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NSTA Guide to Planning School Science Facilities (Book review)

Everything you need to design cutting-edge science facilities is provided in the second edition of NSTA’S Guide to Planning School Science Facilities.

In accordance with the National Science Education Standards, suggestions for the development of quality science facilities are provided. One of these recommendations is first to complete a curriculum review, because curriculum should shape the science facility. Everyone involved in the planning process must identify what is envisioned for new facilities and then remain involved in the design and construction phases.

Each chapter begins with a “Key Ideas” summary. Chapter 1 discusses how to plan school science facilities. This is followed by steps in the design and building of the new facility. Chapter 2 covers “Current Trends and Future Directions in Science Education.” Most importantly, the planner needs to have a vision of the future (when technological changes are expected).

Safety guidelines are highlighted in Chapter 3. The importance of providing safe space for each student, safe storage of chemicals, ventilation, fume hoods, and minimizing litigation are topics covered.

Chapter 4 focuses on “Designing Facilities for the Elementary School.” We found this section in valuable as we planned our school’s new labs. From space requirements, number of sinks needed, storage options, and providing utilities, to lighting and darkening rooms, many valuable suggestions are provided. Needs for grades K-2 and grades 3-5 are presented.

Chapters 5 and 6 discuss designing facilities for the middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12), and they provide two popular models for science classrooms (moveable lab stations and fixed lab stations). The need for providing computers and other technology is important in the middle school and high school labs. Ideas for teacher space, preparation and storage rooms, student project areas, and small group spaces are included.

“Green Schools” is a new chapter in this edition. Key ideas include accessing natural areas surrounding the school and using outside spaces such as courtyards, ponds, and rain gardens for teaching. Photos provide several useful ideas, from installing a large weather-safe compass and sundial to having an imbedded solar system model in a courtyard.

Chapter 8 has further suggestions for using science spaces to enhance teaching, such as sliding shades that double as bulletin boards, two-way windows that enable students to share projects with the hallway, and using patterns on the floor and ceiling as learning spaces.

Chapter 9, entitled “Science for All,” provides the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. The ADA checklist is invaluable for planning.

The appendix includes checklists for safety; critical dimensions; equipment; checklists for elementary, middle school, and high school labs; a glossary of construction terms; the NSTA position statement on the role of lab investigations in science instruction; and a useful bibliography.

Throughout the book, there are many photographs, floor plans, and checklists. Teachers, science specialists, school board members, architects, and all involved with the planning, designing, and building of exemplary science facilities will benefit from this invaluable resource. Indeed, our school has three excellent science labs because we followed the guidelines in the first edition.

This review originally appeared in the February 1, 2008 edition of Science & Children.