School Improvement in Maryland

1.1: A Vision for Science Education

Science is a process as well as knowledge. Children learn science by being involved not only with its content, but also with its methodology. The effective science facility accomodates both. Science study requires a variety of unique instructional materials in addition to those materials common to all of education. A science facility must have space to accommodate this variety in combination with hands-on instructional strategies. Science instructional areas have spatial and material needs that are different from those considered in designing a general use classroom

National, state, and local efforts, public and private, are underway to improve science education. Both the National Research Council, through the National Science Education Standards, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, through “Science for All Americans”, have emphasized the necessity for scientific literacy for all citizens. The maintenance of a democratic society requires this effort.

As early as possible, students need to become acquainted with the nature of science and the processes of science. It is imperative that all students have a full science educational experience starting in kindergarten, and that an increasing number of students pursue science education throughout their high school years and beyond.

In Maryland, the Governor’s Commission on School Performance examined ways to measure the effectiveness of the State’s public school and to develop strategies for improvement.

One result of the Commission’s work was the Look of the Future report, calling for revised science facility design guidelines. Another result is the articulation of explicit goals for science education. This vision for Maryland science programs is defined through the Maryland Science Outcomes Model. Each of the model’s six outcomes represents a component of scientific literacy to be integrated into instruction at each learning level.

Maryland Science Outcomes

  • Students will demonstrate their acquisition and integration of major concepts and unifying themes from the life, physical, and earth/space sciences.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to interpret and explain information generated by their exploration of scientific phenomena.
  • Students will demonstrate ways of thinking and acting inherent in the practice of science.
  • Students will demonstrate positive attitudes towards science and its relevance to the individual, society, and the environment and demonstrate confidence in their ability to practice science.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to employ the language, instruments, methods, and materials of science for collecting, organizing, interpreting, and communicating information.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to apply science in solving problems and making personal decisions about issues affecting the individual, society, and the environment.

The Maryland Science Outcomes specifically describe the desired behavior of students including the ability to demonstrate that scientific knowledge is based on evidence collected through observation, data collection, organization, and interpretation. To ask questions, to evaluate evidence, and to modify one’s ideas based on evidence lie at the heart of thinking and acting like practicing scientists. Classroom activities that foster these abilities can be carried out effectively only if the physical setting promotes access to the equipment and materials employed in the observation, collection, organization and interpretation of data.

1.2: The Planning Process

This document is designed to serve as a planning and design guide in the construction and renovation of school science facilities. It will be useful to those who are planning changes in their curricular and instructional design as well as to those who are planning new construction or renovations in existing facilities. Planning for the school science program cannot be separate from planning the school science facility.

A participatory planning process, where many views are aired, fosters sound decision making and yields a functional facility which responds to the instructional program. Science supervisors, school administrators, teachers, parents and others must be involved in planning the facility they or their children will use. In addition, consultants from the Maryland State Department of Education with expertise in science and facility planning can provide additional perspectives and options. They are an important resource in helping plan local facilities. A science planning group must be a part of the total school planning organization at every step of the process.

The planning process must assure the best possible environment for students to pursue instruction and learning. The basis for that planning is the science program for which the facility will be constructed.

1.3: The Learning Experience

Opportunities to use laboratory equipment must begin in early grades, thus creating a need for science areas in elementary school classrooms as well as in middle schools and high schools. The ability to handle the tools of science skillfully and safely increases the confidence of all students, but particularly girls and minorities who traditionally have been excluded from an educational background that encouraged them to aspire to careers in science. Students who have limited exposure to science during early educational experiences may fail to see the importance of it in later grades.

Space allocated for science must be designed to support a full science program. Classrooms require space for students to have different kinds of learning experiences using a variety of materials and equipment as well as space to prepare and store these materials and equipment. In addition, space needs to be allotted for students to work on long-term projects and for teachers to plan student activities using a variety of teaching strategies.

Changes in methodology, equipment, and materials of instruction require rethinking the arrangement of the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Advances in technology have brought electronic communications into the fabric of the science program. Communication and teamwork skills are built when students interact with each other as they demonstrate creative thinking and learn to respect it in others. Flexibility in the use of space must be considered, in order to sustain a variety of teaching and learning strategies, as supported by the Maryland Science Outcomes. In addition to traditional lecture-style methods of instruction, strategies may include:

  • cooperative learning activities,
  • hands-on laboratory experiments,
  • interdisciplinary team teaching,
  • computer simulations,
  • distance learning,
  • independent projects, and
  • other methodologies.

The National Science Teachers’ Association recommends that laboratory activities comprise between forty and eighty percent of instructional time, emphasizing the importance of active, engaging programs. This level of activity places extraordinary demands on science facilities, and calls for creativity in designing safe, flexible, and cost effective space.

As science programs incorporate more content within a limited schedule, interdisciplinary approaches are increasingly sought as a means to provide context and relevancy while maintaining depth. Science, mathematics, and technology teachers can no longer be physically isolated from each other in classrooms separated by long corridors, different floors, or secluded wings. Organization of instructional areas needs to reflect access among disciplines that have been, in the past, regarded as separate.

Teachers and students must have convenient access to electronic communications technology in its many forms, including computers, calculators, CD-ROM, laser disk players, satellites, and modems. The computer has taken a central place at the student lab station, not to replace the traditional utilities, but to complement their use. Although computer simulations play a part in many educational programs, electronically simulated reality should not replace hands-on, practical experiences. Therefore the science lab station of the Twenty-First Century must accommodate the demands of both the CPU and tangible, dynamic materials.

1.4: Design Considerations

Designing for science education poses complex challenges. Materials for use in the science activity areas must be evaluated for durability, maintenance and safety. Laboratory work surfaces, cabinetry, equipment, safety systems, and other components must be chosen for long-term, frequent, and reliable use. In addition, a variety of regulations covers the design and operation of science facilities. For example, schools are required to meet federal standards for safety defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHA) directive 191.1450. School designs must comply with these directives that will be implemented through each school system’s federally mandated Chemical Hygiene Plan. Building codes and laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have a significant impact on the shape of science facilities. And, in addition to these regulated aspects of facility design, there is a growing recognition of the need to assess the environmental impacts of building decisions, both for a school’s inhabitants and in a more global sense.

As environmental issues demand more and more of society’s attention, students require additional opportunities to work with science in natural outdoor settings. Outdoor education sites should be included in the design of science facilities. Concern for the wise use of their physical and biological environment and the thoughtful regard for present and future generations are outgrowths of the basic understandings and emphases of science.

These guidelines emphasize the importance of an inclusive and thoughtful design process. Only after the educational program has been articulated can the physical learning environment find appropriate expression. This is true for all educational facilities, but perhaps especially so for science spaces, where flexibility, complexity, and safety place extraordinary demands on its users.