THIS year’s National Science Week was marked by the launch of Wesley College’s Science Centre for Tomorrow in WA – a living, breathing science experiment for students.
According to Wesley College Headmaster David Gee the vision for the centre was to encapsulate an innovative learning community which empowered students to pursue excellence. Wesley aimed to design learning programs and physical spaces to encourage students to become strong thinkers – not just academically, but across learning areas and ethical domains.
“We embarked, almost five years ago, upon our plans for the extension and refurbishment of our science block. To transform it into a cutting edge, inspiring facility the likes of which we haven’t seen in Perth at this time,” Mr Gee said.
“In the past, our building designs have been done with the architects, the head of department and one of two key stakeholders. With this building – right from the very beginning of the design process – the whole faculty has been involved.”
During the design phase, the Wesley College science faculty researched Australia’s foremost secondary science facilities, University science and engineering learning spaces and research centres, and medical and science research facilities.
The Science Centre features a three-storey Living Wall, with opportunities for monitoring soil, water, air and light conditions; a full aquaponics set up, for experimentation with sustainable ecosystems; and will soon have a suspended bee hive for the observation of bees in a colony.
Video and digital technologies have also been incorporated into learning experiences, as well as a three-storey drop zone where the students can use light gates and create wind tunnel effects that would be unachievable in a normal classroom setting.
“This building really is designed to live in that innovative space; it’s designed so that not only will students be learning about science, they will be doing science,” Mr Gee said.
“Students now have access to the types of high-end technology that as a science teacher from some 20-years ago I could never have imagined.”
Wesley College head of science Ian Simpson said that, when researching the building design, staff realised that school science labs were not preparing students for a realistic science environment.
“The environment we’re training students in doesn’t look anything like what a scientist works in outside school. We feel the Centre resembles that much more now with its interactive, collaborative environment,” Mr Simpson said.
“There were elements we saw that we wanted to try to incorporate. For example, at the University of Technology in Sydney there are 200 kids working together in a super lab and we thought: ‘why can’t we do that with high school kids?’”
“Rather than just having an open space there’s real agility [to the Centre] – you can shut a space down or make it really open for two or three classes,” he said.
The building’s 250 square metres of glazing and 17 square metres of glass louvres provide ‘writeable’ surfaces where students can work collaboratively to solve problems.
“Every desk, every glass screen, and all the walls make learning visible,” Mr Simpson said.
“It’s not just the teacher interacting with the learners; they’re all interacting with each other. It will take time for us to collect data but we can see student engagement going up.”
The large centre space also provides an opportunity for industry experts to speak to teachers and students, and offers the ability for Wesley to grow links with the community and the STEM industry.
Mr Simpson believes the new space is also a fantastic professional learning opportunity for teachers to work together, collaborate, and co-teach students.
“If you’re a beginning teacher or even an experienced teacher, you’re just dealing with 25 to28 students in those 4 walls. Apart from going to conferences and the occasional PD, you could have 30 years’ experience but you’ve really just experienced one year 30 times,” he said.
Principal David Gee shows WA Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken the ‘writable’ walls.
Mr Gee concurs said the new centre would propel teachers to the next level.
“This building and design process has been successful because our teaching practices have evolved though the introduction of team teaching and the explosion of opportunities to do real science and to deal with real scientific problems,” he said.
“Students need to be innovative, creative, adaptive and analytical thinkers; and the study of science alongside technology, engineering, arts and mathematics is going to be vital to solving the world’s future problems.”