Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Stress is an inevitable part of life. It impacts our ability to function well and reduces our chances of maximizing our potential. It also makes us cranky and unpleasant to be around. Historically, stress seemed to be an issue for adults. However, we have seen more and more stress among our fellow students.
We find ourselves doing more at school, outside, and online, however we still only have 24 hours in a day to accommodate these increasing demands while maintaining our grades. We are often asked to multi-task, so it’s hard to focus. We are being taken from one activity to another so meals tend to be on the go, and what used to be family time has now been taken over by social media interactions where we are in a constant arms race to be more interesting than others.
We are a group of 6th graders (DASA — Danika, Ananya, Sofia and Arushi). This article describes Calmzilla, an AI based app that we created with our parents to help our fellow students with an increasing problem, Middle School Stress.
We wanted to understand this problem better, so we started by talking with our school counselor. She confirmed what we were seeing ourselves, stress is indeed increasing in our school community. We then extended our research to get additional perspectives.
We created a survey that more than a hundred of our fellow students took part in. The results showed us that nearly half of the students reported stress. We also learned that some activities increased stress and some reduced stress!
We also took some time to research the teen stress topic online and found many articles that showed the impact of stress moving downward from adults, to High School Students, to Middle School and even lower!
These were some scary findings and we really felt motivated to do something about it because it is personal, among our friends, in our communities, and aggressively growing at the national and international level. This drove us to invent Calmzilla.
What is Calmzilla?
Calmzilla is an easy to use IPhone app for middle school students and parents.
Students chat with Chai, a friendly Puppy Bot, and answer questions about their day and get recommendations of stress relieving games to play. Internally, our app uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict a student’s stress level from their answers and make game recommendations. Parents also get updates over email with insights into how their children are trending with respect to stress. Students can use this app on an iPhone or an iPad. We worked with our parents to develop this app using Xcode and trained the AIs online at AIClub.
We trained several AIs, some that use Natural Language Processing to understand the stress level of student chat responses, and some that use Classification techniques to learn from patterns of Sleep, Hours of Homework, etc. and map that to stress levels. We used the data from our school survey to train our AIs.
What We Learned?
There are several things that we learned from our experience. First, stress has many factors, and it was helpful to combine both freeform answers and other data like sleep patterns, to assess it. Secondly, privacy is an important issue. We learned the importance of making sure each child’s data was protected, and that both the parents and the children understand how the app manages the child’s responses and protects the data privacy at the individual level. Additionally, we also learned that the diversity of factors that impact stress is not possible to understand manually. AI is really great at sorting out what matters most and detecting patterns from the large dataset we provided.
Where do We Go from Here?
Calmzilla is an important first step towards a much larger journey. Engaging the community and gathering this data unlocked our ability to experiment with AI, study stress patterns, and engage with students in ways they could relate to (e.g., Play games).
Each child is unique, and what might cause stress in one child might be different than what might cause it in another child. Other factors like home environment, culture, perceived differences in the socio-economic status could also contribute to heightened sense of anxiety, insecurity and stress. There are so many data points that to fully analyze, understand the patterns, and offer solutions simply cannot be done manually. In the future, we would like to further leverage AI to adapt our app to different ages and cultures, integrate user feedback, and expand the options we provide to students to manage their stress. We would also welcome the opportunity to collaborate with research scientists at academic institutions to further our research on this topic. If you are interested to collaborate, please reach out to us at email@example.com.