Bridging Design and STEM Curriculum

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Rapidly changing technology and job requirements/positions are influencing how educators are teaching the current generation of learners, and is shaping how students need to prepare for future advancements. Architects, designers and school/ laboratory furniture providers need to understand today’s student and how learning is evolving and growing by incorporating STEM into their designs for education.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEAM (includes arts). This learning curriculum is being adopted by school districts and State Education departments alike, its important because it prepares students to become innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders. STEM provides the knowledge and tools that students need to solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and world. It’s becoming widely embraced in the K-12 school classroom and in higher education. STEM not only affects teaching methods and the curriculum, but it also affects classroom and school design.

K-12 STEM laboratory/classroom at Westerly High School in Rhode Island…introducing a university STEM setting at a high school level


There are a multitude of trends that are affecting the way that schools are incorporating STEM into their classrooms and curriculum. The following are some of the trends that are catalysts of change when it comes to incorporating STEM into education:

  • Technology: Students today have grown up with technology, and use it in some way every day. It’s important to incorporate some aspect of technology within curriculum because it will help prepare students for future advancements and job requirements.
  • Teamwork: In project-based environments, it is advantageous to incorporate small group work where students can learn and support each other’s ideas and continue to work on their communication skills.
  • Communication: Today’s students communicate in different ways than previous generations. It’s important that the curriculum helps facilitate the exchange of information and provides an atmosphere where students can communicate freely and amongst one another.
  • Teamwork: Utilizing small group work will help students learn how to be proficient in dividing up tasks, and how to learn from their peers. Having strong teamwork skills is necessary for personal development and future careers.
  • Decision-Making: Being able to develop the skills to choose the best option among alternatives will help students prepare for real world obstacles and decisions that they will face. This also goes along with innovative thinking and for students to be able to intuitively understand problems and come up with innovative ways to solve those dilemmas.

K-12 STEM Lab completed by CiF Lab Solutions at Cleveland Heights NEW Tech School in Ohio.


A trend that we are seeing often when designing spaces for STEM is providing a central, unifying space with shared facilities for multiple disciplines rather than the “silo-ed” classroom culture. This structure will promote intellectual exchange and provide students with the option to collaborate and learn to solve problems together. Architects and lab planners should incorporate areas for interaction, so that students can congregate and work together. Improving opportunities for interaction generally increases stimulation and satisfaction, leading to improvements in productivity and retention.

Architects and designers of K-12 STEM spaces understand the need for classrooms to be adaptable, flexible, mobile and ergonomic. When it comes to designing a classroom to fit with the STEM curriculum there are a range of things that you should consider when designing your space.

  • Seating Arrangements: The traditional stationary single seat with the table attached facing the front of the room is making its way out. With a STEM classroom students are provided with rolling chairs that make it easy to move around and casual lounging chairs for collaborative thinking. Having range of motion adds functionality to any space.
  • Desks and Tables: The STEM curriculum is based off of collaborative learning rather than the traditional majority lectured lessons. Setting up a room with tables that can be rearranged multiple ways provides multiple advantages for community based learning. When designing science classrooms having flexible lab table systems that can be adjusted depending on present and future curriculum requirements will allow teachers with more options when it comes curriculum choices.
  • Storage: Having storage that allows students to safely store in-progress assignments will allow them to continually work on an activity over an extended period of time.


Bull, G., & Bell, R. L. (n.d.). Educational technology in the science classroom.Retrieved February 20, 2017, from Static website: http://static.nsta.org/files/PB217X-1.pdf

How are millennial students (and faculty) different from previous generations? (2013,November 22). Retrieved February 17, 2017, from Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine website: http://www.med.wmich.edu/how-are-millennial-students-and-faculty-different-previous-generations

Jolly, A. (2013, August 20). How to get your school ready for STEM this year [KQED News]. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/08/20/how-to-get-your school-ready-for-stem-this-year/  

Science, technology, engineering and math: education for global leadership. (n.d.). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education website: https://www.ed.gov/stem

The Science of Learning: Designing the STEM Learning Facilities of the Future. (2014).Retrieved February 20, 2017, from HOK website: http://www.hok.com/thought-leadership/the-science-of-learning-designing-the-stem-learning-facilities-of-the-future/