Twenty-two students from four local middle schools began Green Sparks‘ semester-long design competition Saturday to create an outdoor classroom for East Lake Park.

Green Sparks, sponsored by GreenSpaces and Bright Spark, encourages kids to use Design Thinking methodology to begin developing prototypes to teach others about water quality and sustainability, said Bright Spark founderJenny Whitener.

Middle schoolers from Chattanooga Christian School, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, Normal Park Museum Magnet School and East Lake Academy are participating in the Green Sparks project, Whitener said.


Students from these schools are set to begin their first models and iterations for the outdoor classroom Feb. 1, she said. From there, they will continue to research and refine their design with teachers from their schools.

Come April 23, the students will pitch their best ideas to architects and engineers contracted by the city for the East Lake Park makeover at the Green School Summit, Whitener said. Prizes will be given to various teams, and the planners might use the students’ input for the final project, she said.

“The city of Chattanooga has made a commitment to improve, redesign and clean up East Lake Park, [and] the kids will be bringing to that perspective a creation of an outdoor classroom concept,” Whitener said.

Michael Walton, GreenSpaces executive director, said this competition would benefit students in the long term by furnishing them with a new paradigm to create for the rest of their lives.

“The skill set this experience teaches students is essential for these kids to succeed in 21st century education and opportunities,” Walton said. “[Design Thinking] is not just memorizing information from a book and regurgitating it on a test. They have to empathize with users of the park and really think how to design and innovate and create a new concept that solves problems that the users identify.”

Walton said that this style of learning would stretch beyond the project and could, ultimately, affect the city’s future workforce.

“All this leads to an innovation economy and [a] skill set that will allow Chattanooga’s Innovation District to succeed in the long term,” Walton said. “This [project] really pulls a lot together.”

He said that this project would also help students to consider environmental impacts as they design.

Photos from the Design Thinking class session at Bridge Innovate and the East Lake Park hands-on workshop are below.

A student shares his group’s ideas for the outdoor classroom. (Photo: Kelly Lacy)