Major Renovation Transforms Middle Form Science Labs
Major Renovation Transforms Middle Form Science Labs

Two modernized science classrooms at the Siboni Arts & Science Center now feature flexible learning spaces and environmentally-friendly design, enriching the teaching experience and helping to boost student engagement and performance.

Approximately 320 Middle Form boys and girls arriving to their science classes this fall discovered newly redesigned labs in the Siboni Arts & Science Center. The former classrooms were traditionally designed spaces with fixed furniture, dividing the room into a lecture area and a lab area with fixed desks and tables. The summer transformation opened the room, inviting use of the entire space for multiple learning modalities and activities. Inspired by learning research, the redesign implemented enhancements to environmental factors including overhead lighting responsive to natural light, low VOC emitting flooring and ergonomic seating and tables.

"Convent & Stuart Hall designed the new labs to address how teachers use the space and how students learn best. To ensure this happened, Plant Operations Director Geoff De Santis organized numerous meetings with Middle Form science teachers to get our input on design. The resulting classrooms are not only configurable to accommodate many types of learning activities, they also keep students engaged and focused," said Jeffrey Dunn, Grade 7 & 8 biology teacher.

Construction on the project began at the end of spring term and was completed in time for fall classes. The upgraded science labs feature overhead grids for mounting equipment and more storage and counter space around the perimeter of the rooms. One classroom gained an additional 215 square feet thanks to the inclusion of an adjacent prep room and closet.

"The new layout is more efficient and better coordinated than it used to be," said Dunn. Ella, Grade 8, agrees: "The classroom feels more open and organized. Last year everything was stored in drawers. Now we can find things more quickly."

Both rooms feature floor-to-ceiling white boards. An upgrade from traditional chalkboards, they provide teachers with a better way to document lectures. Instead of erasing and rewriting, teachers can now provide a historic progression for students to follow. This gives students extra time to take notes or snap photos with their iPads. "I like the new white board along the whole wall – it makes taking notes easier," said Ella.

Grade 6 science teacher Kendyl Eriksen emphasized flexibility as the best feature of the new rooms. Furniture can now be grouped in a variety of ways for different kinds of learning. Students agree. Mia, Grade 7, said: "We used to have tables that couldn't be moved. This year, I really like that we can rearrange the tables in different formats for when we're doing labs or experiments."

Along with new tables, the classrooms also feature upgraded chairs. "They're really exciting. They're hydraulic, which makes them great for fidgety kids who need to move a little during instruction or tip their chairs back without hurting themselves. They're also on wheels, which means we're no longer picking up cumbersome plastic and metal chairs," said Eriksen.

The removal of built-in cabinets in one of the classrooms provides a flood of natural light. Both classrooms also benefit from new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient lighting that gives teachers a control panel to customize lighting in every corner of the room. This not only saves energy, it also keeps students alert.

Under Convent & Stuart Hall's unique Pedagogy of Space philosophy, the school is working hard to create active learning environments which will engage the students more, both mentally and physically. Simultaneously, environmental qualities such as light, air, sound and thermal quality, among others, are taken into consideration and will positively influence attention, focus and health.

"Since the start of our space renovations, each year we are finding a new way to help students stay engaged," De Santis said. "This type of implementation allows our students to quickly move from a seated to standing position or from a solo work atmosphere to a collaboration area without disengaging as they make their move. That is transformational."