Magazine article Techniques

Classroom Acoustics

Magazine article Techniques

Classroom Acoustics

Article excerpt

"CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"

An entire marketing campaign with a slightly humorous quality was built around that phrase, but when a teacher has to stop and ask that question, it is no laughing matter. It has long been recognized that noise can hinder the academic performance of students. A 1975 study found that reading scores of students in a New York City school were lower for those whose classrooms were on the side of the school adjacent to the elevated train tracks than for those on the quieter side.

A technical report from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), "Acoustics in Educational Settings," notes that, "Decades of research by audiologists, speech-language pathologists, acousticians, and others have documented the educational value of good acoustics and the detrimental effect of poor acoustics on students' auditory comprehension, learning and behavior and teachers' vocal health."

In 1998, the U.S. Access Board and the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) began work on establishing classroom acoustics standards. In March 2007, when a progress report on implementing the classroom acoustics standards was issued, the two organizations noted that levels of background noise and reverberation little noticed by adults adversely affect learning environments, especially for younger children whose listening skills are not as mature, and who therefore require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension. Other factors that may affect listening abilities are hearing loss, speech impairments, learning disabilities or a home language that is different from the teaching language. It may be worse for children with those situations, but a noisy classroom is not an optimal learning environment for anyone.

Fifty years ago, not only was our world a quieter one, but schools were built of heavy brick or concrete block. More recent construction has been of less solid and lighter weight material. Today, when building new schools, there are a number of things that should be taken into consideration--starting with the location. Building next to a busy freeway, train tracks or an airport is obviously not recommended. But it is not just outside noise that must be considered. Having good classroom acoustics means building schools that reduce reverberation and optimize speech intelligibility.

In its booklet Classroom Acoustics: A Resource for Creating Learning Environments with Desirable Listening Conditions, ASA notes that using so-called "soft" materials such as fabric-faced glass fiber wall panels, acoustical ceiling tiles and carpeting helps to absorb the reverberation of sound. The sound you want heard in the classroom and not absorbed by noise reduction materials is the teacher's voice, and there are also ways to reflect it back into the classroom. According to ASA, these might include shaping a sound-reflecting gypsum board ceiling over the front of the room or making the center of the ceiling a hard, reflecting surface.

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ASA has suggestions for reducing noise from outside the classroom that include adding 5/8-inch-thick gypsum board on each side of the classroom wall, installing double-paned glass windows, and sealing gaps between walls and the floor and ceiling with acoustical sealant. The location of mechanical equipment should be taken into consideration during planning and building so as to minimize noise bleeding into the classrooms.

Obviously not everyone has the luxury of teaching in a brand new, acoustically ideal school, but there are still ways to reduce noise in existing classrooms. …

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