Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Michael Eisenberg

Second Advisor

Katie Siek

Third Advisor

Clayton Lewis

Fourth Advisor

Tom Yeh

Fifth Advisor

Eliana Colunga


Children are increasingly at risk for a vast array of health problems. The rise in obesity has opened the door to life threatening chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. In many ways, these problems are reflective of major changes in children’s lifestyles over the past 30 years. The rise of fast-food and an increase in sedentary play has led to poor dietary habits and a decrease in physical activity. Therefore, helping children become conscious of their health related decisions is crucial to our future. Since children are increasingly comfortable with technology at younger ages, researchers have started exploring its role in motivating healthy behaviors. Within the span of a few years, a burgeoning landscape of wearable and mobile health technologies have emerged; these technologies have focused on delivering pre-built or off-the-shelf solutions in the form of activity trackers or fitness applications. While these solutions have had some measure of success, there is also evidence to suggest that children are not adopting the types of fitness implements that adults find useful. In our work, we offer an alternative view, where health technology is not defined in terms of products to purchase and use, but rather in a way that integrates craft and healthful activities. We introduce a toolkit of ambient and wearable computing where children can craft their own personal visualizations of health. Specifically, children can use the toolkit to craft a wearable device that tracks a particular health or wellness metric and wirelessly relay that information to a set of ambient computationally enhanced building blocks. These blocks abstract the wearable sensor data into a variety of feedback modalities such as light, sound and movement. Thus, children can create different health visualizations by combining these blocks in highly personalized and expressive ways. We conducted three user studies with early adolescents to evaluate our approach. We discovered that children were less responsive to adult notions of health and preferred to track self-selected wellness habits such as reading and sketching. The idea of crafting health technologies was well received by children, with participants creating an electronic health mural to reflect their self-selected behaviors. More importantly, over time, we observed a few participants taking small steps towards self-regulation. The results suggest that craft could potentially serve as a gateway to healthful thinking in children.