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December 15, 2021 Mobile Lab Introduces Grade-School Students to Design

student plays sound pattern game with mallet
Local fifth and sixth graders got hands-on experience with the design thinking process using our newly built mobile design lab.

In December, after a semester of partnering with our School of Interior Architecture, students from Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School, a Title I STEM school in Lenoir City, Tenn., visited the college’s Art + Architecture Building to test the new mobile lab. Throughout the fall semester, the UT students, led by Professor David Matthews, designed the mobile design lab in collaboration with the young students to introduce them to design and participate together in design/build projects.

The UT students were challenged to understand the complexities of not only designing activities that would interest fifth and sixth graders but also designing and building a compact, mobile space. They also learned to create and integrate responsive technology for use with design-related activities. Through this outreach project, they also gained experience in creating a design that benefits the community in enduring ways.

The final prototype of the mobile studio/laboratory transforms a classroom into a project-centric environment. It includes interactive games, innovative technology, and activities that stimulate design-process thinking. Activities engage students’ design capabilities by focusing on sound, color and lighting and their effects on place. Further, students are exposed to the coding, lighting, and sound programming that goes into the functions of each activity. 

On Dec. 6, the grade-school students were completely immersed into the design experience as they designed their own instruments, built them using supplies in the lab, and interacted with them to change sound and light patterns They also learned about sound patterns with a memory game that uses technology built into the lab itself.

students play with lights and sound
“The project allowed 4th-year Interior Architecture students to experience conceptual design to hands-on construction and testing in a single semester,” said Matthews. “The real benefit was the interaction with the 6th graders and the hands-on construction. The amount of learning that happens when the design has to be constructed is amazing. Bringing a design idea off of the computer and into actual physical form requires thoughtful planning and prototyping. The digital models and drawings are never perfectly complete, so students had to learn how to problem-solve and adapt to situations they could not imagine when working on drawings.”

This experience is part of a unique research project. In August 2021, the Angelo Donghia Foundation awarded a $72,000 grant to the School of Interior Architecture that funded the creation of the EYMIE (Engaging Youth to Make Interactive Experience) Lab, a mobile lab and library equipped with tools and technology for design and making, as well as design/build installations that benefit local communities. 

While the future of the mobile design lab has many opportunities, the prototype continues to serve its purpose of educating and inspiring young students into design careers. 

Photo credits: College, David Matthews