Lab Design Lessons from a STEM Pioneer: Part 2 (Organization and Adaptability)
Well-organized and adaptable spaces promote independence among future scientists and engineers.
My last post made it clear that schools that want STEM spaces don’t need to build new multimillion dollar facilities to achieve them. Case in point: the Niles Township High School District (D219) STEM labs at Niles North and West High Schools.
Now I want to delve deeper into those spaces and explain how STEM labs can be organized to maximize flexibility for student activities.
For the D219 STEM labs, we looked to professional corporate labs for inspiration about what technologies and layouts would best adapt to more than one discipline.
Each lab has a Think Tank space where students can present research to one another, break into small groups, or do video conferencing with university or professional mentors. In the Lab Zone, students have access to lab equipment and storage for their experiments.
A sense of flexibility pervades the labs. For instance, students can rearrange some of the furnishings to accommodate different experiments, or they can roll lockable carrels that contain their research to anywhere in the labs. New equipment can be added over time and the furniture can adapt to avoid overcrowding of the space.
The adaptability of the D219 STEM labs conveys a clear message: the students are the research scientists and engineers. Teachers aren’t telling students what to do and teachers aren’t designing the experiments. With this independence, students pop in and out of the labs all day long to check on their projects. Plus, the district has partnerships with many graduate students and professionals who provide one-on-one mentorship with the students.
The STEM labs/program have enabled D219 to repeatedly send students to Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. A couple years ago, one D219 student won Best in Category (microbiology) at the ISEF for his project “Investigating the Compatibility of Autoinducers: One Molecule to Target Multiple Signal Transduction Pathways.” This placed him among the top 17 high school students in the world for science prowess.
View more about STEM and STEAM spaces.
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Feature photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.