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Lessons in time and space: a teacher's view

Hardeep Mattu says a classroom refurbishment changed his approach to teaching

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 01, 2015 | Interiors

If someone had told me what a difference refurbishing a science lab would make to my teaching and to the students’ learning, I’d never have believed them.

As a teacher you get used to adapting the way you teach to the room you’re teaching in. Our old science lab was functional, but far from ideal: whilst it was fine for carrying out a general science theory lesson, when it came to practical work it was very difficult.

Science is much more about students getting involved in carrying out experiments than it used to be, but many older science classrooms are still set up on the ‘talk and chalk’ model, so they lack the flexibility today’s curriculum demands.

The layout just didn’t work for us any more: when it came to services such as gas taps and mains electricity sockets, there simply weren’t enough to support the practical sessions we wanted to carry out and they were only located on perimeter benching, meaning students had to constantly move from their desks to the benches and back again - which caused a lot of disruption!

A cramped layout made it difficult to for both staff and students to manoeuvre round the classroom, so it was hard to make sure they were getting on with their work, check their progress and get round to the students who were struggling.  

The positioning of the desks meant some students actually had to sit at the perimeter benching for theory lessons. This made it difficult for them to see the board and to hear me  - and made class discussions and small group work tricky.  

When we did practical work, lack of services meant I had to put students into larger groups than I wanted, so they weren’t getting the hands on experience they should have been and this hampered their progress in developing practical skills. We really had to do a lot of planning beforehand to ensure a practical would work - and a lot of the time it didn’t.

You always think “how much difference can a refurbishment really make?” but the truth is the classroom Innova created for us has had a huge impact on the way I’m able to teach and the way the students approach their work.

Adding lockable storage under perimeter benching and centre floor workbenches has made a massive difference. We can store equipment safely and securely, but more importantly we can access it quickly and easily, which has helped with timing and planning for practicals.


Seating in the new lab with plenty of storage

Swapping the existing layout for dual function benching which allows students to conduct practicals on one side and theory on the other has also helped us save time. It’s much easier to give students the instructions they need and let them move around the bench to set up an experiment. The additional plug sockets and gas taps on the ‘practical’ side of the bench also mean they can carry out experiments individually or in small groups – giving students who thrive on the practical aspect of learning the chance to really reinforce what they learn in theory.

The new benching layout means all the students face the front for theory lessons: they can see and hear me – and I can see them – and get around the desk to help them much more easily and quickly. There’s no hiding place for the more passive student. They know I’m going to be around, checking their work!

Perhaps the biggest difference the refurbishment has made is in attitude: the new lab makes students want to do science – they really look forward to practicals and some students have even told me the improvement in facilities helped them make the decision to study science subjects when they moved from GCSE to A level.

It’s made students much more confident in their own abilities to carry out practicals, and has given us as teachers more confidence in planning and coordinating practical work, knowing both we and the students have the facilities to achieve what we want to in a space that really works for us and inspires us.

Hardeep Mattu is a science teacher at Shireland Collegiate Academy.    

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