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Primary Market Research

Field Visits

We knew that we wanted to create some sort of device that would improve the education of 6th grade students, but initially we didn’t know much about the students, what they studied, and what they were interested in. In order to profile the typical 6th grade student, we made several field visits with a 6th grade class at Ark Community Charter School. By the guidance of Ideo’s Human Centered Design Toolkit, we used the suggested research method of group interviews. On the first day, we interviewed groups of 3 or 4 students at a time, asked them questions, and made the following observations:

Field Visit #1

Date: 9/19/2013

Location: Ark Community Charter School, Troy, NY

Group 1: 4 boys

  • Enjoy videogames-favorite pastime
  • Like to study, read, play video games (both console and computer)
  • Activities include baseball, football
  • Preferred profession: scientist/mathematician (wants to join science club)
  • Favorite subjects: recess, science
  • Least favorite subjects: ELA, SS (boring)
  • Nervous about having “the talk” in science class

Group 2: 4 girls

  • Favorite subjects: science, SS (currently learning about slavery and Hitler (least favorite parts))
  • Jealous of students upstairs, whose SS class is more fun
  • Don’t like math
  • Don’t like taking reading tests; ELA is too easy
  • Like reading if the book is good
  • Currently reading 100 Cupboards

Group 3: 3 girls

  • Observation: Students formed groups in under 30 seconds; none are co-ed
  • Like: reading, ELA, SS, science, art
  • Dislike: art
  • In art, they draw, make pinwheels, head sculptures
  • Dislike ELA, science, math (because of poor grades)
  • Class currently reading White Fang
  • LOVE writing!
  • Pastimes: walking dog, video games
  • School starts at 8:30 am. Most students take bus

Group 4: 3 girls

  • Like math and science, but find math boring
  • iPads would make math and science more fun
  • Sliding on a touch screen is more fun than turning physical book pages
  • eBooks can be read aloud to students
  • Had to write a 10 minute essay about ice cream for class
  • Would like a reading log app–apparently students must keep their own reading log
  • Would like reading log to compare reading habits with peers
  • “I prefer to read statuses on Facebook”

Group 5: 3 boys

  • Enjoy video games: FPS (first person shooters, shooting games)
  • Like when they play a game that makes their opponents frustrated when they themselves aren’t
  • Math is hard to understand
  • Likes to play knockout at recess
  • Wants to be a pro-You-Tuber– make videos about video games

Expert interview with principal

  • Biggest issue facing learning: poverty factor
  • Having expensive video games doesn’t imply wealth. Parents buy entertainment instead of travel, other enrichment…
  • Students excited to take overnight trip to local campground
  • ELA is a big poverty struggle: working parents don’t read to children as much
  • ELA and math standardized tests for 6th grade, based on common core standards, looks for students to be able to manipulate texts
  • Math done through Khan Academy
  • ELA done on FastForward.com
  • School paid for programs, K-12 use them
  • Not expected to have computers at home
  • After school program
  • 220 students in school K-6
  • Toughest subject of grade 6: genetics
  • Video game that works well: Big Brains multiplication tables
  • Try to avoid competitive games

Post-interview Ethnography

After performing this research, we developed an ethnographic assessment, trying to characterize the students we visited.


Children are often least advantaged by design. Design teams consist of adults, and as a result, children only ever get to provide input during the user input phase of the design process. We will try to get insight into the way sixth grade children like to think, learn, and socialize by visiting them in one of their most social environments, the classroom.



On Thursday, September 19th, five teams of two students conducted brief interviews with students in a sixth grade classroom at Ark Community Charter School. Each group met with groups of three or four students for eight minutes each. During this time, we asked the children a series of questions about their classroom experiences. We tried to keep many of the questions consistent from group to group so that the answers we received could be easily compared from one student to another. By employing the IDEO Human Centered Design method of “group interviews” with the children, we planned to ask questions about what types of learning these students prefer.


Study Results

We began each interview by introducing ourselves and exchanging names with the children. A common question to get the children talking was to ask for their favorite and least favorite school subjects. The answers were more diverse and polarized than we expected. Many students claimed to love math and science, while many others found those two to be the hardest and least enjoyable subject. Some students love history, but most do not enjoy English Language Arts (ELA).

Beyond that base question, we tried to investigate deeper on what students liked and disliked about each of these subjects. For those who did not like math, the consensus seemed to be that it was too difficult. One student remarked that it was too hard to study, implying that whereas English, history, and science can be reviewed out of a textbook, math must be understood conceptually. Those who disliked ELA had many different opinions on the matter. One student said that it was “too easy,” while others complained that they did not like writing. One student lamented that she once was given only ten minutes to respond to an essay prompt about ice cream. Many students who disliked ELA said they still enjoy reading. Many students are reading outside books in addition to White Fang, which they are reading for class.

We then tried to ask the students various questions about their lives outside of the classroom. Most of the students ride a school bus to school, which surprised us given the urban location of the school, but also made sense because Ark is a charter school, pulling in students from a wider area. Many of these students enjoy sports outside of school, but even more of them can agree that they enjoy playing video games in their spare time. Video game consoles seem to be present in most of these children’s households, and many of them additionally have smartphones and touch screen tablets. This technology impacts the students’ hobbies and personalities. One child—an avid digital photo and video editor—aspires to become a professional YouTube personality, making videos reviewing video games. Another student says she does most of her reading using eBooks on her iPad. In contrast, one other girl in the group joked that she does most of her reading by reading Facebook status messages.

We tried to direct our attention to what these children enjoy about the technology they use and how they might be able to use it better. The girl that prefers to read on her iPad does so because the interaction with a touch screen is more exciting that flipping pages of a physical book. She also likes that she has the option for the book to be read aloud to her using the app she uses. It seems as though the class is responsible for keeping a reading log of all of the books they read outside of class, because when this girl mentioned that she wished her iPad would automatically keep track of the books she reads, the other girls in her group excitedly agreed. She suggested that a reading log app should automatically keep a record of how many pages she has read in each book. She wishes she could then compare her reading log with those of her peers for some friendly competition.

We tried a similar investigation on what these students enjoy so much about their video games. When asked what kind of games they prefer, most of the boys said they enjoyed “shooting games,” or as one student whispered to another “you can say FPS [first person shooter]. He knows what that means.” I asked the most excited student what he liked about shooting games, and he described that he enjoys the experience of getting really angry, yelling at the TV, and getting extremely frustrated. I provoked him more, explaining that all of those seem like unattractive traits of a game. He explained that while the games can be very frustrating for him, the enjoyment he gets out of causing his opponents to get that angry outweighs his own frustrations. Upon reflection, it seems that while this can be a successful strategy to make a game appealing, it is also the feature that often provokes bullying, so competition must be carefully incorporated into any game we design.

Lastly, we interviewed the school’s principal and curriculum coordinators to get an “expert interview” with those who work directly with the students and also have training in adolescent psychology. According to the principal, one of the most pressing issues for many of these students is poverty. Where this affects the students is that the poorer parents are less likely to read to their children. Households with two working parents often do not pay as much attention to what the child is studying and will be less likely to notice when their child is struggling. She also explained that much of the anxiety the students face regarding ELA is due to the standardized tests they need to take. She noted that the students use an online program called Fast Forward to teach and practice literacy skills. I got the impression that such an online program adds difficulty for students without as much access to computers outside of school.



Children at the Ark Community Charter School have provided us with valuable insight into their experiences that will allow us to develop educational technologies. By interviewing both students and faculty, we were able to learn about the students’ curriculum from the way the students see it and from the way it was designed. We gained the most important input from asking them about their hobbies and aspirations. We learned about which subjects we might try to focus our learning games, and from which video games we might want to model them.