Thursday, December 22, 2011

Classroom Design Challenge 3: The Science Room

In this post, I talk about a room that has really stymied me: a science room.

sci 004
First, let me talk about the space.  R has a science room in a 25 year-old school.  She teaches middle school science, but the school used to be a junior high so the room is equipped with things you'd find in a high school science lab (that go almost unused in a middle school classroom): a fume hood, big counters and cupboards that line almost every wall, and the sinks.  Let me tell you about the sinks.  They are the biggest pain if you don't use them on a daily basis.  Because it used to be a science room, there are 6-8 sink/plug/gas (yes: GAS but disconnected) stations spaced just under every two metres about the floor.    Because the high sink stations take up so much floor space and are spaced out around the room, it makes for very limited choices in terms of desk/furniture arrangement because you can't go very far without bumping in to one of these archaic monuments.  And that's just one of the challenges of many that the sinks present (others: visibility; an abundance of water and available electricity; aesthetics; the students get snagged on the protruding gas taps; etc.). 
sci 001
Second, let me tell you about R.  As per my usual Modus Operandi, I observed her in her room.  R teaches math and science in this room.  Like E in the previous post, she uses technology (a Mac with an interactive interface and a projector) in her lessons.  Like E, R also likes to have direct eye contact with her students. Part of R's problem though is that the room forces her to space her students out so that some of her students sit way in the back.  One really clever technique that R uses for math is: during the formative/working together part of her lesson, she will give a problem and the students use individual whiteboards to try out possible solutions.  The students love the whiteboards because they have a clear place to work, and because their work is erasable, the students seem willing to take a few more chances and are not as worried about making mistakes.  After a given amount of time, the students hold up their boards and at a glance, R can see who needs more support and if she needs to adjust her instruction. 
Here are some suggestions for R:
  • Get rid of the sink stations.  Easy to recommend, not so easy to execute.  R has requested that the sink stations be removed for years, but she is still waiting.
  • Put R on a stage.  Elevate the teaching area at the front by her whiteboard.  This way, R will have a better view of her students, especially those in the back, and vice versa.  She could increase her whiteboard area too by putting two together, stacked like tiles on her teaching wall.  I also recommended getting one of those mic/amp systems so she could be heard easier (the room, with the tile floors, high ceiling, and hard walls, is one noisy space), but it is an expensive suggestion.
  • Clear out a space at the front of her classroom during instruction times.  Have the students bring their chairs and whiteboards to the front during instructional times so that she has immediate contact with her students, and them send them to the "work areas" at the back and sides if they can work independently.
  • Bring desks back in.  I know, an unusual suggestion coming from me, but it might be the most practical.  R and I were able to rearrange her large tables a bit so she had more students sitting at the front and less students in the far back, to improve the student contact, but even that was challenging with the sink stations blocking the way.  Smaller desks might give R more choices about how to arrange students in the "in-between" tight spaces between those pesky sinks.
  • Make your own furniture.  I think I recommended to R that she attach plywood to the tops of her existing tables to make longer, more dimension-friendly tables. 
If you have any ideas, please pass them along!  (My Comments boxes seem to have technical difficulties, so please use Anonymous commenting or email me.  Thanks.)


  1. Anonymous8:28 PM

    The comments work now!

  2. WOW - this teacher is so lucky to have such a large room with multiple teaching/learning spaces. Great suggestions, seems like a good problem!