Transforming Math and Science Learning

Published on November 18th, 2011

Centerbrook is designing a new science and math building for a leading independent day school to enhance varied curricular approaches for the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The 52,000-square-foot building will support the school’s teaching goals by facilitating proven as well as innovative teaching techniques.

The Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) of Missouri has tasked Centerbrook with creating engaging and flexible spaces geared to the latest pedagogical concepts for teaching science and mathematics in the competitive environment of the 21st century. School officials point out that studies rank American students 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 developed countries, lagging behind China, Japan, Russia and England.

Located in the heart of the campus, the new facility also will house a Center for Community that features an 800-seat amphitheater, small and sociable gathering spaces, an indoor/outdoor fireplace, faculty offices, and common areas with views of a courtyard with plant and vegetable gardens. The new building will serve as a bridge between MICDS’s two scholastic neighborhoods: liberal arts and science.

To accommodate the different ways that students learn, the math and science spaces will be large enough for individual and group study along with lectures, seminars, and hands-on experimentation. While designed specifically for math and individual sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), the spaces are deliberately comingled to encourage the sharing of ideas and resources.

The mathematics rooms are designed with break out areas for small study groups to problem-solve or focus on a specific project, while each science room is a combination classroom/laboratory – or “clab” – that melds traditional teaching spaces with laboratories for application-based learning.

“We wanted to provide spaces large enough to allow classrooms to have fully equipped labs for biology, chemistry and physics,” said Lisa Lyle, MICDS Head of School. “Oftentimes, in a setting where classrooms are separate from labs, you lose teachable moments when students ask questions that could easily be answered in a lab setting.” She added, “Though the design process will continue for the next several months, there is one word to describe the facility: spectacular!”

The 1,200-square-foot clabs are 30 percent larger than typical high school classrooms and allow for both discussion and hands-on examination of the science topic being addressed. The biology and physics labs contain research benches that can be moved and reconfigured for different lessons.