Staying globally competitive by teaching future generations of workers how to innovate is a national concern. At Jackson Hole High School, a new program is teaching students the skills they will need to be innovators by assigning them real problems to solve.
SAMMIE SMITH: So just watch for splinters, we're going to back out this way...
REBECCA HUNTINGTON: Inside Jackson Hole High School's Digital Fabrication Lab, 3D printers hum as students use a more primitive device, the hammer, to assemble some life-sized models. The students are getting ready to present these prototypes to their client, the Teton County Library.
BLAND HOKE: Our intrepid group of stakeholders, welcome to the Fab Lab once again...
HUNTINGTON: Sophomore Shaeli Funk is presenting for one of two teams that the Library has invited to design a public art installation for the library's teen wing.
SHAELI FUNK: We have our prototype here. We wanted to target the issues of privacy, noise reduction and also having like an area that's social but you can also study in it as well...
HUNTINGTON: Although the students are presenting the concept to library staff, the real target audience will be teens themselves. Student Bayly Poor says the goal of the project is to get more teens into the Library, something she admits she and others rarely do.
POOR: It was originally pitched to us as an opportunity to create a piece of public art. But what we soon realized was that none of had really been to the teen space so we wanted to make a functional piece of art that would change that and bring people in.
HUNTINGTON: In other words, to create a piece of art that provides a quiet place to do homework or a fun place to be social.
HUNTINGTON: Sophomore Michael Thorkildsen says he was surprised at just how much autonomy the students were given.
THORKILDSEN: I was actually surprised about how much like freedom they gave us. They just trusted us. They're like here we need you guys to come to the library. Go build something that will make you come.
HUNTINGTON: The students used an approach called "design thinking" that encouraged them to listen to their clients needs and then design a solution. What they learned from talking to library staff and teens is that teens wanted more quiet study spaces to do homework. Sound travels easily along the megaphone-shaped wing. So the project morphed from wall art to modular furniture designed to help dampen sound.
HOKE: So what we have today, is an update...
HUNTINGTON: Bland Hoke, Artist in Residence for Jackson Hole Public Art, coordinated the project. He says the project's evolution shows how design thinking works.
HOKE: Moving from a wall mural to a kind of replacement of all the furniture in the space is really a big, big change. But it's indicative of the design thinking process and not sticking to any one idea until you've found one that really resonates with a bunch of different people.
HUNTINGTON: And that was part of the fun for student Michael Thorkildsen.
THORKILDSEN: It's like a puzzle, like you have to be able to put all of the pieces together and also make it fit and make it work and make sure that people like it.
HUNTINGTON: The final design, chosen by library staff, will be S-shaped study pods, with a series of panels that teens can open or close to create more or less privacy. The pods can be arranged to create individual or group study spaces, which will also feature art reflective of the region's topography.
NAT: Whirring of laser engraver. Student using engraver...
HUNTINGTON: Students used the fabrication lab's laser engraver to create cardboard cutouts to test how the design would fit in the space. Then they built life-sized models. As they presented their prototypes to Library Director Deb Adams, she quizzed them on their calculations, making sure they were mindful of building codes.
DEB ADAMS: I just need you guys to measure and just be sure, ok if I move the computer table, I still have a three-foot walkway here... and that's just a safety issue. If there's a fire everybody can get out safely...
HUNTINGTON: Those are just the kind of real-world challenges that Sammie Smith, director of the Digital Fabrication Lab, says she was glad to see the students wrestle with.
SMITH: The kids would literally walk out of here and they're like, 'My brain really hurts.' That was really hard what we did today... But we think we solved the problem.
HUNTINTON: And Smith says those are the kinds of lessons that stick. If all goes according to plan, the student-designed study pods will be installed in the Library's Teen Wing in August. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.