It has generally been recognized, however, that people retain very little of what they’re told in a lecture format, but quite a lot in a hands-on environment in which they can design their own investigations, carry them out and explain the investigation and its results to others. With this in mind, the current model is interactive and fluid. Students may have a class discussion which may evolve into a hands-on activity, and move back to further discussion – all within the same class period. In order to do this effectively, a combined lab/classroom facility is required with the tables (or desks) and chairs for class discussion and note-taking and the lab benches and utilities and equipment required for the hands-on activity all in the same space. This generates the space that is 60% larger than the traditional classroom.
Experience has shown that creating new science teaching facilities with separate labs shared by more than one teacher each with his or her own classroom, greatly lifts the hands-on, inquiry-based nature of science instruction. Students can no longer move from discussion to hands-on activities and back again within the same period, and the “lab” space is often preempted for a class in, say, history, when not being occupied by science students. While such an approach may save construction costs, it severely limits the ability of science teachers to carry out a contemporary, hands-on, inquiry-based program.
Universal labs: Many schools, particularly those with a “spiral” curriculum, have investigated the idea of creating a “universal” lab/classroom in which any aspect of science might be successfully taught. Such spaces might include fume hoods, gas lines, fixed lab benches, and other equipment in addition to the features which are required for all disciplines. The key to creating a successful “universal” lab is to provide the casework, equipment and utilities needed without compromising the flexibility required for a good, integrated, hands-on program. Remember, any fixed item of casework and equipment is likely to remain in the spot where it is originally placed for 40-50 years (the normal life span of a science teaching facility); it is also, by definition, not flexible. Minimizing fixed items in the middle of science teaching spaces goes a long way toward improving the flexibility of a space while also increasing the level of safety. Recently the technology of portable fume hoods has greatly improved, allowing such hoods to be moved within a space and from room to room as needed. Such hoods recirculate room air through a series of filters which must be changed regularly. The first cost of moveable fume hoods is approximately the same as for a fixed hood. Continuing costs are for periodic replacement of the filters. The energy consumption of mobile fume hoods may prove to be lower than fixed hoods since there is not ductwork or rooftop fan to maintain and it is likely that such a hood will not be used for room ventilation.