Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Churchill High School Construction errors deplete science labs

Testimony before MCPS Board of Education
September 25, 2006
In 2001, Churchill High School was officially reopened in an
on-site modernization. Students began attending a new facility.
In 2003, MCPS heard from the Science teachers at Churchill
High School about reductions in the square footage of science
classrooms during construction. That information has been part of
the Churchill Cluster testimony since that time. Attachment A lists
the deficiencies in the science classrooms that were noted by the
science teachers in the summer of 2003.
According to MCPS' Department of Facilities Management there
are no plans at this time to correct the deficiencies in the science
labs. At a minimum, MCPS would need to commission a feasibility
study to determine the extent and cost of needed repairs. No funding
exists for that study at this time.
In addition to the list of classroom deficiencies on
Attachment A, I have also learned that the Chemical Storage room for
the science department was eliminated during the modernization.
Chemicals are now stored in an inner hallway between classrooms.
Attachment B is from the Maryland Public School publication on the
storage of chemicals in high school science labs. The guideline
specifically states that chemicals should not be stored in hallways.
The deficiency in the science labs at Churchill has meant
that science classes can only perform a very limited number of
laboratory experiments. Attachment C shows the results of a 2000
National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education. In that survey
the average percentage of instructional time spent in hands on/lab
work was 22 %.(C-3) At Churchill High School, 5 labs in a semester is
considered a lot of lab time. 1 to 5 labs per semester equates to 5%
or less of science class time spent in hands on/lab activities.
This deficiency was caused by the under building of the
science classrooms. From the moment the modernized school opened,
the science labs were too small to accommodate the science students
at the school. Overcrowded classes prevent science teachers from
safely conducting laboratory experiments. Attachment D shows
Maryland Public Schools' maximum number of students that are to
participate in a lab.
28 is the maximum number of students a teacher is to
supervise doing a lab at one time, with 24 being the preferred number
of students. At Churchill a classroom of 32 or more is common, thus
severely limiting the amount of laboratory experiments that a teacher
can safely supervise.
The MCPS Science web site lists the 5 E's of teaching
science. One of the E's is extend. Extend is described as:
The "extend" stage allows students to apply their new labels,
definitions, explanations and skills in new, but similar situations.
It often involves experimental inquiry, investigative projects,
problem solving and decision making. Lab work is common. Students
frequently develop and complete their own well-designed
At Churchill High School the definition of "common" would be
doing labs in 5% of the classroom sessions. Significantly lower than
the 22% figure shown in the National Survey of Science and
Mathematics Education attached as Attachment C. And in sharp
contrast to the 71% of the science classes that do labs once a week,
Churchill High School students can be exposed to lab work as little
as once a month.
Churchill High School has now gone 5 years without any
capital funding to address this serious physical defect that greatly
impacts the science curriculum and the associated Signature
Program. I am now hearing that parents and community groups are now
beginning to donate funds to the principal to address this problem*,
but without the Board of Education's commitment to capital funds to
fix this deficit, and operating funds to staff the program, the
science classes will continue to operate at a substandard level.
Please make a commitment to complete the science classrooms
at Churchill, as they were meant to be built during the 2001
modernization based on the student population and state guidelines,
and allow the science department to operate at the level to which it
was intended.
Thank you.
Janis Sartucci
*Winston Churchill Foundation, Inc. - Chairman: Robert W. McCann -
fundraising and Churchill PTSA.

 "The role of the laboratory is central in high school physics
courses since students must construct their own understanding of
physics ideas. This knowledge cannot simply be transmitted by the
teacher, but must be developed by students in interactions with
nature and the teacher. Meaningful learning will occur where
laboratory activities are a well-integrated part of a learning
sequence."  The Role of Laboratory Activities in High School Physics
A Position Paper of the AAPT Committee on Physics in High Schools
August 1992 Subcommittee on the Role of the Laboratory: Carole Escobar, Paul
Hickman, Robert Morse, Betty Preece (Approved by the AAPT Executive Board, November 1992)
2006 © American Association of Physics Teachers