In Chapter 7, we began the discussion on how to practically support science investigations and engineering design with an emphasis on professional learning for teachers. In the language of this chapter, the teachers are the human resources. In addition to these crucial human resources and the instructional resources discussed in Chapter 6, many other types of resources are needed to provide a three-dimensional science program that effectively engages all middle and high school students in investigation and design. For instance, sufficient and equitable physical space, instructional time, and fiscal resources for materials, equipment, and technology are other important components of safe and effective science teaching and learning environments.
In this chapter, we focus on the practical needs of students to successfully engage in science investigation and engineering design. We highlight the current state of America’s public school facilities, propose a more flexible design for science learning spaces, review safety considerations and practices for the science classroom and outdoors, describe time for instruction and equitable funding for space and technologies as the means to best support science learning, and provide examples of opportunities for fidelity to the current vision for science teaching and learning when resources are limited.
America’s Lab Report (National Research Council, 2006) established that an integrated laboratory-classroom space best supports laboratory
experiences in high school to follow the principles for science teaching and learning developed in that report. This integrated design affords shared space for teacher planning, instruction, and preparation of investigations alongside student activities. Additionally, the flexible layout (i.e., movable benches, chairs, and desks) allows seamless transition from data gathering to other forms of sense-making instructional strategies, such as small group and whole-class discussions. Given the goal to provide students with experiences that resemble the activities of professional scientists, this space also includes secured storage for supplies and long-term/cumulative student projects. Finally, with consideration for the costs associated with constructing or renovating a laboratory space, the report recommended that combined laboratory-classroom spaces (1) accommodate multiple science disciplines instead of being discipline-specific spaces that remain unused at times, (2) leverage the use of natural sunlight and access to outdoor science learning spaces, and (3) support a future-oriented vision for a school’s science curriculum, one that is developed for use over a decade or more (National Research Council, 2006, pp. 170–171). When the report was written in 2006, there was little comprehensive data on integrated and flexible laboratory spaces within high schools, aside from survey responses from members of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), indicating that some forms of combined laboratory-classrooms were fairly common at the time (National Research Council, 2006, p. 172).
The State of Middle and High School Science Learning Spaces
School facilities matter for science teaching and learning, and there is a growing body of evidence linking physical spaces and overall school experience. In fact, the environmental and physical quality of school facilities is said to impact student attendance, student learning, student achievement, teacher turnover, student and staff health, and school finances (Barrett et al., 2015; Filardo, 2016; U.S. Department of Education, 2016a; Wall, 2016). In the 2012–2013 school year, the average functional age of public secondary school facilities was 19 years (U.S. Department of Education, 2016a). The functional age reflects the age of the school at the time of the most recent major renovation or the year of construction of the main instructional facility if no renovations occurred. Large school facilities (600 or more students enrolled; average functional age: 15 years) were newer than both medium-sized (300–599 students; average functional age: 20 years) and small (less than 300 students; average functional age: 23 years) schools by 5 years and 8 years, respectively.
In 2007, the NSTA released a position statement emphasizing the integral role of laboratory investigations within science curriculum and
instruction, and concurrently established guidelines informed by America’s Lab Report (National Research Council, 2006) for building and/or renovating school facilities, including science labs, that support effective science teaching and learning (Motz, Biehle, and West, 2007; National Science Teachers Association, 2007). Since that time, the integrated lab-class space design outlined in America’s Lab Report has been used by states and school districts as a guide for improving their science educational program(s). For example, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) provided $60 million to fund its Science Laboratory Initiative, which supports new construction of science labs in high schools across school districts in Massachusetts (Grossman and Craven, 2010). Additionally, Massachusetts created a task force to develop a prototype for the new science lab and instructional spaces with the following design requirements: curriculum-driven, flexible (i.e., affording reconfiguration via movable furnishings), combined laboratory/lecture room layout, accommodation to multiple science disciplines, attentiveness to characteristics of a safe learning environment (e.g., an allotment of 60 net square feet per student), and forward-looking (equipped with water and gas systems to allow for potential future uses different from originally intended) (Grossman and Craven, 2010). Similar to Massachusetts, the Washington State Legislature established a STEM Pilot Program as part of the 2015–2017 capital budget for construction of science classrooms and labs (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 2016), and North Carolina established prototype designs for science program and facilities as a supplement to public school facilities guidelines (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2010). Utah conducted research to determine students’ experience in science laboratories and the needs of teachers facilitating them across the state, while audits of middle and high school science labs across 30 school districts in the greater Kansas City region were conducted as part of an agenda to improve student achievement in STEM subjects (Campbell and Bohn, 2008; Success Link, 2007). Collectively, these examples reflect different initiatives underlying transformations in science learning spaces across America’s secondary public schools.
Typically, local districts carry the responsibility of making the critical decisions about public school educational facilities standards and investments, guided in part by frameworks established by building science professionals (Filardo, 2016). One report examining district plans for construction proposed to be completed in 2015 projected the inclusion of science labs in all newly constructed middle/junior high school buildings and a slight reduction in the inclusion of science lab facilities within newly constructed high schools compared to the construction plans in 2005 (Abramson, 2005, 2015). The same report revealed that 4.9 percent of middle/junior high schools being retrofitted or modernized in 2015 included the addition of a science lab as
part of their plans, and it could only be inferred that less than 8.8 percent of high school plans did. Within these data, schools are represented as part of regional groups, which likely masks cases where progress in this area is lacking. For example, in California, 54 percent of districts reported insufficient access to science labs, in terms of quantity, and an even higher share of districts (60%) reported that the quality of the science labs was outdated and did not support 21st century science learning (Gao et al., 2018).
In science, facilities-related issues are common, with 19 to 30 percent of public secondary schools reporting that lack of science facilities was a serious problem for science instruction (Banilower et al., 2013). The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card assigned a D+ for the condition of America’s public school buildings, with 24 percent of the structures rated as being in “fair” to “poor” condition (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017). In years prior to the release of America’s Lab Report, the condition of public school buildings in America was assigned a cumulative grade of D (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2005), so while efforts to improve the state of school facilities are indeed underway, conditions overall have progressed very little in over a decade.
A More Flexible Science and Engineering Class Design
The three-dimensional instructional model used in the standards in A Framework for K-12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework; National Research Council, 2012) and described in this report can be accommodated within the vision for science learning spaces outlined in America’s Lab Report (National Research Council, 2006). However, this science classroom design was optimized for “integrated” laboratory and lecture-based science instruction, and not for full transition to investigation and design as the central feature of science classes. Additionally, this design did not consider features specific to engineering design activities and middle school contexts. Thus, an even more flexible design is proposed.
For both middle school and high school, there are elements of the classroom design that are important to facilitate aspects of science investigation and engineering design. Students spend much of their time working in small groups and undertake design projects and science investigations that are open-ended and student-planned, and thus need flexible workspace in which they can access the materials and equipment that they need, as they need it (Neill and Etheridge, 2008). They work together, not just to investigate or build design prototypes, but also to develop group design plans and system models and to construct explanations of the phenomena they are studying using those models. This means that their workspace and classroom layout need flexible furnishings that are designed for small group work, but can be rearranged to accommodate a variety of instructional
approaches and group sizes (Neill and Etheridge, 2008). Additionally, flexible design spaces with adjustable-height workstations afford comparable access to all students, and particularly to students with disabilities.
Students bring needed materials to their group area, which supports both the “hands-on” work of manipulating materials and the “minds-on” work of model or design development, data analysis, and simulation manipulation(s) to construct explanations. There is also a greater need for display wall space, where, for example, a display board can be used to capture student questions related to the overall driving question of a unit, or where student groups can display their models as they discuss and share them (Beichner, 2008). This means that the room is comprised of open wall space with display capability. In contrast, less space is needed for large black or white boards solely for teacher use. When the class functions as a whole group, it is because the students are sharing ideas from their group work, rather than because the teacher is presenting information for an extended period of time (i.e., lecture-based instruction) (Beichner, 2008). Therefore, the seating arrangement remains in a “student-centered” layout that supports group work, instead of the traditional front-facing classroom organization. In fact, it may be difficult to define “the front of the room” as both teachers and students, and indeed the furniture, frequently move around in the flexible space.
As in the 2006 design, storage space is important, not only for equipment and materials, but also for students’ works in progress, as projects will often extend over multiple class periods (Wall, 2016). Therefore, internal storage spaces within each classroom containing materials that can be easily accessed by students to work on projects inside and outside of class time are ideal. Central storage space that is readily accessible from multiple classrooms is another important design element. This adds to the flexible class design by removing equipment when it is not needed, and provides the restricted access necessary for lockable storage of chemicals, hazardous materials, or power tools, especially during periods when unsupervised student work is underway.
Rather than science learning spaces defined by discipline, a high school needs two basic types of science classrooms, all flexible, but only some (the second type) equipped specifically for chemistry and biology needs, including facilities such as an exhaust-capable fume hood and possibly temperature-controlled incubator spaces (U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, 2014). The spaces needed for both middle and high school science are similar, although the relative number and distribution of chemistry/biology equipped spaces that are needed may differ depending on the course sequences (e.g., in an integrated course sequence model, science courses are taken every year and each course covers multiple scientific disciplines) and the number of students taking each course. Yet, a middle school may
not need the second type of space, as it is less likely that middle school chemistry investigations would require a fume hood, gas connections, or safety shields, since many of the chemical substances used at this level are common household items (American Chemical Society, 2018).
Flexible laboratory classrooms are not the only spaces where investigation and design occur, as some middle and high schools are introducing “maker spaces” that have additional design and build capabilities, such as laser cutters and 3D printers, and the associated computer technology and software to use them (Blikstein, 2013; Cohen et al., 2016; Moorefield-Lang, 2014). Career and technical education courses have long had “shop” spaces that include additional equipment, such as a computer-controlled milling machine in a metal shop or a lathe in a wood shop. These spaces facilitate a larger range of engineering design projects, and ideally high school students will have access to such spaces in addition to the more flexible science learning spaces described above. Even without such dedicated spaces, many engineering projects require student access to different tools, technologies (including software), and materials separate from those used in science classes, which means that engineering-specific needs are also considered when planning and designing science learning spaces.
Outdoor learning spaces are also important adjacencies to both foster and reinforce science learning, particularly within middle school contexts. We use the phrase “outdoor learning spaces” rather than “the field” because of the widespread use of the term “field trip,” which generally means any expedition away from the school and generally conjures images of loading up students and chaperones on buses. In contrast, outdoor learning spaces include school gardens, woods, or other natural environments within walking distance of the school, and at times, other outdoor spaces that require transportation to get to. These spaces can be leveraged to increase environmental literacy, develop health and social skills, and encourage environmental responsibility and agency, by connecting and engaging students with the natural environment (U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, 2017). For example, school gardens can provide learning opportunities around human impact and food production, plants and soil, lifecycles and chemical change, and many other connections within a given three-dimensional science curriculum (University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, 2017).
Preferably, site-specific affordances within the local school environment are considered for outdoor learning spaces, and these spaces are accessible from the main instructional space via pedestrian connections that meet ADA1 standards and display appropriate signage to highlight the site’s loca-
1 Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, P.L. 101-336, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
tion (U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, 2017). Additionally, the location would allow teachers to observe students in an unobstructed manner (Wall, 2016). Other important considerations for this design space include temporary seating, which can be incorporated as built-in benches or raised plant beds, and low-cost/maintenance site features, such as sundials, themed walkways, nature paths, and bioswales, which would extend opportunities to learn in outdoor environments to a more diverse range of students (U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, 2017).
Budgeting for Science Learning Spaces
The cost of newly constructed or renovated science lab spaces in an existing public school building is more expensive than other types of school spaces (National Research Council, 2006). In fact, budget plans to renovate and expand high school science spaces within one school district in New York revealed an estimated costs range from $325–375 per square feet, which at the highest end is about 1.25 times more expensive than the cost of renovating regular classroom spaces, estimated at $300 per square feet (Voorheesville Central School District, 2017). Various factors are considered in these budget plans including, but not limited to: the location of the school as it relates to degree of accessibility and proximity to an urban environment; the age of the building and planned construction type; the availability of services required to renovate the building area to support the new and modern space; the impact the space will have upon adjacent program areas within and outside of the building; the science discipline(s) for the space(s); and the projected length of time to completion, given possible conflicts may arise with other building projects and unforeseeable setbacks (American Society of Professional Estimators, 2014).
In 2014–2015 (the most recent available data), the total per pupil expenditure for public schools was $13,119. Of this amount, $1,029 per pupil was allocated for capital outlay, which are the expenditures used to build and improve school facilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2016b). The federal government provides very little capital support (about 0.2 percent) toward K–12 facilities; therefore, the funding roles and responsibilities are primarily fulfilled at the state and district levels (Filardo, 2016). The State of Our Schools 2016 report revealed that 5 states pay for nearly all of their school districts’ capital costs and 12 others provide no direct support for their districts (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017; Filardo, 2016). The average cost of construction of a high school was $132 per square foot in 2003, and in 2013 the reporting cost had risen to $235.29 per square foot. A similar trend was seen in construction costs for middle schools, going from $130 per square foot in 2003 to $243 per square foot in 2013 (Abramson, 2015). An important point made in State of Our Schools is that
school facilities such as science labs are generally designed with consideration for only the initial student population attending the school, which could create significant problems in light of growing enrollment observed each year in the majority of middle and high schools.
At the local level, school districts spent almost $7.8 billion on new schools, $3.2 billion on additions to existing buildings, and $3.14 billion on retrofitting and modernization of existing structures (Abramson, 2015). However, ASCE reported that persistent underinvestment in school facilities has resulted in an estimated $38 billion annual investment gap (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017). Closing the investment gap for facilities will not only require additional revenue, but also planning reform, given 4 in 10 public schools currently lack long-term education facilities plans to address operations and maintenance needs (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017). Future spending and planning that reflect the current national system for facilities will unfortunately result in districts that are underprepared to provide adequate and equitable school facilities for all students.
Throughout this report, we have shown how engaging in science investigation and engineering design affords high-quality instruction to all students; however, active involvement in investigation and design could increase risks to students if steps are not taken to ensure student safety during these experiences. In America’s Lab Report, student safety was briefly explored, and at that time, many U.S. high schools were underprepared to provide safe laboratory experiences to students (National Research Council, 2006). In this section, we review the science and engineering lab safety standards and policies for safe instructional classroom and outdoor spaces, articulated by the NSTA, the American Chemical Society (ACS), and others. Additionally, we discuss important safety considerations for science and engineering teaching and learning, specifically calling attention to current safety practices within middle and high schools across America.
Safety Standards for Science Classroom Spaces
As professionals, teachers of science are legally held to a “duty of care” obligation, whereby they must ensure the safety of students, teachers, and staff (National Science Teachers Association, 2014a; Prosser et al., 1984). Additionally, they are required to justify engaging in any educational activity with associated safety risks and must act as a “reasonable and prudent person” would to provide and maintain a safe learning environment with
both students and staff considered. The Maryland Department of Education (1999) states that a reasonable and prudent teacher
- provides prior warning of any hazards associated with an activity,
- demonstrates the essential portions of the activity,
- provides active supervision,
- provides sufficient instruction to make the activity and its risks understandable,
- ensures that all necessary safety equipment is available and in good working order,
- has sufficient training and equipment available to handle an emergency, and
- ensures that the place of the activity is as safe as reasonably possible.
Failure to exercise any of the above duties may result in a charge of negligence, and while several parties can be implicated in the charge of negligence arising from a science laboratory experience (e.g., teacher, state, school district, school board, school administration), liability most likely falls to the classroom teacher. It is presumed that the classroom teacher is the expert and, therefore, is responsible for ensuring that students work in a prudent and safe manner. No distinction is made between teachers of science in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms or outdoor education facilities (Maryland Department of Education, 1999). Therefore, any science classroom teacher is deemed responsible for the welfare of the students.
The ACS is one of many professional organizations that have established guidelines and recommendations for laboratory and classroom safety. For example, the ACS recommends that teacher certification in chemistry includes training on good safety practices for setting up and conducting laboratory activities and demonstrations. Ongoing professional development is recommended as part of the teachers’ practice, covering information about yearly changes in safety procedures, particularly those that are frequently used by teachers and more likely to result in laboratory accidents (American Chemical Society, 2018; National Science Teachers Association, 2007). In fact, effective professional development for chemistry teachers characterized by the ACS comprised “accessible alerts to [chemistry teachers of] accidents that occur when common laboratory activities and/or demonstrations are carried out, with access to recommended modifications” (American Chemical Society, 2018). The ACS also states that secure communications with school administration and emergency response personnel is needed within science instructional spaces along with the following safety equipment: a hands-free, plumbed-in eyewash station; a fire extinguisher; a safety shield; a first-aid kit; a goggle UV-sanitizer; and a class set of goggles (American
Chemical Society, 2018). The ACS recommends that this safety equipment be near the demonstration area when in use and at all other times be accessible, but in storage spaces that are separate from the main demonstration/work area (American Chemical Society, 2018).
Periodically, training in the management and operation of materials and equipment is also recommended to ensure that students and teachers are protected in the event of a resource malfunction (National Science Teachers Association, 2007). Moreover, for safe lab preparation and maintenance, it is advised that the science lab space be vacant at least one period per day and restricted from uses other than science and engineering (American Chemical Society, 2018). Schools and districts are encouraged to prioritize support for professional development in safety, but in cases where funding may be restricted, alternatives are still available (American Chemical Society, 2018). For example, the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) provides safety resources in the form of periodicals, blogs, and webinars (American Chemical Society, 2018). In addition, vendors of laboratory equipment and supplies, such as Flinn Scientific, offer lengthy online training courses, including courses on middle and high school laboratory safety.2
Data demonstrating that the number and frequency of laboratory accidents increase as class size increases (National Science Teachers Association, 2014b; Stephenson, West, and Westerlund, 2003; West and Kennedy, 2014) have led to established parameters for class size. This relationship was observed in both middle and high school science classes, and is particularly evident when there is less than 60 square feet of workspace per student (National Science Teachers Association, 2014b). Classroom size is recommended to be at a minimum 60 square feet per student in a classroom/lab facility, and this size is set for classes of a maximum of 24 students (American Chemical Society, 2018; National Science Teachers Association, 2014b). Both class size and workspace per student influence the teacher’s classroom management ability and active supervision of students while engaged in science investigation and engineering design. Workspace per student is not simply due to room size limitations; a smaller classroom space can still have sufficient space per student if enrollment is small. The number of students within the space (i.e., elbow space) is what matters, and even a large classroom would be insufficient at accommodating too large of a class size (National Science Teachers Association, 2014b).
Occupant load, which is the number of people who can safely occupy a building or portion at any one time, is another safety concern for science class spaces (NFPA 101-2012: section 18.104.22.168). International Building
2 For example, a single course can be taken free of charge at https://labsafety.flinnsci.com/ [October 2018]. Courses cover aspects of science lab safety, including right-to-know laws, SDS requirements, proper use of personal protective equipment, and safe laboratory practices.
Codes are used to determine this value; for pure educational science laboratory spaces, the standard is 50 square feet net per person (NFPA 101-2012 Occupant Load Factor table 7.3.12-Shops, laboratories, vocational rooms, pp. 101–174).3 However, this number may vary based on different state mandates requiring additional footage and based on the special needs of students in the class (American Chemical Society, 2018). Occupant load standards are also used to determine the number and means of egress required for a particular space, and while the occupancy load limit may accommodate more students, the NSTA recommends that science class spaces still have a maximum of 24 students (Motz, Biehle, and West, 2007). A more detailed discussion of all standards related to safety in science classroom spaces is beyond the scope of this report; nevertheless, several organizations (see Box 8-1) provide Internet-accessible general safety guidelines and practices that are commonly accepted for secondary science and engineering education to provide and maintain safe learning and working environments for students and staff.
Safety Standards for Engineering Education
In addition to all of the safety considerations outlined for science classroom spaces, there are a few specific considerations for student safety when engaging in engineering design. Hand and power tools are often utilized to construct prototypes in designing solutions to engineering challenges, which increases the risk of accidents that involve hand injuries (Love, 2014). Safety videos that demonstrate the proper way to use required tools and equipment are valuable resources for teachers to show students. However, due to variations in features and appearances, students may have trouble making connections between the tools and machines in the video and those in the actual lab space. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers regularly demonstrate how to safely use the specific tools and equipment before the start of every design project, in addition to showing the safety videos (Love, 2014). Moreover, because not all criteria may apply in a given video or within general engineering safety guidelines, it is recommended that teachers be adept at choosing the best resources or carefully adapting available resources to ensure that all students understand safety within the specific laboratory environment. For example, in the flexible design discussed in this chapter, the laboratory and classroom spaces are not separate. Therefore, if any student is using a tool or machine, then all students within the space must wear eye protection regardless of proximity to the tool or machine
3 For more information, see the NSTA Issue Papers document on Overcrowding in the Instructional Space available at http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/OvercrowdingInTheInstructionalSpace.pdf [October 2018].
Safety Standards for Outdoor Learning Spaces
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, learning experiences in outdoor spaces can be a valuable, positive addition to any three-dimensional science program. As with all investigations, effective planning and preparation for these experiences include attention to student safety. But while many organizations have developed safety protocols and liability documents around science laboratories, use of chemicals, and specific equipment, few have done so for conducting field investigations. NSTA, one of the few, has developed a Field Trip Safety resource (National Science Teachers Association, 2015, see section V) that specifically addresses safety considerations for outdoor field experiences with some of the following guidelines:
- Before the field trip, field trip supervisors should create a checklist of needs that may occur outdoors. These include, but are not limited to, parking, availability of drinking water, washing and lavatory facilities, trash disposal or recycling, and other needs. These needs can best be determined by a visit to the site prior to the field trip.
- Before the field trip, field trip supervisors should determine the ability to use a mobile telephone or another device such as walkie-talkies, the presence of unexpected harmful substances in the site (flooding, broken glass, fallen trees), and the local flora and fauna that are present. In particular, the presence of poisonous plants, stinging insects, and pests should be assessed. In some outdoor experiences, acoustics can be a problem. Supervising adults and instructors may wish to bring a voice amplification device, especially in locales where there is interfering background noise, such as machinery or running water. Hand signals may also be needed in these circumstances.
- Accounting for all students regularly in outdoor experiences is crucial. Students’ understanding of danger and physical limits may vary, causing some to stray from the group into other areas when outdoors (Wall, 2016). If organizing students into separate groups is most suitable for the field experience, then field trip supervisors should establish rendezvous procedures and locations, and should plan to meet as a whole group regularly and take roll. During travel, adults should be placed at the front and rear of the group, even for older students.
- Field trip supervisors need to account for weather and other outdoor conditions. In particular, students may need to be protected to excessive sun exposure, water, and environmental hazards by wearing appropriate attire and using appropriate safeguards (e.g., broad-brimmed hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent).
Furthermore, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has developed core competencies for environmental educators, and candidates in teacher certification programs that are recognized by the NAAEE must demonstrate proficiency within these competencies. These competencies include settings for instruction, such as, “A certified environmental educator will analyze one of his or her teaching environments citing three ways to address potential safety issues . . .” (North American Association for Environmental Education, 2006). However, few practicing teachers have received certification from NAAEE-approved programs, and overall, there is very little guidance provided for middle and high school science teachers to safely implement investigations in outdoor learning spaces.
Current Patterns in Science and Engineering Lab Safety
Many of today’s public schools remain under-resourced and ill-equipped to safely provide students with quality science learning experiences (Baker, Farrie, and Sciarra, 2018; Filardo and Vincent, 2017). Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a major source of concern within schools, in part due to the age and poor conditions of buildings (Occupational Health and Safety Administration, n.d.). It is estimated that one-half of schools in the United States are characterized by poor IAQ (Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). These conditions are especially concerning in light of engaging in science investigations, where lack of proper air flow may jeopardize safety while working with chemicals that pose inhalation hazards. Additionally, student performance and achievement are negatively impacted when learning and productivity are impaired due to health and comfort issues (Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.; Filardo, 2016). Other possible areas that have been identified as safety concerns while teaching science include overcrowding, inadequate science equipment and facilities, and lack of safety training experience in teachers (National Science Teachers Association, 2014b).
According to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), the class size for teachers in departmentalized instruction in 2011–2012 was on average 25.5 in middle schools and 24.2 in high schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2014, Table 7).4 Departmentalized instruction refers to instruction to several classes of different students most or all of the day in one or more subjects, which is the typical structure for instruction at the middle and high school levels. Although these data are not disaggregated by subject matter, the average class sizes are comparable to the recommended maximum class size of 24 students, though states such as California and Nevada show patterns of overcrowding with class averages of at least 30 students per class at both the middle and high school levels (U.S. Department of Education,
4 See https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_007.asp [September 2018].
2014, Table 7). Overcrowding reduces allotted workspace for both teachers and students, thereby increasing risk for injury and negatively impacting the quality of science instruction. Additionally, it has been found that students from low-income families benefit from smaller class sizes (defined by a small teacher-to-student ratio); therefore, the negative effects of overcrowding on student learning may be exacerbated in schools serving the highest percentages of students from low-income families (Baker et al., 2018). As part of its Science Laboratory Initiative, the MSBA listed safety as a top priority, specifically recommending that overcrowding be limited within these spaces. At the time that this initiative was launched, average class sizes in Massachusetts were 25 for middle school and 22 for high school (U.S. Department of Education, 2014, Table 7).
Inadequate teacher safety training has also been a concern for both science and engineering classrooms. In 2006, a high school student was severely burned during a demonstration of the classic “rainbow” chemistry experiment in which a flammable solvent such as methane is used on an open bench to show the spectrum of visible light (Kemsley, 2015). In response to this accident, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a video entitled “After the Rainbow” illustrating how this incident could have been preventable with safer practices exercised by the teacher (U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board, 2013). This video warning proved insufficient to prevent further accidents of this kind, given two high school students from New York City and six high school students in Virginia were burned during a demonstration of the same experiment in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In 2014, ACS officially released a safety alert, advising chemistry teachers of the dangers of this educational demonstration when carried out in this way, adding that even though demonstrating this experiment in a properly functioning chemical hood is safer than on an open bench, this, too, poses risks if fuel sources are not controlled (Hill, 2014). Therefore, ACS called for the discontinuation of this experiment performed with flammable solvents and suggested alternative ways to demonstrate the same rainbow phenomenon. For example, the teacher could soak wooden splints in salt solutions and then place the splints in a Bunsen burner, which affords a safer way for students to observe the salt’s characteristic color.
The state of Utah reported that on average 160 students per year are injured in technology and engineering education laboratory accidents, and over half of these accidents (56%) were hand injuries while using saws and sanders (Love, 2014). Unfortunately, lack of training in hazard recognition and safety as it relates to implementing the use of hand and power tools has been reported for science teachers, who are those primarily teaching engineering at the K–12 level (Roy, 2012). Ensuring that science teachers remain informed about the most current safety practices and liabilities is the
responsibility of both pre- and in-service institutions, and a case study approach during professional development is suggested as a promising model to promote safer teaching practices and policies (Love, 2014). It appears that current safety policies and practices for science and engineering tend to be reactive in nature, rather than reflecting proactive measures to prevent accidents and injury.
In addition to physical space, budgetary, and safety considerations, effectively supporting students in science investigation and engineering design warrants an increase in emphasis on science learning. Historically, science has fallen behind English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics in its precedence within public K–12 education. Recently, the amount of time that 8th graders spend on science has increased in a typical week but is still significantly less than the time they spend on ELA or mathematics instruction (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Federal accountability policies, such as the No Child Left Behind Act5 and Every Student Succeeds Act,6 focused on standardized assessments in ELA and mathematics rather than in science, and in some states, student performance in science is not weighed equally with performance in mathematics and English (Gao et al., 2018). Even some parents in America view science as less important than reading, writing, or math are to their children’s education and future career paths (Gao et al., 2018).
In this final section of the chapter, we discuss student time and technology needs that best support science investigation and engineering design. Additionally, we highlight areas of historic inequities that pose serious problems when attempting to provide quality science instruction to all middle and high school students. Lastly, we illustrate a few ways to immediately begin to modify instruction to align to the vision of the Framework at the classroom level, on the path to building sufficient resource capacity at the district level.
Time spent doing science in appropriately structured instructional frames is a crucial part of science education. The degree of instructional time in science influences preparedness for the rigor of high school level science for middle school students, and college and career-readiness for high school
5 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, P.L. 107-110, 20 U.S.C.§ 6319 (2002).
6 Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. P.L. 114-95, 20 U.S.C.§ 6301 (2015-2016).
students. Additionally, time for instruction influences the level of skills that students develop and their capacity to actively engage in science and engineering learning, as it relates to thinking about the quality of evidence, interpreting evidence, and planning and refining a subsequent approach based on this evidence (National Research Council, 2007).
Standards aligned with the Framework lead to changes in course-taking patterns for science within middle and high schools (i.e., science every semester in grades 6–8 and at least 3 years of science in grades 9–12) and bring added scheduling demands along with space needs. Given current course scheduling patterns, these expectations may be difficult to implement or may restrict time available for students to take elective courses. Lack of time for science instruction has previously been reported as problematic within approximately one-third of middle and high schools (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 118, Table 7.15). Currently, class period timing patterns within public secondary schools range from 45-minute periods, with every subject every day, to longer class periods via a block-scheduling model (i.e., alternate day schedule, 4 x 4 semester plan, trimester plan). The latter types of schedules have advantages for any course where students are engaged in design project work or investigations; longer class periods mean that a single project or investigation spans fewer class periods, and less time is consumed by set-up and putting away of the work materials. School schedules are complicated by the diverse needs of various subjects and are influenced by advising and budget constraints; nevertheless, longer period options are compatible with investigation and design. As educators continue to develop strategies to implement the Framework with fidelity and to increase levels of academic performance for all students, each must be supported to use instructional time in different and more effective ways. When middle school science teachers were asked to estimate the time breakdown for each component within a recent science lesson, 40 percent of time on average was allocated to whole-class activities, 31 percent to small group work, and 20 percent to individual student work (Weiss, 2013, p. 18, Table 28). The remaining 10 percent of time was spent on non-instructional activities, such as attendance taking and classroom management duties. The same allocation patterns in time were reported by high school science teachers (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 79, Table 5.18). Approximately one-third of all middle and high schools use a block scheduling model (Banilower et al., 2013), and in science, this model might allow students to more easily move from one concept to the next and plan and carry out an investigation to enhance a concept, while still having time for follow-up discussion (Day, 1995). However, across districts, there may be different approaches to block scheduling, including those that deviate from a “consecutive minutes” model. So, while there are some advantages to implementing a block schedule, there are still many questions regarding this type of scheduling approach.
Technology is a key component of science investigations and engineering design. In America’s Lab Report, the topic of computer technologies in laboratory experiences was briefly addressed, and a distinction was made between computer technologies designed to support learning and those designed to support science (National Research Council, 2006, pp. 103–106). Technologies designed to support learning include software programs developed specifically for the classroom, affording exploration of particular natural phenomena that may otherwise be inaccessible. Those designed to support science include Internet access to large databases that are more commonly designed for scientific communities, but can be utilized or repurposed for the K–12 science classroom (National Research Council, 2006). Within the last decade, computer technology has changed radically, along with access both inside and outside of the classroom by individual students and teachers.
More recent studies suggest that the availability of technologies in the classroom has become even more prevalent, in response to legislative initiatives such as ConnectED (McKnight et al., 2016). Schools and districts across the country have implemented 1:1 (1 laptop or tablet per student) or BYOD (bring your own device) programs, and as a result the use of handheld devices is growing faster than laptop use (Sung, Chang, and Liu, 2016). The low-cost Chromebook—a laptop designed to be used when connected to the Internet—was launched in 2011 and, by 2016, had become the majority of devices shipped to schools in the United States (Singer, 2017). Additionally, Google Classroom—a document-sharing application designed for the classroom environment—was launched in 2014 and is used by around 15 million students in the United States today (Singer, 2017). Table 8-1 below highlights the different technologies that are available for student use in schools by grade level, as reported by current teachers from 46 states and the District of Columbia who participated in a Web-based survey conducted by Simba Information in 2016.
As of 2016, and within science classes specifically, laptops and tablets are predominantly used to create student work and to access content during class (Simba Information, 2016, Table 3.7 and Table 3.8). Chromebook laptops in particular have become a popular choice for deployment of student technology, and 28.2 percent of educators reported that at least one Chromebook device is available for student use, with availability comparable between middle and high schools (as shown in Table 8-1). Additionally, smartphones have become more widely available for student use in the classroom, and not surprisingly, are most often utilized in high schools (Table 8-1).
Computer-based technology can support learners in conducting many aspects of scientific investigation and engineering design. Students can use
TABLE 8-1 Availability of Technological Devices for Student Use by Grade Level (in percentage)
|Device||Middle School||High School||Total|
|Any Desktop Computer||36.1||35.1||53.4|
|Student Response System||15.7||20.2||14.7|
SOURCE: Modified from Simba Information (2016).
these tools to gather, organize, and analyze data; develop models and scientific explanations to make sense of phenomena; and solve engineering design problems supported by the gathered evidence. For example, tablets and other portable devices with ubiquitous information access can be used for these purposes, as well as to link graphs, tables, and various images (e.g., photos of investigations, photos of data, and movies with text that describe the graphs and videos). Electronic probes with compatible software allow learners to collect, graph, and visualize a variety of data, including pH, force, light, distance and speed, and dissolved oxygen data (i.e., heart rate and blood pressure) that would be difficult, time consuming, or impossible to collect without their use. Although probes were introduced into science classrooms more than 25 years ago as useful laboratory tools, they have not been utilized to their full potential by middle and high school students in investigations due to lack of funding for equipment and professional development for teachers (Cayton, 2018). It is clear that modern technologies, supplies, and equipment can expand and support the domain of interest that can be explored in a science class. Therefore, provision for long-term use of these tools and for specialists to provide ongoing professional development for science teachers to use modern technologies effectively in their instruction is a critical component to successfully offer opportunities to learn through the utility of these resources.
For students with disabilities (SWD), the use of assistive technology or providing materials in alternate formats, following the principles of universal design for learning (UDL), are important accommodations to maximize access to science investigation and engineering design experiences (Burgstahler, 2012, Table 8-2). Other technology accommodations required for investigation and design may be inherent within the schools where
TABLE 8-2 Seven Principles of Universal Design for Learning
|Equitable Use||The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.|
|Flexibility in Use||The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.|
|Simple and Intuitive Use||The design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level, when in use.|
|Perceptible Information||The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.|
|Tolerance for Error||The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.|
|Low Physical Effort||The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.|
|Size and Space for Approach and Use||Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.|
SOURCE: Adapted from Center for Universal Design (1997).
these students are enrolled, such as Braille technology or tactile printouts of documents, captioning, or audio amplification technologies (Duerstock, 2018). Additionally, lab equipment, like a video camera mounted to a light microscope, helps students with visual and mobility impairments to view specimens without needing to use microscope eyepieces (Duerstock, 2018; Mansoor et. al., 2010). In the same way, technical accommodations for operating equipment exists, such as the use of Braille labels on lab equipment. The committee was unable to locate systemic data verifying the degree of implementation of these accommodations in U.S. middle and high schools, but it is likely that some UDL strategies are already in place. For instance, in response to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004,7 some districts have expanded their facilities to support students with special needs and disabilities by modifying building and grounds, along with class sizes and other programmatic changes (Filardo, 2016).
Disparities in Funding for Science Learning Needs
The goal of making science learning accessible to all students is complex and can require special knowledge, skill, authority, and resources. The beliefs and policies of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) on
7 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, P.L. 108-446, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).
equity state that “public schools should provide equitable access and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to succeed as contributing members of a rapidly changing, global society, regardless of factors, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, English proficiency, immigration status, socioeconomic status, or disability” (Center for Public Education, 2016). Additionally, NSBA defines educational equity as intentionally allocating resources, instruction, and opportunities according to need (National School Boards Association, 2018). This committee recognizes that disparities in funding for science learning needs (i.e., supplies, equipment, and technologies) continue to pose serious problems for providing quality science instruction to the most vulnerable populations of students. Quality science facilities, specialized equipment, and supplies facilitate science investigation and engineering design opportunities for all students, which prepare them to be college- and/or career-ready and informed 21st-century citizens.
Historically, school districts that serve large populations of students of color and students from low-income families have consistently received far less funding than those serving white and more affluent students. For example, a study of school facilities improvement projects between 1995 and 2004 found that projects emerging from schools located in high-wealth areas received greater than three times more in capital investments than schools in the lowest wealth areas (Filardo, 2016). More specifically, high-poverty districts receive about $1,000 less per student than low-poverty districts, and when adjusted based on the federal Title I formula, which accounts for the fact that educating students in poverty costs 40 percent more than the basic per pupil allocation, this funding gap widens (Center for Public Education, 2016; Morgan and Amerikaner, 2018). Moreover, this gap increases to $1,800 less per student when comparing funding allocated to districts serving the most students of color and those serving the fewest (Morgan and Amerikaner, 2018). In 2015, the funding distribution measure was classified as either flat or regressive for 37 states, meaning that these states did not allocate at least 5 percent more in funding to districts with high student poverty compared to low-poverty districts, which was determined to be the minimum additional support to ensure fair school funding (Baker et al., 2018). Still, these reported gaps are likely underestimations when considering the notion that many students in poverty start academically behind their more affluent peers and may need additional supports to reach comparable levels of achievement. For example, the Education Law Center developed a teacher-to-student fairness measure associated with improved student outcomes, and defined fairness as a greater distribution of teachers to schools with greatest need, such as those that service a large number of students living in poverty (Baker et al., 2017, 2018). The most recent data revealed that only 19 states have
a progressive distribution of teachers (at least 5% more teachers per students) in high-poverty districts compared to low-poverty districts, which is a decrease from 2013–2014, when 22 states were reported to do so (Baker et al., 2017, 2018). Thus, failure to distribute teachers equitably remains a challenge and likely decreases opportunities to create safer and effective learning environments for conducting science investigation and engineering design. Furthermore, fiscal resources determine teacher salaries, the extent and frequency of professional development, the length of the school day, and the number of students in the classroom among a great number of other factors, demonstrating the potential systemic effects of funding inequities.
Maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets support the ongoing costs of equipment, materials, supplies, and technologies, as well as any required maintenance, upgrades, and repair (Filardo, 2016). In America’s Lab Report, disparities in science lab equipment and supplies were found to pose serious problems, particularly in high schools with the largest populations of students in poverty and students from historically underrepresented groups. Additionally, it was mentioned that while, in some cases, there may be a sufficient capital budget to build a science lab space, only limited funds may be set aside in the M&O budget to provide the equipment and supplies to use the lab over subsequent years (National Research Council, 2006). Since the 2006 report, student access to learning tools has increased in some ways, but disparities in both quantity and quality of science labs, equipment, materials, and supplies in middle and high schools persist (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 118, Table 7.15 and Table 7.16; Gao et al., 2018). More than 57 percent of districts in California reported that the quantity of science equipment was a big issue in middle and high schools, and was most concerning in 69 percent of low-performing districts (Gao et al., 2018, p.13, Figure 7).8 Additionally, only 54 percent of districts reported that the conditions of more than half of the science labs in their districts were sufficient (Gao et al., 2018, p.13, Figure 7).
Median spending per pupil, specifically for science equipment (e.g., microscopes, beakers, Bunsen burners) and consumable supplies (e.g., chemicals, batteries, paper), are not distributed equally across schools. Schools in rural areas spend $3.78 per pupil on equipment and supplies (including software) compared to $1.91 per pupil spent in urban areas, which is consistent with the finding that the smallest schools spend almost twice as much, $3.94/pupil, on these materials compared to the largest schools that spend $2.04/pupil (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 105, Table 6.21). Spending was also found to be 2.3 times more in schools where the lowest quartile of students
8 District performance was defined by degree of participation in Advanced Placement courses, whereby low-performing districts fall in the bottom quartile for participation.
eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are enrolled ($3.56/pupil) compared to spending in schools with the highest quartile of these students enrolled ($1.54/pupil) (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 105, Table 6.21). Science facilities (e.g., lab tables, electric outlets, faucets, and sinks) were reported to be adequate for instruction by 57 percent of teachers in middle schools and 71 percent of teachers in high schools (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 106, Table 6.23).
On the contrary, instructional technologies (e.g., computers, calculators, probes/sensors) were reported to be inadequate for instruction by more than 50 percent of science teachers in both middle and high schools (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 106, Table 6.23). In terms of technology-related issues, aged computers and lack of access to computers were reported as a serious problem for instruction, particularly in middle school science classes, but Internet access and reliability, and the availability of software were generally nonproblematic across middle and high schools (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 108, Table 7.21). More recently, access to desktop computers has been observed at above-average levels in districts with high proportions of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and in the majority of districts in rural locations (Simba Information, 2016). On the contrary, tablets and laptops are still most often accessible in higher socioeconomic districts and suburban areas (Simba Information, 2016). Overall, modern and adequate resources for science instruction are more likely to be available in classes with mostly high achievers and in schools with the lowest quartiles of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 108, Table 6.26).
Making Incremental Progress Toward the Ideal
Throughout this chapter, we have discussed associated needs (i.e., physical space, time, fiscal resources, and equipment/technologies) for investigation and design. What we have outlined can be considered the ideal, in which each element is optimally supplied. The committee recognizes that there are many barriers to designing, constructing, and equipping schools with the needed supplies and equipment that are discussed in this chapter. Furthermore, the multiple levels of oversight and accountability within districts and schools suggest that for many schools, building full resource capacity will require several months to years. However, engaging all students in science investigation and engineering design in the classroom is necessary even when access to the full range of resources is limited.
Science investigation and design can still take place in the absence of the most sophisticated facilities; however, they must remain purposeful, substantial, student-centered, and three-dimensional. Additionally, all components of these experiences should align to at least one of four features: a question based on a phenomenon in the natural or engineered world,
engagement with empirical evidence to develop models and explanations, involvement of discourse and development of ideas, and placement within a coherent sequence. By starting with a few strategic initial investments in teachers’ professional learning and quality equipment, there are opportunities to immediately shift toward more student-centered work and make incremental progress toward the ideal. There are ways to begin engaging students in science investigation and engineering design in the classroom now concurrently with district-level coordination of larger shifts in funding allocation for science learning that will be required for alignment to all recommendations in this report.
For example, there are a variety of ways to modify a water quality project to fit local needs and currently available resources. Even in the absence of optimal resources, students can still ask questions, collect and analyze data, and write an explanation about the water quality of a local body of water. Chiefly, it is important for students to be engaged in a phenomenon, such as the health of a local body of water, that provides opportunities to explain findings and potentially design solutions to problems that are uncovered based on these explanations. Time and equipment constraints present real challenges, but it is possible to introduce students to three-dimensional science learning, even if these barriers limit students to only vicarious experiences to build on. Whether students can physically travel to the body of water or if the body of water must be brought to them to facilitate student-led questions and sense-making of water quality measures, adapting and personalizing projects to the local community can help to motivate learners. Situating the investigation in the context of a waterway and water issues relevant in the community and taking instruments to the site to gather data over time can make the project more meaningful.
Sophisticated technology can allow students to ask complex questions and produce interesting models as they study a body of water over time. However, students can observe some measures of water quality (e.g., color, smell, amount of trash) without a need for instruments, and simple water quality kits can also be used for data collection. In some cases, thermometers and pH paper are the only available tools. These laboratory tools can be used to measure water quality, and although these tools offer limited measures of water quality, students can still be engaged in figuring out the quality of their body of water. Additionally, adaptations can be made when only a limited number of tools for students are available. For example, a teacher can set up stations for students to visit in rotations throughout the course of the investigation. One station might contain an electronic dissolved oxygen probe or dissolved oxygen kit, another station might contain
an electronic pH probe, pH paper, or a pH kit, and yet another, a probe for dissolved solids, or nitrate and phosphate testing kits.9
Another example of an accessible solution to get students engaged with investigation and design quickly as resources are gathered is to have them start creating ideas for models that could explain their results. Modeling is an essential aspect of doing science and engaging learners in making sense of phenomena. Students, as professional scientists, should develop, revise, and use models to predict and explain phenomena. If computers or tablets are accessible, then students can use these technologies along with freely available modeling software to create dynamic models. These tools allow students to validate their models by comparing the outputs from their own models with data they collected from their experiments or from other sources. Although there are advantages to using dynamic modeling, the use of such sophisticated technology is not a requirement for constructing an explanatory model or using models to engage in the doing of science.
More flexible science and engineering class spaces are ideal for supporting a three-dimensional model of instruction that is student-centered as envisioned by the Framework (National Research Council, 2012). Additionally, increases in new construction and renovation of existing spaces are needed to provide all students with quality science and engineering learning experiences. While some schools have appropriate facilities, over one-half of the nation’s public schools still need extensive improvements to meet the needs for students to effectively engage in science investigation and engineering design. Moreover, consistent and increased investment in facilities is needed to sufficiently provide adequate spaces for 21st-century science learning.
To ensure student safety that affords adequate supervision, the square footage of science classroom spaces must meet regulations, along with class size. While each state may require its own safety requirements based on building and fire safety codes and the special needs of students in the class, NSTA recommends a maximum of 24 students in a classroom with a minimum of 60 square feet per student. Better comprehensive training in safety and safety enforcement for science teachers are needed to establish preventive measures against accidents and injuries, while engaging in science investigation and engineering design. Likewise, though outdoor spaces present invaluable opportunities to enhance science learning experiences
9 A variety of water-quality testing kits may be obtained from companies such as Hach at https://www.hach.com [October 2018] or LaMotte at http://www.lamotte.com/en/education/water-monitoring/5870-01.html [October 2018].
for students, more guidance is needed for safe and effective teaching and learning in these spaces.
Specifically, in middle school, time spent on science instruction continues to fall behind time allocated for math and English Language Arts, which may contribute to the problem of student unpreparedness for the rigor of science in high school. Additionally, longer instructional periods may be most compatible with investigation and design experiences that need to span multiple class periods. Technology and specialized equipment greatly enhance science investigation and engineering design experiences and improve the ability of students to gather meaningful and accurate data to support explanations. Growing access to learning technologies, such as desktop computers, laptops, and other portable devices, has been observed in recent years, but similar to the case with human resources described in Chapter 7, instructional resources and funding are disproportionately allocated, leaving many schools under-resourced and specific populations of students underserved and underprepared. Short-term strategies afford immediate shifts toward the vision for science teaching and learning outlined in this report, but continuous investments in route to building full resource capacity are greatly warranted.
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