Skip to Main Content

CNMS Active Science Teaching and Learning Environment – CASTLE

The CASTLE, which opened in Fall 2010, hosts numerous hours of weekly instruction in Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Statistics at UMBC during the fall and spring semesters.

The CASTLE, which opened in Fall 2010, hosts numerous hours of weekly instruction in Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Statistics at UMBC during the fall and spring semesters.

UMBC’s College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS) launched its CNMS Active Science Teaching and Learning Environment or CASTLE in Fall 2010 to develop and enhance innovative, inquiry-based instruction in its key foundational courses. The CASTLE responds to the need for appropriate space on campus to host new active learning initiatives in science and mathematics and is part of a continuing emphasis on student success and retention.

The Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) committed $300,000 to support The CASTLE and it has been one of the UMBC Alumni Association’s top giving priorities.


The CASTLE is located in renovated space on the first floor of the University Center (UC 115D). This space is centrally located, adjacent to the Dean’s Office, and provides easy access from the four CNMS Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics.

Designed for Learning

The CASTLE was designed by the college and university to build on the success of the Chemistry Discovery Center, where revamped introductory chemistry courses at UMBC have significantly improved the academic performance of undergraduates through an adaptation of process-oriented, guided-inquiry learning (POGIL). The overall planning goal for the CASTLE has been to establish an environment of flexible, small group learning space appropriate for multiple disciplines within the ~2,400 square-foot space that accommodates 93 students working in hierarchical groups of 3. The classroom has eleven custom-built tables that allow the computer monitors to lowered into the desk surface and automatically locked into place by the instructor. Nine tables seating nine students each and two tables seating six students each support the triad-learning teams. Color-coded seating arrangements, furniture specifications and the AV installation are based on a variety of research results in the science education literature and UMBC’s experience with the Chemistry Discovery Center.

The CASTLE classroom features one computer with a 22″ monitor per three-student learning team, advanced room security measures, two locked storage/office areas, 11 wall-mounted whiteboards, eight wall-mounted 52″ LED monitors networked to the computers, and an instructor’s station with the latest interactive instructional software. During Summer 2010, CNMS faculty were trained to use the CASTLE’s many instructional features and given an overview of its SchoolVue classroom management software, which has been used successfully in the Chemistry Discovery Center for the past four years. All CASTLE instructors are encouraged to pilot novel pedagogical approaches within this environment. The College is using the CASTLE as an incubator for new strategies and practices in active learning instruction as a way to promote and disseminate these practices throughout its science and mathematics course offerings. A Blackboard community was established for all CASTLE/SchoolVue users.

Workshop Series

Workshop series hosted by CNMS and the Faculty Development Center in January 2011 and January 2012 have helped to inform instructional faculty and graduate students about active learning and active assessment strategies. Beginning with the Spring 2012 semester, all faculty using the CASTLE are required to submit Requests for Classroom Space in UC115D to the CNMS Dean with a plan describing how active learning will be incorporated and assessed. Reports to the CNMS Dean assessing the effectiveness of each course in the CASTLE are required no later than 30 days after the submission of course grades.

Space Request

The form for UMBC faculty to use to request CASTLE Classroom Space is available here to download as a PDF file.


Contact Laura Ott at