Engineering students solve elementary school sound problem through service-learning project

Engineering students visit elementary classroomThe Rocky Branch Elementary School cafeteria will soon be less noisy, thanks to students from the University of Georgia.

In the coming weeks, students in the College of Engineering will install sound-absorbing panels they created on the walls of the cafeteria at the Oconee County school. Third-grade students at Rocky Branch will decorate the panels with pictures of fruits and vegetables.

The idea came to Ben Davis, an engineering professor with experience in sound and acoustics, after he was asked to visit the school during lunch period.

“The cafeteria creates a ‘cocktail party’ effect,” Davis said. “Students talk at a normal level, the sound bounces off the walls, students raise their voices to be heard, and the sound gets even louder.”

Davis decided to turn the problem into a service-learning opportunity for his graduate students. Service-learning at UGA is the application of academic skills and knowledge to address a community needs, issue of problem and to enhance student learning. Students who enroll in official service-learning courses receive credit for experiential learning, a requirement for all UGA students since 2016-17. Almost 6,000 students enrolled in one or more service-learning course during the 2016-17 academic year, according to the Office of Service-Learning, which is part of the offices of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the Vice President for Instruction.

Davis and his students worked alongside third grade students and their teacher, Christina Crowe, at Rocky Branch taking detailed measurements and making diagrams of the cafeteria.  Crowe and her students used an iPad to measure the sound in the cafeteria and learned it exceeded the standards recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Based on all of the information collected, the UGA students assembled a prototype of a soundproof panel. Constructed with wood and insulated with rockwool, an inflammable material, the panels are wrapped with sound fabric, a material designed to reduce noise. The fabric allows sound to pass and be absorbed by the rockwool.

When they took the panel prototype back to the school, it provided an opportunity for the elementary school students to learn more about the science of sound. They also wanted to know if the panels could withstand nonstandard uses, like a bump or a stray hand running along the wall on the cafeteria.

“It’s classic science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in action,” said Laura Mason, the principal at Rocky Branch. “It’s a great partnership. The students are learning so much and solving a real-world problem.”

The engineering students also benefitted from the project.

“I liked the service-learning project because we get to directly see our work in use,” said Haynes Curtis, a master’s student in engineering at UGA. “We don’t usually get to see our projects in action.”

“I’m hoping this project can inspire the kids to see what engineering is,” said Ryan Romeo, who is getting a doctoral degree in engineering at UGA. “A couple of the kids said they want to be engineers when they grow up.”

By Leah Moss

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