Designing Middle School Science Classrooms

Title:  Designing Science Facilities for the National Science Education Standards

Author:  James T. Biehle, AIA

Download Designing Science Facilities for the NSES

Below is an excerpt from a published course advising on requirements for laboratory design and what factors to include in your decision-making when planning middle school science classrooms.

Most current middle school programs have a mix of physical and life sciences. Earth science, introduction to biology, introduction to physical science, and introduction to the human body often form the basic curriculum as students expand their knowledge of the scientific method and begin to research various topics in more depth. Investigations in which students work more independently are introduced and, in some programs, students may also design their own investigations to answer specific questions.

Middle school science teaching spaces are most often combination lab/classrooms with perimeter counters, base cabinets and sinks and wall cabinets. A maximum of 24 students should be housed in a lab/classroom and a minimum of 60 square feet per student provided for a total room size of 1,440 square feet. A shape closer to square than long and narrow provides more opportunities for flexible furniture arrangements.

Students often sit at tables large enough for two students; these tables should be sturdily constructed with epoxy resin or phenolic resin tops. Attention to leg attachment is critical since these tables will likely be moved often during their lifetime and legs may come loose if not of welded metal or through-bolted wood construction. If the same tables are to serve dual usage as work surfaces for discussion and presentations, and as laboratory surfaces, they should be at laboratory height, or 36″. Providing two sets of tables, one for seated discussions and one for standing laboratory work allows the class to move between discussion/presentation and investigations during the same class period without disrupting the laboratory table arrangement.

Perimeter counters should be at 36″, except for portions of counter and sinks provided for those in wheelchairs which should be at 34″. Countertop materials should be of epoxy resin or phenolic resin construction; plastic laminate on particle board may be less expensive in first cost, but will quickly deteriorate, often in a matter of months, in a middle school science environment and is not recommended. A variety of base cabinets should be provided to create opportunities for storage. Consider providing a base cabinet with shallow drawers for maps, charts and posters in a lab/classroom used for earth science; this cabinet should be at 17 least 34″ from front-to back and 47″ wide to accommodate USGS maps without folding. Wall cabinets should be a mix of cupboards and open shelving; glass fronts on cupboards are not recommended for safety reasons. Tall, floor mounted storage cabinets for microscopes, lab aprons and a variety of larger items should also be provided.

Large, deep sinks with hot and cold water should be provided around the perimeter; a good rule of thumb is one sink for each four students. If properly spaced, a pair of movable lab tables can be placed at right angles to the counter between sinks to create a T-shaped lab bench arrangement for four students. Avoid faucets with the old fashioned serrated nozzles that splash water all over everything within four feet of the sink; specify standard aerators similar to those on a residential kitchen sink. If serrated nozzles are occasionally required, ask to have them provided separately and temporarily replace the aerator only when needed. Faucets should be heavy-duty, vandalproof fixtures with vacuum breakers.

A specialty sink called a RinseAway station is very useful in middle school lab/classrooms. This six-foot long unit has a molded fiberglass top with a deep lip; the interior surface has a drain board area sloping to a reasonably sized sink, allowing messy activities to occur within the fiberglass area and drainage to run to the sink. Consider adding a pull-out face shower to help in washing down the surface and providing a plaster trap shower beneath the sink in earth-science spaces to catch sand and gravel.

Prep and storage space should be provided immediately adjacent to middle school lab/classrooms. The NSTA Guide to Planning School Science Facilities recommends an area of 10 square feet per student for prep and storage space. One effective design is to arrange two lab classrooms with a shared storage and prep space between them. The prep/storage room should have a separate door to the corridor to allow teachers access to the space while class is in session in the adjacent lab/ classroom. View windows between the prep/storage room and the adjacent lab/classrooms should be provided to allow for teacher supervision of the lab/classroom from the prep room. Refrigerators, microwave ovens, and dishwashers are often provided in prep areas in addition to counter space, at least one large sink, and base and wall cabinets.

A space for long-term student projects should be provided as hands-on, inquiry-based science often involves investigations that last more than one class period. Consider the need for security and safety of the project materials as well as supervision of the students working in the space. Provide view windows between this space and the corridor and/or adjacent lab/classroom spaces. A high ceiling, or no ceiling, can allow students to assemble projects that would not fit within the standard classroom ceiling height of 9-10 feet. The ability to suspend objects from the ceiling or the structure above can enhance the functionality of this space. The project space should be provided with a hot and cold water source, adequate electrical power, a floor drain, and daylight.

Please direct all inquiries with regards to school laboratory planning, science furniture and construction projects to the marketing department at Longo info@longoinc.com.  To request a consultant & laboratory space evaluation, email Nat Longo (nlongo@longoinc.com).  Nat Longo has been building school science labs and commercial laboratories for over 25 years.  Project lists are available from Longo if you wish to see where we have worked in NY, NJ, PA, CT, MA & RI.

Longo Laboratory Project Construction Links:

Academy of Holy Angels Science Labs – Demarest, NJ

Albertus Magnus High School Chemistry Lab Renovation – Bardonia, NY

Iona Prep School Chemistry & Biology Labs – New Rochelle, NY

Iona Prep School Physics Labs – New Rochelle, NY

Millbrook School Science Classrooms – Millbrook, NY

Purnell School Science Labs – Pottersville, NJ

Rye Country Day School Science Labs – Rye, NY

Sacred Heart School Science Labs – Greenwich, CT

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