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Designing a Science Lab

posted Sep 15, 2017, 6:50 PM by Diana Salda–a   [ updated Sep 15, 2017, 7:13 PM ]
Back in March, the TI team was approached by the principal to see if we could help with the design of a brand new science space. At that time, we were under the impression that there would be a brand new STEM lab for Elementary, apart from the existing science lab. With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, this made perfect sense. However, throughout the process we learned that it was not a new space, but rather the relocation and redesign of the current science lab. We also learned that our budget was going to be smaller than what we had thought.

To get started, we called a meeting with the science reps, the school's projects team, the admin team, and of course, the science lab teacher, Ms. Georgina. This was the first of several meetings. We decided we'd follow the ASFM design process, created in partnership with design expert David Jakes.

        Provocation: How might we design a learning experience 
that allows students to be scientists?

Part 1: Identify learning verbs

The first step was to dissect the NGSS standards to identify the verbs. Teachers were grouped by tables and handed the standards according to grade level. Teachers wrote each word on a post-it note. Afterwards, the verbs were grouped and 5-7 learning verbs emerged per table. Those key verbs were shared and then the whole design team decided on which 7 learning verbs to work on.


Learning verbs
  • Observe
  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Test
  • Identify a problem
  • Predict
  • Plan
Part 2: Develop learning statements and Spatial concepts. 

The next step was to transform the learning verbs into learning statements. That is, what experience or behaviors do we want to see in students, and what kind of space will support this statement. This is what the design team developed:

When students OBSERVE:



Observe relationship between different kinds of living things

Open space that allows movement

Observe the environment around you

Includes outdoor/indoor areas

Observe how things work

Offers/provides a variety of resources, tools, choices

Observe results of experiments and redesign the experiment

Flexibility in options for recording/observing data (both digital and analog)

Observe how things react

Safe environment for observation

Observe data gathered/given cause/effect

When ANALYZING, students:



Look closely at evidence

Space to create and collect different types of evidence

Compare findings

Space that is safe when using tools to analyze

Ask questions

Space to exhibit findings/learnings and discuss/reflect

Determine if a solution works

Flexible spaces - Lights, inside/outside, flooring

Use appropriate tools

Space for exploring/experimenting, testing/changing

Space that is accessible for everyone (meets needs)

Space with access to different tools and a place to use them

What learning looks like considering DESIGN:



Designing looks like students designing and creating

Big space to draw/sketch a plan

Designing looks like collaboration and communication

Available technology to redesign and research

Designing with access to a variety of tools.

Organized area to know where to find available tools

Designing looks like students making and adapting plans

Designing looks like students being flexible

The experience to TEST looks like:



Learning looks like the application of a hypothesis

Space allows for experiments to take place

Learning looks like students examining variables

Space that has access to multiple materials

Learning looks like multiple attempts at data collection

Space to demonstrate data collection, processes and experimentation

Learning looks like scientists recording data

Space protected for data recording materials

Learning looks like adjusting materials to examine the variables

Space for finding ideas and outcomes

Learning should look enjoyable and fun

Space that’s open to visualize learners and learning from other groups

When IDENTIFYING A PROBLEM, learning looks like:



Asking questions

Space where all ideas and questions are valid and acknowledged

Looking for things that work

Space where “non-solutions” lead us to a solvable problem


Space where time and materials are available

Finding similarities/differences


Focusing/zooming In



To PREDICT, learning looks like:



Students having fun as a team

Students wearing lab coats, experts, professional

People collaborating with different ideas

Table groups with notebooks

Students on stools with notebooks and pencils writing down observations

Testing water or oil, cups

Testing hypothesis

Big mess on table

People Making Mistakes And Persevering

Table, liquids, stools, liquid, cups

Students perform experiments

Sinks, clipboards, tall tables, storage with doors, storage for lab coats

People observing

What learning looks like considering to PLAN:



Planning experiments

Space allows for experiments to take place

Planning how to make something, mixing substances

Part 3: Consolidation of discovery data into drivers and constraints.

At this time, we did not meet with the design team again. The TI team took all the data that was collected and determined the drivers and constraints.

  • Flexibility
  • Choice
  • Space
  • Budget
  • Room dimensions
  • Storage space
Part 4: Prototyping

We planned a third meeting with a smaller group of teachers. At this time, we provided teachers with the layout and the dimensions of the space. Basically it was just a rectangle that measured 10.6 m x 6.2 m. Teachers had the opportunity to provide feedback for the prototype of the lab. They also made a list of the materials and equipment they thought would be necessary to support teaching the Science standards.

With the help of Ms. Ime, one the teachers in the design team who has a background in architecture, we went about creating prototypes. We used the online application RoomStyler to have a 3D visual of what the space might look like. After many iterations we collected several layouts. It was time to take it back to the team to get more feedback. Actually, we posted the prototypes on the wall and asked the whole staff to stop by and look at the renderings. They could write down any comments, suggestions, or provide feedback. 


Based on this feedback and keeping the drivers in mind, we developed this final prototype:

For the last few details we met with the projects team to talk about providers and constructors. Finally, the school year ended with all plans in place. Summer vacations meant waiting time for us. I was anxious to return to school and be able to see the final results. Take a look, below is the finished room:

                          This room transformed from a classroom (Before)...         into a science lab (After).


Looking at the new science lab, we can see how the drivers are present in the finished space.
  • Flexibility: All furniture is mobile and agile. Carpet squares allow for flexible seating. Projector is not mounted, allowing for various display options.
  • Choice: Students have choice over where to work and where to sit. (Stools are still pending to be delivered). White walls are writable.
  • Space: Furniture can be moved and stacked to allow for changes in space arrangement. The back door leads to a terrace that extends the lab outdoors.
In the end what seemed like a daunting task resulted in a rewarding experience. I personally appreciate the invitation to become involved in this learning opportunity. We were faced with various obstacles along the way, but I feel the new science lab met our expectations. This lab has become a highly visited space, bustling with kids that are eager to be scientists!