Suggestions for a lab update

4018106328_d97e79bc1b_mI have a chance to contribute to the design of the science classrooms in a middle school. What should be on a “must-have” list? —S., Connecticut

I would strongly recommend using the NSTA Guide to Planning School Science Facilities. This publication has a chapter on safety guidelines (including material storage), sample floorplans, Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, and even suggestions for “green” labs. It has chapters on the planning process, photographs, checklists, and discussion-starters.

Check on the recommendations or requirements from your state department of education and your local building codes. Consider the age level of your students and the type of activities and investigations in your curriculum.

The first priority should be safety features such as showers, eyewash stations, fume hoods, air exchange, fire extinguishers and blankets, sanitizing equipment for goggles, master shut-off switches for utilities, adequate and uncluttered workspaces, and unobstructed exits from the lab.

Other science teachers offer their advice:

  • Include more storage space than you think you’ll need. Drawers and cupboards should be lockable.
  • In addition to lab stations, get flat student desks or tables that can be pushed together for cooperative work and projects.
  • You can’t have too many electrical outlets throughout the room.
  • It is helpful to visit labs and talk to the teachers at other schools when planning a new lab space.
  • Have a small refrigerator for making ice or chilling materials (but not for lunches!).

It’s better to work out the details first rather than having to go back and correct any mistakes or omissions. Include your administrators in any design discussions. From my own experience, architects, contractors, or administrators may try to skimp on features you recommend. Be adamant about student safety and ensuring the facility meets the learning needs of science students.


Update: S has followed up with “We met with the architects today and that book was very helpful.”

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