What makes a great school science laboratory?

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STEM subjects are on the rise in schools – the Department of Education reported an increased uptake of 78,000 in this year alone. For science subjects, this means that it’s now more important than ever to offer high-quality learning spaces for students.

Commercial lab specialists, InterFocus, take a closer look at what exactly makes a great school science laboratory.

Flexible spaces

Multi-purpose science labs that can support different disciplines are important. Biology, chemistry, physics – these subjects require different materials, facilities and teaching methods, and therefore have different requirements for a laboratory environment.

Lightweight furnishings and non-fixed pieces of equipment can help create a flexible classroom which can be altered and changed before or during a lesson. As curriculums and class sizes continue to change and grow, it is important that all science laboratories can accommodate this.

Open lines of communication

The traditional classroom set-up of rows of students in front of a teacher can negatively impact lines of communication. It is no secret that more disruptive and less dedicated students will immediately head for the back rows of classrooms where their behaviour can be hidden more easily. However, when potentially hazardous materials are in play, this is less than ideal.

It can be beneficial to completely restructure the science laboratory to support clear and open lines of communication. If built from scratch, the laboratory could benefit from being designed in a square shape with larger but fewer rows of students lined up in front of the teacher. If restructuring a current classically-designed laboratory which is longer than it is wide, it may be preferable to reposition the teacher along one of the longer walls rather than in the traditional position.

Alongside the open lines of communication, science laboratories can benefit from simple lanes of access for students and faculty. This can simplify the transition between solo learning and group projects – again better accommodating both theoretical and practical learning methods.

Impetus on practical learning

Although Ofqual have made some moves recently which seem to diminish the importance of practical learning in secondary school sciences, many respected bodies remain adamant that simply concentrating on theoretical learning will not adequately prepare students who are planning on taking the subject into further education or as a vocation.

Developing students’ practical skills can help aid and abet their theoretical understanding – ensuring the students are better prepared for theoretical examinations and further studies. Creating a science laboratory that can accommodate a wide range of practical lessons across all science disciplines is central to improving and expanding students’ understanding of the principles.

While ticking boxes and hitting grade targets are hugely important, it is also vital that students are provided with a well-rounded and comprehensive education in the scientific disciplines. This can help nurture a love of the sciences within the next generation which may be lost with stale teaching techniques.

Comprehensive storage

With only a few hours a week dedicated to the sciences in the vast majority of school curriculums, it is vital that this time is invested properly to ensure the students receive maximum benefit – giving them the greatest chance of significant and measurable academic progress. This makes it important that minimal time is spent on setting up a lesson – necessitating comprehensive and efficient storage options.

Making it quicker and easier to access all important materials and pieces of equipment will mean that more time can be dedicated to lessons.

Here at InterFocus, we stress the importance of adequate storage: “More and more schools are developing dedicated storage rooms for their science laboratories to simplify the process of all classes and course leaders procuring the equipment they require for the upcoming lesson.”

Positive environment factors

The Clever Classrooms research from the University of Salford revealed that the environmental factors of a classroom can have significant impact upon the learning and academic progress of students. The report revealed that progress could be improved by as much as 16 per cent in just one year with considered implementation of positive air quality, décor and natural light.

These environmental factors can be incredibly simple to implement throughout all classrooms. A high level of natural light is particularly important in science classrooms, with a well-lit room central to accurately reading the results of practical experiments. Natural light also offers a number of wellness benefits to the students and faculty alike.

Centralised safety features

The hazardous nature of science laboratories means that safety measures must be carefully considered and intelligently implemented. This is particularly pertinent for younger classes, who may not fully appreciate the potential hazards of the materials they are using. It is important, therefore, to ensure that a fully-trained teacher or course leader has control over the safety features at all times.

A centralised switch to turn off gas taps and electronics in the science laboratory can reduce the risk of students accidently putting their welfare and the welfare of others at risk. It is becoming increasingly popular for new science laboratories to implement an emergency stop button or thread on or around the course leader’s desk – allowing them to take decisive action when necessary.

Improved, durable materials

The standard materials used for school desks have evolved significantly over the years. Instead of wooden desks, which have long proven to be fire risks and susceptible to damage, many progressive schools are now implementing desks made of improved, durable materials.

Modern materials such as Velstone, Staron, Hi-Macs, Trespa and Avonite have all been designed to offer effective durable support to classrooms. These high strength desks can support practical and theoretical learning without showing the same signs of wear and tear as older, less-developed materials.

Current technology

The Tablets for Schools movement best exemplifies the benefits of providing up-to-date technology in the classroom for students. Implementing technology which children are familiar with can help encourage participation and support interaction. The widely-accepted tablet technology can help students feel comfortable and better understand their learning medium.

Ofcom revealed last year that one in three school-age children now have their own tablet device, ensuring quick adaption if and when the technology is implemented in the classroom. Additionally, wifi-connected tablet devices can help students conduct their own primary research, accessing almost limitless avenues of information.

Beneficial technological advances in the classroom extend further than tablets and computer devices. Wildly popular video game Minecraft is now being used in classrooms all around the world, educating students in physics, geology, technology and more. Again, this is a great example of imparting knowledge using a medium with which many students will be comfortable.

It is vitally important that the teachers and course leaders are also comfortable with these changing and evolving technologies and all aspects of the science laboratory. Full and comprehensive utilisation of all the features of a science laboratory can create a truly progressive learning environment for students.

InterFocus is the leading UK manufacturer of laboratory furniture, providing lab solutions for schools, industries and healthcare. For more information, visit: www.mynewlab.com

Further reading:

A blueprint for a better classroom – Does the design of a classroom affect children’s learning? We may intuitively feel it to be so, but for the first time, research has confirmed the positive impact factors such as good lighting, careful colour choices and a sense of ownership can have on achievement. Hannah Sharron reports.

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