Gilder Center for Integrative Math and Science Education

Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) has unveiled the design for a $38 million science and math center that one day will serve as home to the school’s innovative new math, science, and engineering curriculum. Sporting a sleek, modern look that blends gracefully into the school’s hillside campus, the Gilder Center for Integrative Math and Science Education will house traditional classrooms as well as a range of innovative teaching spaces, including a makerspace and five mastery suites specifically designed to support a mastery-based learning process.

The center is named in honor of Richard Gilder ’50, who donated a lead gift of $10 million for the project in 2014, and then pledged an additional $5 million challenge gift in June 2015. Under the terms of the “Gilder Challenge for Innovation and Opportunity,” Gilder will donate $1 in financial aid funds to the school for every dollar donated by others toward the construction of the center, up to $5 million.

“From both an aesthetic and functional standpoint, this new facility will be a stunning addition to our campus,” says Head of School Peter B. Fayroian. “This center will ensure that students can receive a world-class education in math and science here at NMH. I am so grateful to Dick for his support of this important project, and I hope others who share Dick’s love of NMH will be inspired by his generosity and come forward to support this project as well.”

“We are laying the foundation for NMH’s future right now,” says Allyson Goodwin ’83, NMH chief advancement officer. “Building this new facility and increasing our pool of financial aid dollars are two of the most important priorities of our 2020 Strategic Plan. This is a transformational moment in our school’s history. I would love to see every member of the NMH family join us in turning these plans into reality.”

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The Building Design

The Gilder Center will enable the school to move the science department out of the 50-year-old Cutler Science Center and the math department out of Beveridge Hall. The new building will be located between the Rhodes Arts Center and the Forslund Gymnasium, very close to the site of where Silliman Laboratory once stood before it was destroyed by fire in 1965 during an NMH-Deerfield football game.

Designed by Architerra, a Boston-based architectural firm dedicated to sustainable design, the 57,000-square-foot building features large glass windows on all sides that will provide sweeping views of the NMH campus and the Connecticut River valley. A vaulted, curved roof echoes the topography of the surrounding hills and is designed to support photovoltaic solar arrays, which the school hopes to add in the future.

Even without the full-roof solar panels, the center will be the greenest building on campus, thanks to the energy-efficient construction of its walls and its use of solar shades, a demonstration solar array, and triple-glazed windows. Those features, along with a rainwater garden to manage storm-water runoff, will enable the building to achieve LEED gold or platinum certification from the Green Building Council.

The interior of the building is centered around a large, open hall bounded by staircases and railings that give the space a feeling of lightness and energy. More than just an entryway to the building, the hall features informal seating areas that make it a relaxing gathering spot, a convenient study space, and a collaborative work area.

Hong Kong Hall Challenge

A group of donors in Hong Kong pooled their donations to create a matching gift opportunity to name the front entrance hall in the Gilder Center. Gifts of all sizes and for any purpose from alumni, parents, and friends connected to Hong Kong were matched, exceeding the challenge and resulting in a $2.75 million pooled gift. The names of all donors will be listed on a plaque that will hang prominently in the hall. Gifts are still being accepted.

Korea Hall Fundraising

In order to name the makerspace in the Gilder Center, Korean alumni and parents have joined together to raise $1 million from people connected to Korea. The space will be called Korea Hall, honoring the Korean heritage of many NMH community members, including alumni, parents, and current and future students. Fundraising continues for this important space. The names of all donors will be listed on a plaque that will hang in the space.

The back of the hall overlooks a spacious, sun-filled forum that promises to become one of the most popular teaching and special-event areas on campus. With its tiered seating, movable white boards, modular furniture, and spectacular views of the outdoors, the forum can be used as a space for formal lectures and presentations, informal study sessions and receptions, and project-based collaboration.

Other key features of the building include a multipurpose great room, conference rooms, faculty offices, and a new home for NMH’s makerspace, a kind of modern day “workshop” where students come to develop and bring design ideas to life using a range of tools including 3D printers, sewing machines, laser cutters, band saws, drills, grinders, and computer-aided-design software.

The building will also have a dedicated research lab that will allow students to pursue independent research projects with faculty guidance and support, using more sophisticated instruments than are usually found in a standard high school laboratory.

Flexible Classrooms for a New Curriculum

In addition to traditional classrooms and labs, the Gilder Center houses five collaborative mastery suites. Larger than typical classrooms, these innovative and highly flexible spaces are furnished with movable whiteboards, partitions, and furniture that can be configured in multiple ways. The rooms can accommodate individual instruction, small-group project collaboration, or large classroom activities. The size and flexibility of the rooms are key to supporting the new mastery-based curriculum being developed at the school.

Initially, the mastery-based curriculum will be used only for foundational courses. Advanced courses, including AP courses, will be taught using a traditional pedagogy.

The effort to develop the new curriculum is headed by Math Department Chair Kate Hoff and Integrative Math and Science Coordinator David Reeder, who co-chaired the Integrative Math and Science (IMS) Task Force. The task force recommended adopting a mastery-learning process after extensively researching several emerging curriculum models that strive to prepare students for the needs of the 21st century. The task force’s research included taking numerous field trips to schools across the country that are pushing the leading edge of educational thought.

“The gift that Dick Gilder gave to NMH did more than give us the opportunity to build a modern science building; it also gave us the opportunity to rethink how we educate our students,” says Reeder. The new vision for an integrated math and science program is driving how the teaching spaces of the Gilder Center are being developed.

Unlike a traditional educational model, a mastery-based model of education does not move a whole classroom of students through a curriculum at a fixed paced over a set period of time. That style of teaching often turns out students with widely varying levels of mastery over a particular subject area.

Instead, a mastery model moves students through a curriculum at their own pace, with a goal of ensuring that all students achieve a similar level of mastery in a subject before moving on. Those who achieve mastery quickly can move on rapidly to more advanced courses, while those who need more time to achieve mastery can have it.

“Instead of making time the fixed variable in the education equation,” says Hoff, “we make mastery of a subject the fixed variable. Time becomes flexible.”

A mastery-based classroom has more students than a traditional classroom, but there are multiple teachers in each classroom. This allows students to break into groups to work on different skills at different times; it also provides the opportunity for individual study and group projects.

“Another advantage of this educational approach,” says Hoff, “is that it encourages teamwork and the development of collaborative skills. These kinds of skill sets are greatly valued in today’s highly connected workplaces.”

A focus on developing design-thinking, problem-solving skills, and collaboration skills is fundamental to the curriculum. “We want our math and science curriculum to reflect better the needs of our society in the 21st century,” says Reeder, “giving our students more opportunities to develop and practice their problem-solving skills through authentic experiences and projects that have real meaning.”

The desire to prepare students for tomorrow’s fast-changing world also prompted the task force to recommend adding more engineering, coding, and statistics courses to the curriculum. These are subjects, the task force report concluded, “that traditionally have been taught in college, but are now recognized as appropriate and even necessary at high school levels and younger. Our students will need models that emphasize systems and sustainability to adapt and thrive in their future career and life paths, vocations that will reward integration of multiple disciplines and ideas just as much as they value individual specialization and expertise.”

Teachers in the math and science program are already testing elements of the new curriculum with their students. This fall, the school launched a pilot mastery Algebra I class, and introductory science classes are trying out individual mastery modules for parts of each semester. The goal is to phase in a full mastery curriculum over the next three years.

“This is an ambitious undertaking,” says Hoff, “and it is a privilege to be able to take this challenge on. Our mission at NMH is to empower our students to act with humanity and purpose. Given the nature of this rapidly changing world, we as educators are thinking innovatively about how to accomplish this mission. The Gilder Center and its curriculum will put NMH at the cutting-edge of math and science education, and we are excited to lead this charge.”

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