Igniting a Passion for Learning: Elizabeth Blackburn School of Sciences at University High School

Published: Friday 20 February 2015

In February 2015, the Victorian Chapter held a guided tour and dialogue for more than 70 members and friends at the Elizabeth Blackburn School of Sciences, a new school by Clarke Hopkins Clarke integrated onto the campus of University High School in Parkville.

The Elizabeth Blackburn School of Sciences was conceived as an incubator for contemporary science education. The school brings together some of the brightest young scientific minds, scientists and science educators in a purpose-built facility sitting within one of Melbourne's premier biomedical and science precincts.

The facility is the result of a joint venture and collaborative partnership between The University High School, the University of Melbourne, the Bio21 Institute and the Department of Education. The project brief asked the architects and others involved in delivering the facility to imagine an environment that would ignite and encourage students' passions for learning, and create pathways for students to engage in further science education at tertiary level.

The building has been designed to support specific pedagogical approaches, which sees students participate in a tertiary style program of lectures, tutorials and laboratory workshops. Lecture-style explicit teaching spaces, open collaborative settings, laboratories, and quiet study zones enable a range of learning experiences. The lecture spaces allow teachers to deliver curriculum content to several classes at once, a strategic move to free-up time for planning and dialogue with individual students.

The pedagogical vision and the use of the spaces has been complemented and enhanced by a willingness of teachers to change the traditional school timetable to one more reflective of higher education. Students are allowed to thrive in unstructured study sessions, finding nooks and spaces that invite them to stay and study with peers. Lockers integrated into the learning spaces are clearly labelled with the periodic table, a reminder of the specialised educational program on offer.

Presentations by architect Wayne Stephens and Principal Rob Newton discussed the collaborative design process and pedagogical vision for the school. Two current students gave insight into the unique facility, presenting their positive personal experiences of both the curriculum and physical learning environment. Guests were invited to take a guided tour of the facilities with the students, teaching staff and facility architects.

The project won the 2014 Victorian Chapter Educative Initiative / Design Solution for an Innovative Program Award.

Architect: Clarke Hopkins Clarke

This project later won the 2015 OVERALL WINNER OF REGIONAL AUSTRALASIA AWARDS and WINNER: CATEGORY 5: EDUCATION INITIATIVE / DESIGN SOLUTION FOR AN INNOVATIVE PROGRAM