- Jul 25 2014
Inspired by the offices of today’s flashiest start-ups and tech companies, fifth grade teacher Emily Smith decided to take a similar approach with her classroom design. Where desks once lined up next to each other, row after row, now features conference style tables and colorful throw rugs. Traditional textbooks have been shelved and replaced with tablets and computers. Smith’s unconventional take on education is not only making headlines and gaining recognition – it’s bringing about a change in her students.
While many educators and institutions may find this drastic change out of reach, new research sheds light on the importance of purposeful classroom design. Based on the findings over a one-year period in Blackpool, England, a recent UK study reveals that the architecture and design of a classroom can have a 25 percent impact – positive or negative – on a student’s academic performance. For the first time, this study clearly linked environmental factors such as the use of color, the flexibility of a classroom space as well as the lighting, with learning rates in schools.
The use of multi-purpose furniture and spaces is a central part of a well-designed classroom. Flexible floor plans, defined by the UK study, provide ample space as well as easy-to-move furniture that help to adapt the space for a variety of activities and teaching approaches. This flexibility provides students and teachers with the ability to choose their layout.
With these same principles in mind, researchers evaluated the benefits of an Active Learning Classroom (ALC) at MIT and discovered that these alternative spaces yield lower failure rates and increased levels of conceptual understanding, compared with students in traditional classrooms. Researchers found that the open floor plans that allow easy transition between large and small group activities give students the opportunity for more “face time” with other students.
The UK study also confirmed once again what researchers have been touting for decades: natural light is a vital part of a healthy learning environment. The interesting twist, however, is this new study takes into account the numerous technical advances and not only focuses on the availability of natural light, but also an instructor’s ability to control the lighting environment. With many classrooms now incorporating projectors, computer monitors, tablets and the like, a truly advanced lighting environment sometimes requires a bit of darkness.
While noise is an unavoidable factor in any school, researchers have linked excessive noise with lowered performance. This correlation can be particularly worrying for young children, as studies show that they are acutely affected. In fact, as many schools lack the proper acoustic environment, students can miss as much as 50 percent of an instructor’s words – with spoken communication comprising roughly 60 percent of a student’s time in the classroom, the consequences can be serious.
Is your school stepping up to the classroom design challenge?
As technology advances and theories evolve, the traditional classroom layout makes way for a newer, more flexible design. Researchers claim that these changes not only improve the classroom environment, but student performance as well.
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