Process Steps
Case Studies

NSF High School Science Facility Guidelines Study


In order to develop a better understanding of current high school Science, Math and Technology Education programs and the facilities they operate in, the study team visited twenty nine schools in thirteen states from October 1997 to June 1998. This summary answers such questions as:

Why visit schools?

How were schools selected?

What schools were visited?

How were the visits conducted?

How were observations recorded?

What were the most significant findings?


  • To develop an understanding of the type and quality of facilities current programs have to create a context for the guidelines.
  • To assess the impact of program on facilities
  • To assess the impact of facilities on program
  • To identify program and facility elements to emulate
  • To identify program and facility elements to avoid


  • Schools with strong Science, Math, Tech Ed programs
  • Schools from different parts of the country for broad geographic distribution/balance
  • Schools located in urban, suburban, and rural settings
  • Schools with a range of enrollment
  • Schools both public and independent
  • Schools with comprehensive programs and those with magnet programs
  • Locally funded/State funded


Site Team Composition/Teacher Consultants

Site Teams were typically composed of 2 teacher consultants who focussed on pedagogical and curricular issues, and 2 facility consultants who focussed on facility issues. Each site visit lasted a full day with a schedule that included:

School Orientation

An overview of the School — a briefing by school contact on school organization, student body profile, and programs, with an emphasis on Science, Math, and Technology Education. This was followed by a school tour.

Classroom Visits

Teacher consultants visited classrooms and labs to either observe classes in session, or talk to teachers and students. Facility consultants visited classrooms and labs to survey the spaces and catalog fixtures and equipment.

Teacher’s Roundtable

At a mutually convenient time, a discussion session was convened to ask questions, share ideas and experiences, describe deficiencies, and improvements needed. Every attempt was made to include as many teachers as possible.


Both groups of visiting consultants utilized a form to help structure questions and observations with the goal of making the data gathered from school to school consistent for comparison and evaluative purposes.

Each teacher consultant prepared a brief report summarizing his or her observations of the visit. Facility consultants compiled the data recorded on school characteristics and room features in a database for further analysis. Room diagrams were prepared from field notes and sketches.


Findings on Schools

School Control

76% Public, local control, 10% Public, state control, 14% Private

Range of Teaching Styles/Academic Philosophy

All of the Schools did, in fact have strong science programs. One indication of this was that the case study schools had over twice the number of teachers in math, science and tech ed than the group of schools that responded to a mail questionnaire described elsewhere. (for more details on the questionnaire see Teacher Survey). Nevertheless, a wide range of teaching styles was observed. Traditional (lecture, fact based), experimental (lab, field based). Several schools were exploring different types of integrated curricula. Some schools had integrated Math and Science, some were working to integrate Math, Science and Tech Ed. Others were integrating these as well as with selected exercises in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Some schools used a traditional grading system, others employed portfolio evaluations.

Range of Resources

Perhaps the most striking observation involved the disparity in resources available to the case-study schools. Some schools could afford cutting-edge buildings and equipment more commonly seen introduced at the upper levels of college, while others had equipment budgets (intended to cover software acquisition as well) of $200 per year. Statistically, the average expenditure per student for the public schools was $6,480, but these expenditures ranged from $4,340 to $12,900. Another measure of this range was the Student to Teacher ratio. At one end of the spectrum was a school with a 5.7:1 ratio, at the other end was a 25.6:1 ratio.


Facility Characteristics

At the 29 schools, 158 spaces were surveyed. Of these spaces 94 were science teaching spaces, 35 were math spaces and 29 were tech ed spaces. The science spaces are somewhat over-represented in this study due to their variety and complexity.

The spaces dedicated to the sciences were, broadly speaking, separated into five different space types:

  • classrooms
  • discipline-specific labs
  • combined classroom-labs
  • student project spaces
  • support spaces, e.g. storage rooms, prep rooms, instrument rooms

Of these space types, the one often mentioned as the most supportive was the combined classroom and lab. Many teachers felt that this type of space allowed flexibility, spontaneity, and the most holistic teaching/learning environment for their students.

The other type of space frequently mentioned was the student project space. Typically there were not enough of these spaces to meet increasing demand for their use as more programs are requiring some independent work for advanced courses. Without space dedicated to this use, this important curricular initiative is curtailed.

What follows are some key statistics gathered in the course of the case studies.

Science Space Statistics


Of the 94 spaces, 30% were used for Biology, 23% were used for Chemistry, 23% were allocated to Physics, and 22 % were Multiple Use spaces.


The average number of student stations per lab was 24, with station counts ranging from 6 to 48.


The average allocation of space per student station was 42 net assignable square feet (NASF) per student. The range here was 18 to 98 NASF. Allocations for Biology and Chemistry exceeded those for Physics and Multi Use spaces.



89% of the teaching spaces had cold water with 81% of the spaces supplied with hot water.

79% were supplied with gas.

18% had compressed air.

1 % had de-ionized water.


32% of the spaces had a telephone.

53% had network ports, with and average of fewer than 4 ports per space.


There was an average of less than 1 exhaust hood per space.

Math Spaces

Most math spaces surveyed were set up as "regular classrooms" with rows of tablet arm-chairs facing a blackboard. Most spaces had an overhead projector and projection screen as well. Many classrooms had sets of graphing calculators for student use. A few classrooms had computers, typically set up along a wall with a ratio of 1 to 4 computers per student. One math classroom was completely wired so that each student desk could have a computer plugged into the school network. However, this room did not have computers installed.

The major programmatic issue we encountered in the Math area was whether the school was using an "integrated" math curriculum such as the College Prep Math (CPM) system developed by University of California, Davis. These curricula emphasize cooperative learning and use a practical, problem-based approach. Students are often grouped to work in teams, helping one another in the process. While the facility impact of this curriculum is not dramatic, it is important: the room must be flexible and furniture should be selected for ease of movement and combining. The most appropriate type of seating was individual tables/desks and chairs that can be grouped in any combination.

Tech Ed Space

Technology Education space varied greatly from school to school. Some schools did not offer Tech Ed. Others had one tech ed suite of spaces. Still others emphasized this discipline. However, even among the schools that offered Tech Ed, there was a wide philosophical approach and a range of implementation of this seemingly transitional field of study. Many Tech Ed programs were occupying old Manual or Industrial Arts space that had not been significantly modified to accommodate a more high tech approach. At another school, a whole suite of spaces had been recently designed and constructed to support a contemporary tech ed concept.

Many of the successful tech ed facilities that the study team visited consisted of three basic types of space forming what could be considered a suite.

A. A flexible clean space for research and design".

This space typically had large work tables for students to sit in groups of four to six. Usual teaching equipment included a blackboard/whiteboard and, at least, an overhead projector. Usually, there were computers in this room, not necessarily at each student seat, but in clusters for different groupings/activities. This room often had a great deal of associated storage both within the room and in adjacent rooms.

B. A dirty space for assembly and production.

This space, or spaces, can be multi- or single- disciplinary depending on the scope of the school’s tech ed program. Some schools had varying combinations of spaces for the different areas of tech ed emphasis — agriculture and related biotechnology, engineering, the environment, communication, manufacturing, medical technology, or transportation. Other schools had only one of these A + B suites with the "dirty space" appropriately reflecting the strengths of the teacher.

C. A support space of some type.

Typically this space was a CAD lab for instruction in this important "language" of design, with a focus on, production drawings.

The combination of these three space types was seen in nearly every strong technology education program. The important concept from a facilities perspective is that broad activity areas are supported and the facilities can be scaled to the size and breadth of the school’s program.


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