College of Design
College of Design

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Emerging Fall 2010

Design Labs "ton of fun"

Design Labs


This summer, two groups of elementary school students were introduced to design thinking and creative problem solving through a set of fast and furious design workshops designed to integrate core knowledge taught during the school year. In addition to designing and creating full-scale structures, everyone had a "ton of fun," according to sources on the ground.


The College of Design continued its long-standing commitment to precollege (PK-12) outreach programs through two Design Lab (DLab) workshops taught by college faculty and local designers. The DLabs introduced design thinking skills to K-6 students ages 5 through 11 and a group of their teachers in two locations: Highlands Elementary School in Edina and Baker Community Center/Jane Addams School in West St. Paul.


Design LabsYoungsters in the DLabs incorporated natural phenomena like wind, water, light, and sound to create gathering spaces on their school grounds using sustainable resources such as straw bales, willow reeds, natural twine, and burlap. Led by John Comazzi, assistant professor (Arch); Wendy Friedmeyer, former education coordinator in the Design Institute; Adam Jarvi (MArch '08, above); and MArch student Kristen Murray, the four day-long programs focused on sketching, mind-mapping, diagramming, model making, and prototyping to develop the final, full-scale constructions. Kristine Miller, associate professor (Landscape Arch), Amy Krautbauer (MLA '08), and local designer Scott Christiansen also participated as instructors.


The main objective of the program was to teach a range of core lessons through an open-ended design process, said Comazzi. "Design-based education offers opportunities to meaningfully connect and apply content from across core curricula -- mathematics, writing, art, science, social sciences, physical education," he said. "Design thinking and creative problem solving provide an effective means for students to build the kind of higher order, critical-thinking skills they will need to thrive in an increasingly complex world."


The DLabs also engaged teachers from the respective schools in a series of professional development workshops to provide the tools and confidence necessary for them to implement design into their lesson plans. Teaching assistant and second-year MLA student Brit Salmela noted, "It's inspirational that people of all ages can learn the skills to think critically about space, to become fully engaged in an activity, and to work together as a team."


Design Labs


Although these workshops took place in an informal learning environment and were meant to be fun as well as educational, there were clearly tangible results. "The design labs taught me how to label, make sketches, and work on my handwriting. I have better drawing and art skills now," said Yoni, a nine-year-old participant from Baker Community Center.


The DLabs were supported by an Access to Excellence Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2009 Exceptional Innovation Grant from the Design Institute. An independent assessment of the DLabs was conducted by consultants from the Perpich Center for Arts Integration.


Explore the DLab blog at

Lauren Pennington, summer intern, contributed to this article and SDA article (p.9).

Contact Information

College of Design

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101 Rapson Hall, 89 Church St SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

P: 612-626-9068 | F: 612-625-7525

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