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Help middle school students understand how their everyday food decisions impacts climate change.
Research assistant & designer
Two iterations of a multitouch table application called Food for Thought were designed to help students explore how their food effects the environment through data-based, collaborative conversations among groups.

Lawrence, L. (2018). Food for Thought: How interface design fosters collaborative data discussions. [Master’s Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign]. IDEALS.  [link]  [pdf]


Kelly, S. B., Lawrence, L., & Mercier, E. (2017). Engaging everyday science data to help make sense of data. In Making a Difference—Prioritizing Equity and Access in CSCL: The 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Philadelphia, USA: The International Society of the Learning Sciences.  [pdf]

Kelly, S., Lawrence, L., & Mercier, E. (2017). Food for Thought: User and resource guide. CoLearnLab Resources.

The software allows students to create meals as a group by dragging foods on and off the plate in the center. Graphs on the table were used to visualize the cost and calories of each food per serving, along with the carbon and water footprint it takes to produce them. Students engaged in dialogue about how they can make choices about what they would choose considering the tradeoffs between the four variables.
Findings from the first iteration of the software indicated that students did not engage in as much data related discussion as anticipated and that when they did discuss the data, students often only discussed the graph in front of them rather than drawing inferences from all four. Therefore, as part of my master's thesis, I redesigned the software to account for these findings. In the second design, I repositioned the graphs so that all students had access to all data and added representations of the two key variables to engage the students in more discussion. 

Both iterations of the software were used with middle school students who were working on science topics around the environment. Results from my thesis, show that students engaged in more data related discussions when using the second iteration compared to the first. 

After successful implementations of the software and interest from the community, we designed an iPad application called Food for Thought: Your food, your footprint. 

More information at


Wired In: Emma Mercier

The News-Gazette |  May 1, 2017

C&I professor’s app helps kids understand the environmental impact of food choices

College of Education |  May 2, 2017

New computer app encourages kids to choose eco-friendly meals

Business Standard  |  May 23, 2016 

Healthy Eating App Teaches Students Climate Change

Big Think  |  May 20, 2016

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Take Apart  |  June 5, 2016

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Queminova  |  June 6, 2016

Illini app gives kids something to chew over  

The Big Ten Network  |  May 22, 2016

Computer app whets children's appetites for eco-friendly meals

Psyh Org  |  May 19, 2016

New app shows kids how their meal will affect the environment

Consumer Affairs  |  May 27, 2016

This App Tells Kids Exactly How Their Meals Affect the Planet

Lady Freethinker  |  December 12, 2016

App Encourages Kids to Pick Eco-Friendly Meals

Pune Mirro  |  May 24, 2016

Soon, an app that whets kids’ appetites for eco-friendly meals

The Free Press Journal  |  May 23, 2016

Soon, an app that whets kids’ appetites for eco-friendly meals

The Siasat  |  May 24, 2016

Nutrition: App That Lets Kids See Environmental Impact Of Their Food Choices Being Developed

Parent Herald  |  May 24, 2016

Learn more about this project at:

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