need to be encouraged to leverage STEM/STEAM and making to solve real-world problems, and those problems don’t have to be science or tech-related. In the case of Nairobi Play, youth are applying STEAM and computational thinking to solve issues related to conflict, culture and broader societal issues, in tandem with empathy and other 21st century skills. I don’t think we see this enough because creating programs to teach tech skills is easy, it’s the other stuff that’s more challenging to design for and assess. The “jobs of the future” rhetoric is also hyper-focused on technology and computer programming, which unfortunately ends up devaluing these other skills.

It will be interesting to see how these types of programmatic models continue to evolve and if they really do equip youth with the skills for the future job market. In the meantime, I can settle for motivated and inspired youth who have new learning pathways to discover their voice and tell their stories : )


Reposted from a guest blog post for Makey Makey.

In 2015, images of three year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, washed up on the beaches of Bodrum, Turkey stirred an international outcry and galvanized communities across the world to advocate for the rights of refugees and migrants. Only a year later, protests have been held in France, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and other European countries by citizens draped in their national flags, to prevent their reception. Regardless of the countless tragedies covered by the media, there is a serious empathy deficit and disconnect between refugee and host communities. International organizations have agreed that this a critical time to ensure that refugees and migrants are able to rebuild their lives and successfully integrate into their countries of final destination. However, this requires an integration process which values the cultures and rights of refugees and migrants, rather than champion’s assimilation. Part of what’s contributing to this struggle is the lack of quality education initiatives which support intercultural dialogue and competence. There are few actors in the humanitarian aid space who are facilitating this dialogue between refugee and host communities in playful, productive and meaningful ways. The Nairobi Play Project attempts to address this issue through the art of making, and specifically making games. “Making” is a powerful process which not only gives youth agency to express themselves and solve problems, but build unlikely bridges between themselves and others.


I’m passionate about this model because I believe it has the power to transform and diversify the way practitioners in the humanitarian aid and global development fields build bridges between communities in conflict. “Making” is a strong foundation for creating community, and it’s the foundation of the Nairobi Play Project. So how does this model facilitate intercultural dialogue? Through a scaffolded process which touches on four different areas: 21st century skill development, design-based learning, computational thinking and social activism.

21st Century Skill development is critical to this model and a core focus. If our youth aren’t building skills around communication, collaboration and empathy, then we’re not preparing them for the complex and diverse environments we’re advocating for them to work, live and participate in. Moreover, to successfully develop intercultural competence, youth must be provided with opportunities to engage in constructive dialogue with individuals from other cultures. The Nairobi Play Project is built upon intercultural settings which support knowledge exchange, foster empathy and break down assumptions and barriers to developing relationships. Makey Makey and 21 Toys have been fantastic tools for designing hands-on and interactive experiences for these environments.


Within the framework of design-based learning, games-based learning is ideal because of how critical narrative is to games and to intercultural dialogue. To jump start the process, the Nairobi Play Project provides youth with challenges like remixing Mancala, an ancient East African game. When remixing Mancala, youth are guided through an iterative design process which helps them learn the value of brainstorming, creating, testing and changing a game. They apply this same process to the final collaborative games they create addressing issues in Kenya which have a great impact on their lives, such as gender equality, health, quality education, corruption and youth unemployment. Similar to sports, the game design process incorporates values such as teamwork and individual and collective responsibilities, which can help youth to develop the values and skills necessary to prevent and resolve conflict in their lives. What’s unique about the game design process to the Nairobi Play Project is that it’s not just a shared experience like a sports game, but it results in an artifact which young people create together, an artifact that communicates a narrative, which everyone contributes to through dialogue and debate. In the first iteration of the program, participants who were hesitant or even skeptical on day one, were empowered by the diversity in the room by day five.

To make their games, youth are engaged in a number of computational thinking concepts, practices and perspectives, which are also significant in strengthening their intercultural competence. While working with Scratch and Makey Makey, they practice experimenting and iterating, testing and debugging, reusing and remixing throughout the program. These are valuable practices than can be applied to a number of fields like architecture, interior design, teaching and engineering. Coding is only one expression of computational thinking and practice.


Most important to the Nairobi Play Project is the computational perspective of connecting: recognizing the power of creating with others and valuing them. Youth who participate in the program are not only proud of the games they make, but the relationships they develop throughout the process. Their gratitude, appreciation and respect for each other are the building blocks of a world which can truly represent and serve everyone.

In a few weeks I’ll be launching the Nairobi Play Project, a creative computing program implemented in partnership with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which equips urban refugee youth and Kenyan youth in Nairobi with technical skills (STEAM), 21st century skills and a peace-building model to support the local integration of urban refugee youth into Kenyan society. More to come!

This project has given me an opportunity to reminisce about the first GMin Innovation Lab launched by my colleagues Janice Williams, Mamhmoud Javombo and myself in 2014 at the Prince of Wales School in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We were lucky to have VICE UK there to document our progress and the incredible work of our youth. What a throwback!



A few weeks ago, Ryan and I had the opportunity to attend and run a workshop at the Scratch conference at the MIT Media Lab in Boston…it was awesome. Educators from across the world participated to deliver workshops, give ignite talks and engage in a massive knowledge exchange about one of the most powerful platforms to engage youth in computational thinking and programming.


We had to get a photo opp with the Scratch cat himself.

Mitch Resnick’s keynote address, a tribute to Seymour Papert touched on 5 of his most powerful ideas from “Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas”. One idea that has resonated with me is Epistemological Pluralism, “accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking.” If we can continue to promote Many paths, Many styles (the theme of this year’s Scratch conference) throughout our formal and informal learning institutions, I think we’ll see many more faces at the CS table.

Reposted from Tammin Sursok’s blog “Bottle and Heels.”

If you’ve recently watched television past 10:30pm on a Saturday night, then you’ve probably had to endure a two-minute infomercial of “Who’s the Boss” star Alyssa Milano, pleading for donations. The infomercial, littered with images of frail children from across the Global South in tattered dusty clothing, drowned in sappy music, mirrors Sally Struthers 1980’s crusade to emancipate children from poverty through the Christian Children’s Fund. In 2014, published a great comprehensive blogpost on why poverty porn, “media which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause”, disempowers communities from affecting change on their own terms. In spite of the growing criticism of poverty porn and other lowbrow tactics which raise money for nonprofit organizations and NGOs, it’s still effective and may be experiencing a comeback. Even when faced with the scandals of organizations who employ these strategies, like the Red Cross’s failure to build more than six homes in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, the aid industrial complex continues to thrive. For those of us working in the nonprofit/NGO sector who are truly dedicated to ending global poverty, it’s important to evaluate how our communication strategies for raising funds affects our programs, long-term impact and goals. How have these tactics shaped the way the greater issues at hand are perceived by donors and the public?

The global financial crisis of 2008 had a significant impact on humanitarian and development aid organizations. The steep reduction in funding from government donors has led nonprofit organizations and NGOs to aggressively mobilize fundraising efforts around individual donations and private industry. According to a 2013 report produced by Global Humanitarian Assistance, “the largest amount of private voluntary contributions between 2006 and 2011 came from individual giving: at least US$17 billion was raised from the general public.” Nonprofit organizations and NGOs have been competing for shrinking public resources for a number of years, which has likely contributed to the resurgence of trope-filled media campaigns with the goal of eliciting emotional responses to attract individual donations. The unfortunate reality is that depictions of the poor as incapable victims, only breeds paternalistic attitudes and policy which contribute to the cycle of poverty we have attempted to dismantle for decades. These depictions are also inaccurate and illustrate poverty as a singular experience or event. Nonprofit organizations and NGOs are responsible for providing a truthful and diverse narrative of poverty to the public, rather than distorting it for personal gains. Yes, some of the images we often see on television represent some truth, but we rarely see the other side of the coin. A few months ago I went to a screening of Hubert Sauper’s “We Come As Friends”, held by the New America Foundation. The documentary film followed the paths of multiple stakeholders, all relentless in their pursuit of profiting from the conflict in South Sudan. What was most daunting was the narrow portrayal of the people of South Sudan as helpless, clueless and dependent on the West. Throughout the screening, I continuously wondered why the film hadn’t featured programs like UNESCO’s YouthMobile Initiative and the inspiring young South Sudanese creating mobile applications to address community-based issues like youth unemployment, peace and literacy. My friend Njeri Chumo, founder of the Nairobi Dev School, held several successful workshops in partnership with UNESCO and the University of Juba to provide the youth of South Sudan with a platform to rebuild their country. It’s imperative that nonprofit organizations, NGOs and media makers do a better job of highlighting stories from the Global South which exhibit the self-efficacy, creativity, and resiliency of so-called “beneficiaries.” The more these types of narratives are featured in fundraising and media initiatives, the more public support there will be for humanitarian aid and global development programs which truly empower communities and make an impact.

It’s important for anyone interested in donating their time or energy toward poverty reduction and global development to understand that sustainable development will never be achieved if it doesn’t happen organically and internally. For organizations who want to see their missions come full circle, or those of us in the West who want to support sustainable development goals as allies, one of the most effective ways we can mobilize ourselves is to advocate against policies which contribute to global inequality and poverty. Placing pressure on our elected officials who create policies which propagate poor governance, discriminatory trade deals, structural adjustment programs, climate injustice, corporate dominance, etc., is a great way to be proactive at home. If you still want to make a financial donation to an organization, do your due diligence. Thoroughly investigate an organization’s impact record, annual report, hiring practices (locals versus expats), capacity-building initiatives, mission and philosophy. You can also peruse reviews on watchdog sites like Charity Navigator, GuideStar and Give Well, which provide comprehensive overviews of organizational spending, management and history. Above all, advocate for the voices and causes that equip communities with the skills and platforms to support themselves. At the end of the day, charity is just a sticky and painful band-aid.

This was written with my colleague Sarah Giffin from Global Kids for The National STEM Video Game Challenge. REPOST!

Games-based learning is fun, effective and powerful, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. At Global Kids we run a few different game design programs which address social and global issues. One obstacle we’ve faced across programs is immersing our youth in developing comprehensive narratives to support the mechanics, goals and other elements of their games. There’s a ton to cover with the principles of game design and computational thinking alone, how does the art of narrative storytelling fit into all of this and is it a priority?

Powerful games usually have powerful narratives, which can take players on an unforgettable journey. The graphics of a maze game which depict the gradual degradation of a forest from level to level, the tools a sprite is equipped with to bounce back from attack and how the clock counts down with every life lost are all elements which support pieces of a story. It’s these small details, particularly in social impact games, which can engross players in the issues and a call to action. So the question remains, how do we teach youth to tell good stories that are then represented in games? What does that process look like?

At Global Kids, our most successful learning experiences for our youth have begun with deconstructing popular games and exposing them to the array of people and skills who create them, united by one vision. This includes the writer, artist, engineer, product designer, etc. and how they leverage character development, animation, coding and marketing to produce one comprehensive game. This can help educators reveal how games are embodied narrative, where the authors have worked together to construct a world, a series of experiences, and empathized with the game player to prepare a journey for them. Over the last six months, we’ve redesigned pieces of our curriculum to incorporate more time for creative writing, storyboarding and other exercises focused on developing compelling narratives and the vision that everyone on the team is working toward. To support the development of a common vision, like a literature or film class, we facilitate workshops on the hero’s journey before youth start coding sprites or enemies so that they have a foundation to build on. Once they have a clear understanding of their hero’s journey, youth are prepared to determine what the game character (and therefore the game player) knows, what choices the player has available to them, what abilities they have, and what will motivate and challenge them along their journey to the winning goal. We’ve discovered great tools like Storybird to help youth exercise these underused skills in an interactive, collaborative and fun way to support this framework. Equipping our students with robust storytelling skills ensures that they don’t produce games which are lost in mechanics.

For the all the games-based educators out there, what are your tools/techniques for weaving narrative into the game design process?