Initial Thesis Ideas

Idea 1

My initial thesis idea is to do something that focuses on parents and their preschool aged kids engaging in both fun and developmentally beneficial and appropriate activities in an effort to prepare kids to succeed academically once they enter school.

I have also become interested in technology inspiring activities that take place away from technology (hands-on, in the real world). I think this would be important to incorporate since there is still debate about how much screen time young children should be exposed to, if any.

At this point I’m not sure what form this project would take, but I think it would be ideal to have something that fits into the everyday life of parents and kids. In other words, it would need to be something that is easy to use and isn’t bogged down by the theory behind the activities it inspires.

I became interested in this kind of project while I was working at my old job in developmental psychology research. I spent a lot of time in public schools in the Chicago area and was pretty discouraged by what I saw. The education that a child receives from big city public schools is often dictated by the neighborhood they live in and the income of their parents. It seemed unfair to me, a product of a small town, quality public school education, that kids in the same city could be getting such different educational experiences. I was also part of research studies that found that many simple things, such as the language parents and teachers use, both positively and negatively affect the cognitive outcomes of children. I became frustrated that these findings were stuck in the research community and not getting out there to the parents and teachers who could actually use them.

When I came to NYU I thought I wanted to focus on formal education and achievement gaps, but after reading more about the topic I have learned that achievement gaps are present even before children begin school. Also, although schools and teachers are often blamed for the failure of education in the US, what happens outside of the classroom is a major factor in preparing children for academic success. These factors have shifted my focus more toward empowering parents to affect the education of their children.

I think the challenge of this type of project is to accomplish this goal but still keep things light and playful. The emphasis on standards has already put a lot of pressure on older students and their teachers and I wouldn’t want to see this happen to preschoolers. In this environment of high-stakes tests, I also think it’s important to show parents that play is worthwhile and educational.

Many initiatives, apps, and products already exist to tackle this problem. One app that is very close to what I had imagined is the Family Play app from Sesame Street. When I found out about it last semester I thought to myself, “guess Sesame beat me to it.” So I think one major question that I need to answer is what I would be able to offer that goes beyond what these existing products already do.

I think I could benefit from working with a peer. I think that in most cases two heads are better than one. More specifically, because my background is in research and cognitive development, I might benefit from working with a peer who has more knowledge of the different kinds of platforms that could be used for this type of tool.

 

Idea 2

In the latter part of last year I became interested in exhibit design and museums as learning spaces that bridge the formal and informal. I would potentially be interested in doing a project in this realm but I don’t have a specific idea yet…

5 thoughts on “Initial Thesis Ideas

  1. janemklt says:

    I really like your focus, and i actually think it’s great that there is already a product out there that captures some of what you have been thinking about. It seems like the family play app is filled with “just in time” activities for parents to run/moderate with their kids whenever they have a free moment (but sure I’m not as familiar with it as you so I could be wrong), and it also seems like there is a focus on social-emotional learning, exec. functioning skills, etc. Are you wanting to look more at the early development of academic/critical thinking skills, or science learning, or health, or creativity…? So many options! The family play app seems really big/broad and includes a lot of these, maybe you can pick something more specific (among these or others) to focus on and develop.

  2. Matt says:

    Heya Claire,

    Sounds like you’re off to a good start…and I don’t think Sesame has “beat you to it”! What hooked me from the beginning of this post was the mention of designing an interaction “that take place away from technology (hands-on, in the real world).” This is a design challenge that will really differentiate you from similar designs that inspire your project, while, at the same time, appeal to parents that agree with the philosophy of limiting screen time. Taking the thesis off the screen would be very interesting for this project because there aren’t many student projects that go that route, even though I think there is a general movement toward more IoT/off-the-screen interactions.

  3. Rina Patel says:

    Hi Claire,
    I think both your projects have great subjects to focus on and ones that I myself have interest in.

    The first idea resonates with me as I have a 2 and half year old niece that loves to play on the iPad and watch cartoons, although her time on each is very limited. She watches Dora the Explorer, which prompts kids to somewhat engage in the cartoon by repeating words or asking them questions, however my niece does not engage, she is merely mesmerized by the show (she may also be too young, I don’t know the age group for that show). However when I spend time with her I will follow along with the prompts, which slightly peaks her curiosity and I find her breaking through at times and following suit. I don’t think her parents necessarily sit with her and watch Dora or play on the iPad as it is considered a treat for her and she just relishes in it and is very quiet at those times. I guess where I am getting at is if parents are not actively participating with the kids while watching TV or playing on the iPad, are there are forms of play/devices/games that the parents would be more open to so the children do not become addicted to TV and iPads? Check out this book called Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth (http://www.amazon.com/Play-Learning-Motivates-Childrens-Social-Emotional-ebook/dp/B000QXDAJO/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=). I recall a chapter in there about how kids will learn more when parents watch TV with their kids and then have follow-ups to it. There is other information in there about Play and child development as well that may help you.

    This is a side note and maybe a whole another thesis project, but recently my friends and I have started to recognize different patterns of manners, politeness, and respect for others and the environment in kids and adults. We started to wonder why certain people are not polite, or throw garbage on the streets, etc, and we started to discuss that this kind of thinking starts at home, but if it is not being taught at home, how can it be taught and made significant at school or other areas, such as a TV , that kids may be exposed to. I know it is a not a ground breaking topic, but I still think an interesting one, as when I went to India a few years ago they have billboard campaigns that has a garbage can cartoon-like figure saying “feed me” because people are prone to just throw trash in the streets. I think before the summer Olympics in China they had campaigns to stop spitting in public.

    As for the 2nd idea, I love the idea of creating a more interactive and engaging museum experience. I find museums to be a bit dull sometimes and I think the most engaged was when I saw a Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit and rented the audio stick to listen to while viewing the exhibit. The audio had music from the period and would different voices and sounds that recreated the era and subject of the painting and I found it to be so captivating. One of the DMDL Leonard Majzlin would be a good contact as he teaches the Museums class in DMDL. Also the Queens Science Museum (we went there for our Narrative class) has a lot of interactive exhibits and they have experience designers, which may be able to speak more to how they are trying to make their museum more interactive. I also had an idea for one of my game classes on an interactive museum experience that I can share with you if you are interested. I think this project would be a little easier to test and focus group on as classes are always going to the museum so it may be easier to find testers. I also feel like I saw a thesis project from a few years ago that had to do with museum experience.

  4. Maaike says:

    Hi Claire- I really like both of your ideas and love that you are personally interested in both of them. Both are really important and have a lot of potential. Both require some deeper digging and more focus and I’m sure you’re working on that as we speak. To help in that process- get a hold of everything and anyone you can think of to start to become more versed in your areas of interest. I’ll give you some of my thoughts- below- but excuse me in advance if you’ve already thought of these or they are not in line with what you were thinking…

    I love your first idea. Have you looked at some of the info put out by Head Start, in particular some of their frameworks for school readiness. ? They focus on full family engagement and on supporting low income families (as you mention there is a real need in this area).

    Also, there are a number of NYU faculty you might want to try to connect with once you have more of a specific focus. For example, say you were to focus on self-regulation in children. This is an important part of ‘school readiness’ skills. Clancy Blair, a professor within Steinhardt, has done research and a lot of writing in this particular area (just a Google search here, not a personal acquaintance ☺)

    Multi-language learning for young kids and movement/activity (to counteract the obesity) are hot topics these days, as are socio-emotional skills as you mentioned.

    And yes, Family Play from Sesame Street is pretty great and will be a great inspiration when you figure out your focus.

    For your second idea, which I would need to better understand as far as where you want to focus, have you considered setting up a face-to-face meeting with Leonard Majzlin? Also, some of the contacts he sent you might be great for an “informational thesis chat” (kind of like the informational interview: casual, information seeking, at their convenience, etc). He met with a student last year and was really instrumental in helping this student raise important questions to guide his thesis.

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