Process Steps



Teachers often ask:

  • What are the characteristics of a good laboratory?
  • How can I ensure flexibility?
  • I want students to be able to work in small groups as well as independently. What’s the best laboratory layout to allow me to do that?
  • How big should a lab be?
  • Is there a structural or design module that should be incorporated in the design of teaching spaces?
  • Is there an ideal laboratory that I can copy?
  • I’d like to see what others are doing, where should I go to see examples of contemporary design?

This section is designed to answer those questions by first describing prototypical teaching spaces and then providing an interactive tool to explore alternative layouts that will graphically show various configurations.


A prototypical laboratory for teaching science, math, and technology education must be sufficiently sized and designed to support a wide diversity of teaching styles and methods. Flexibility is key. The lab should provide space for students to safely work in groups or individually at bench, table, or classroom seat.

  • The prototypical science lab is a combined lab and discussion space. For current and future flexibility, the size of the space is the same, regardless of science discipline. Each space, however, can be equipped for a specific discipline.
  • The prototypical math teaching lab is a flexible classroom that allows both lecture and small group work formats, supplemented with computer workstations and sufficient chalkboard or whiteboard.
  • The prototypical technology education lab is a suite of more than one space, consisting of two types of spaces: the first is a classroom area that contains computer workstations combined with a discussion and work area; the second is a large, open laboratory or studio where a variety of tools, equipment, and instrumentation can be used.

Recommended Lab Characteristics

For flexibility, most, if not all, of the furniture in a prototypical teaching lab should be movable. The space should be designed with the assumption that it will change over time as the program or curriculum changes.

Utility systems in science laboratories can be along the perimeter wall, or accessible from the floor or ceiling, so that benches and tables are not fixed in place. Quick-connect systems can be employed with connections available from a floor or ceiling grid. Whatever the system, there should be network ports with Internet access at each workstation or a wireless network in place.

Both laboratory work and discussions are part of science, math, and technology education teaching today. A space that can accommodate the two formats is desirable so that there can be seamless movement from the talking about to the doing activities. In addition, such a space permits spontaneity and the teachable moment to occur.

The size of the space is dependent on the number of student stations. NSTA guidelines suggest science section sizes not exceed 24 students. There have been a number of recent studies of laboratory safety that support this limit. The interactive tool to explore alternative layouts assumes a class size of 24.

A 32-foot laboratory width (structural bay) provides the most support space proportional to the total net assignable square footage. Lesser widths create long, narrow spaces limiting easy movement of students and making classroom management difficult. The greater widths require more net assignable square footage to make the various layouts work. From a structural standpoint, the wider bay requires more depth for the spanning beams or trusses; and vibration, which can be important to science laboratory space, is more difficult to control. For new construction, therefore, the 32' bay width is preferred.

A technology education production laboratory requires a wider and higher structural bay size because of the size of projects and equipment. For practicality and safety, the number of students using this space at one time should be less, half the full class size for instance. A 36-foot width is assumed for this prototypical space, and it is designed to accommodate 12 students.

Please go to prototypical science lab, math teaching lab, or technology education lab to explore laboratory layouts.