"We need Science Studios to sustain improvements in teaching and learning and to put the 'wow!' factor back into science." So says Keith Atkins, seconded from his headship of Harrold Priory Middle School, Bedfordshire, to run Science Studios for the Future, a groundbreaking pilot scheme.
"What is being taught in science classrooms has radically changed over the decades but the facilities available to deliver this curriculum have stood still. Ofsted has found that teaching improves when teachers use a variety of styles. This is the beauty of the Science Studio approach - while the traditional laboratory is inflexible, the layout of the Science Studio can be adapted to reflect different teaching styles," says Keith.
Science Studios for the Future is an experiment in classroom laboratory design. Bedfordshire education authority is using funding from the DfES Innovations Unit to cover Mr Atkins's secondment, while the cost of the studios themselves uses money that would have been used to refurbish or build new labs.
A studio will be comparable in cost to a traditional lab. The building block of the studio concept is the mobile workstation. Bench space is unfolded from each workstation and bolted together in variety of configurations: rows when the teacher is explaining something to the class and hexagons when the class is doing group work.
Laboratory equipment, such as Bunsen burners and test tubes are stowed inside each workstation. Each workstation could carry a computer with a wireless connection to the school network. Gas and electricity services will be laid under a "floating" floor with outlets set flush to the floor to prevent tripping.
Each workstation costs pound;800 to pound;1,000 and serves four pupils.
The first classroom has been completed at Harrold Priory Middle School and is a showcase for the concept. Another five studios will be in use at various Bedfordshire schools by next April. Assessment will focus on improvement in science achievement and different teaching styles, as against traditional laboratory use.
Students' views are fed in: top of their hate list was the laboratory stool; more comfortable designs are on the way. Lack of money means many science teachers would be satisfied with cosmetic improvements to labs, but schools should look carefully at a chance of a radical overhaul of the entire site.
* Keith Atkins's email: Scistudios@aol.com
* How do building conditions affect student performance and behaviour? http:herring.cc.gatech.eduschools41
Dr Jeffrey Lackney of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a leading authority on how classrooms affect learning: http:schoolstudio.engr.wisc.edufutureclassrooms.html