Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Science and Design

I was amazed and inspired when I visited my old school's brand new science wing.  They start teaching in the space in January, and I know it's thoughtful design that seems to include every possible bell and whistle will only inspire more creativity and innovation in their lessons.

One of my favorite things about all of the rooms was the fact that every single surface could be used as a whiteboard!  This means teachers and students are not chained to the front of the room, but teaching and writing can happen virtually anywhere in the space.
Rather than being limited by the size of a traditional whiteboard, the entire wall is one!  How cool is that??
Rather than using disposable chart paper, they have portable whiteboards that hook onto the wall, but can be taken down to record lab data with groups, or ideas at tables.
Even the cabinets and the backsplash can be used as space to write.  I've dreamed about this, and it's real!  I also love the green color here, fitting since this is a biology classroom.
Here's a good example of how the cabinets can be used as a writing surface - a diagram of a parallax angle in a physics classroom.
Even the inside of the cabinets can be written on!  This, by the way, is the physics prep room.  It's so big and well-organized I wish it was my closet, or even possibly my bedroom!  (And that person who you will see in many of my photos is the wonderful science department chair there, who can explain the reasoning and planning behind the entire space much more eloquently than me since he helped design it.)
The plethora of whiteboard space can also be used for science related art.  I love this drawing that one of the school's art teachers did of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It's quite appropriate since this is the astronomy classroom!
Even the tables in the student lounge are a whiteboard!

My second favorite thing about the space after the unending sea of whiteboards, was the integration of dynamic, science-related art. 
My favorite is this rube goldberg-like kinetic art piece created by a famous Chicago artist for the wall space between the two Physics classrooms.
In between the two biology rooms, they were in the process of installing a saltwater fish tank with actual coral reef (but no living coral).  It will be maintained by the store that installed it, which means less work for the already busy teachers.

The new wing is also filled with lots of technology.  There are smartboards in every room.
In addition to the smartboard, they also have flat screens above the teaching station (which is offset, so it's easier for the teacher to walk around while teaching). The monitor is attached to the document camera below so a document or lab results can be shown above while other items can be written on the smartboard.  The monitor is also hooked up to a video camera that's permanently installed in the classroom.  This allows teachers to tape themselves teaching, which means if a student is absent, he can watch the lecture remotely.  (I think it would be a bit scary to have every lesson recorded, but it's nice to have the option!)
Here is a crazy huge bank of eight flat screens in the common space between all of the classrooms.  These monitors are also hooked up to the video cameras in the classrooms so visitors can watch what's happening without disturbing classes.  These are also hooked up to the internet.
Unfortunately, the photo above is blurry, but it shows a monitor in the hallway that will show the energy usage in the building.  They've installed solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof, so this will show how much electricity is being produced as well.
You can tell these rooms were designed with a lot of input from the teachers and what they would need.  One example are these metal bars installed in the ceiling of the physics classroom.  They are strong enough to do chin ups on, but are there for activities like pendulum labs.
I miss having a proper prep room, and the ones here are HUGE!  This is the Chemistry prep room.  There is also a separate closet (really a small room) for all the chemicals, complete with beautiful wooden shelves (non-reactive material), an acid cabinet, and one for flammable items.
The prep room would also be an enviable office (or studio apartment) since it has huge picture windows that overlook Lincoln Park.
There is even an independent study space for students who might want to do their own research.

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