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Articles Reference-&-Education Science

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School science laboratories seem to always be designed by accountants. They are generally poorly laid out and ill-equipped to serve their purpose. I have taught in many of these disasters and have designed other labs that have been a pleasure to teach in.

It would be nice if price was not a constraining factor in all school building design, but it is. The best way to approach the design of your lab is from the standpoint of what you need, then pare it down if the total cost is over-budget.

A school laboratory is usually larger than the average classroom. This is because it may have 35 students moving around it, flames from Bunsen burners, sinks, electrical equipment and glassware all at the same time, as well as writing materials, computers and boards. The whole setup sounds impossible.

Ideally you need to separate student writing areas from student experimental areas. The easiest way to do this is to have sinks, electrical outlets and workbenches around the three sides of the room. Cupboards for glassware and electrical equipment will slot underneath these workbenches. There needs to be a clear walkway all around the room in front of these workbenches, so that students can move about safely. The fouth side of the room will be where the board and teacher's bench are.

You will need fume hoods, or fume cupboards, with extraction facilities to the outside. School fume hoods are not used very often, because the chemicals used in school labs are not particularly noxious. Fume hoods are best situated on the wall with the board and the teacher's area. Using a fume hood with a class is largely impractical because of the logistics issues involved with 35 students wanting to use one or two small spaces at the same time. These areas will be used infrequently and only briefly.

You will also need desks or benches for students to sit at to write at and for non-practical lessons. These workbenches are best situated about five feet away from the perimeter workbenches. The exact arrangement of these workspaces will depend on the dimensions of your laboratory.

A fan arrangement works well, with the desks end on to where the taecher stands. Other possibilities include joined groups of desks and desks tee-ed off the teacher's desk. Groups of desks make for more chatter amongst your students.

If you are installing an LCD projector, then consider mounting it from the ceiling where it projects to the board at the front.

That gives you your perfect school laboratory. You will almost certainly be overbudget at this point. How can you reduce the cost?

- Cut the number of sinks - A large cost saving, but disastrous in terms of increasing student movement during experimental work. Consider long sinks at the back of the worktop though.

- Cut the number of electrical outlets - Small savings

- Cut the number of cupboards - Large savings possible, but increases student movement around the laboratory, and where do you put all the equipment?

- Have just one fume-hood - Large savings, and you will rarely use it anyway.
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