Move the Tables! Thornton Academy’s Scamman Science Building Addition

TA Scamman int bio Mike11 PPT

Honors Chemistry teacher Teri Arenstam has arranged the long tables conference-style so she can start the class with a face-to-face explanation of the chemical reactions of their soap-making experiment. Once she’s gone through the steps and safety precautions (they’re using lye), the students disburse in teams to smaller work tables along the edge of the room, collect the equipment they need, and head for the fume hood to begin this chemical reaction. Back at their work tables, they take turns heating and stirring before the soap is ready to mold and scent. In Mike Carbone’s AP biology class, the students walk in, plug their microscopes into the overhead cord reels, get out their iPads, and find the swampy muck they collected from the neighborhood vernal pool. The tables are in the center of the room with lots of space around each one because there’s a lot of coming and going—students inspecting each other’s finds and Mike circulating, encouraging, and using a web-based library on the Apple TV to bring up images of the mosquito larvae or fairy shrimp the students are identifying.

Beth Bussiere, teacher of AP chemistry, gathers her students in a meeting at the beginning of class—two tables pushed together. They decide to continue an experiment begun the week before. Beth announces that this is the first time a TA chemistry class has ever synthesized aspirin—so they move some tables nearer the window and plug in. It’s not a race, exactly, but after weighing, measuring, carefully adding ingredients with the pipette, swirling, and heating, the first team to watch their solution turn pink is pretty triumphant.

These classes are conducting their research in Thornton Academy’s Scamman Science Building Addition, designed by PDT Architects, a new 8-classroom facility where very movable furniture, ceiling-mounted cord reels, and Apple TVs encourage a very intense, flexible style of teaching and learning. The students themselves can convert the room quickly and easily from lectures to meetings, from small-team projects to full class discussion, from web-based research to individual microscope study.

This design didn’t happen by chance. Fresh from their award-winning design of Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington, Lyndon Keck of PDT and his staff visited state-of-the-art high school science facilities, researched flexible teaching and workplace design, and consulted with teachers and administrators to carry out Thornton’s strategic mission.

Thornton’s expanding emphasis on STEM subjects and its diploma endorsement agreements with UNE and the University of Maine System are bringing new rigor and momentum to its high school science offerings. The new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) addition allows the school to strengthen and expand its regular and AP curriculums. Features such as teacher prep rooms, ceiling-mounted cord reels, ample fume hoods, Apple TVs, movable tables and chairs, demonstration stations, and daylighting support inquiry-based learning.

More info on Thornton Academy’s STEM programs at