Facility Planning
Facility Planning: Curricular School Design

Facility Planning: Curricular School Design

Today, space designs are being created to enhance the teaching and learning process for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The proper environment is vital to enhance the STEM curriculum. Space design, equipment and furnishings must promote collaboration and quick response to each project, group and individual.

Technology should be integrated throughout the curriculum, and new instructional strategies are required. Teachers use flexible grouping, cooperative groups, hands-on experiences, problem-solving, justification of thinking through science notebooks, and academic choice activities. Students practice skills based on their cognitive styles, individual abilities and interests.

Value-added standards and projects within the integrated curriculum require staff to teach and students to learn through inquiry and project-based learning. Teachers work collaboratively with support and special-education staff, and instructional coaches to provide differentiated instruction that promotes problem-solving, creativity, innovation, collaboration, IT/media literacy, entrepreneurship and leadership.

The 2011 National Survey on STEM Education discovered the three key challenges facing K-12 STEM education in the United States: inadequate funding (74 percent), a low number of qualified STEM education teachers (55.9 percent), and insufficient STEM professional development for teachers (54.6 percent).

Weaver Lake Elementary School, District 279, Osseo, Minn., a K-6 STEM magnet school, was designed in 1990 and converted to the STEM curriculum in 2004. Weaver Lake required a 90-hour staff development before initiating STEM curriculum, and ongoing staff development is vital.

The curriculum was adapted to facilities that included self-contained classrooms for STEM programs and activities; space, furniture and equipment flexibility; a large, centralized media center; large classrooms for science and engineering labs; and a site adjacent to a park with a lake, and within walking distance of another lake for environmental study.

Minor revisions included:

•Converting the art room for science—wet projects required sinks, a hard floor and extensive storage.

•A computer room for standardized testing; a computer classroom accessible to the media center; a TV studio adjacent to the media center; and storage for large carts containing technology equipment.

Spaces need to be responsive to evolving educational programs, philosophies, delivery methodologies, and student and staff needs. New schools can be designed with adequate spaces equipped with furniture and fixtures for STEM. Technology plays a major role in STEM learning environments; students have their own (or school-owned) personal learning devices, and facilities must integrate technology into every aspect of learning.

For STEM schools, content for students is hands-on integrated and interdisciplinary:

•Multi-use project space with tables on wheels and carts for storing long (cocoon/butterfly cages, robotics) and short-term experiments.

•Flexible furnishings and fixed equipment (sinks, hoods, gas and compressed air) around the perimeter.

•Individual and collaborative research and group presentation areas.

Depending on age, design and furnishings, many existing schools can adapt to STEM. Open classrooms and breakout spaces can adapt to STEM; however, acoustic control is essential, with ongoing projects and students collaborating in several groups.

As enrollments decline, schools with empty, small, self-contained classrooms may consider dividing the middle classroom to make the two adjacent classrooms larger. Or, construct doors and viewing windows in the walls for that empty classroom to be used by adjacent classrooms as a lab/studio, or remove two walls to create one large learning studio.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

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