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NOTE: This course is intended to provide an overview of key concepts, and while brief by textbook standards, it is 26 pages long. You can download the Short Course (PDF) or continue reading the course by clicking the page numbers to navigate the text. You can always download the PDF by clicking the link on the right of your screen.

Designing Science Facilities for the New Science Standards
Key concepts in improving today’s K-12 science teaching spaces – a brief course

Curriculum drives the design.

We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.

– Winston Churchill

Nowhere is this statement more applicable than in school science facilities where many of the newest spaces mimic 50-60 year old designs. Probably the designers felt “if it was good enough for me, it will be good enough for them.”

The National Science Education Standards, published in 1996, suggest a science curriculum significantly different from those that drove facility design 50-60 years ago. These new standards place a heavy emphasis on hands-on, inquiry-based science education. New curricula also tend to be integrated and “spiral” in nature. This concept recognizes that the world is not a compartmentalized place and that all aspects of science interconnect. Many schools opt for a spiral curriculum in which a broad range of science material is taught at all levels, the depth and expanse of the material increases as the student progresses and has increasing capabilities to absorb more complex thoughts. What this means is that the science facility of the 21st century “is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” The long, fixed lab benches with tall reagent racks, gas jets, and water faucets with serrated nozzles and rubber hoses dangling from them no longer meet the needs of students following a curriculum organized around the Standards.

Planning for good science facilities requires science teacher input throughout the planning, design and
construction process. Some of the critical reasons for this are:

  1. Many architects are not deeply familiar with science teaching, recent science curriculum changes, or the differences between science teaching facilities and other teaching spaces.
  2. Budgets for new construction and/or renovation are often set with little or no input from science educators and thus provide too little funding to complete a successful science facility.
  3. Schedules are often set with unrealistic goals which create headaches and additional costs when facilities are not ready for the start of a new semester.
  4. Science teaching spaces are often undersized, creating safety issues and limiting the teacher’s ability to effectively carry out a program of hands-on, inquiry-based instruction.
  5. Things change …

Thus, unless the science faculty takes an active role in the entire process, the end result is likely to be significantly different from that envisioned.