Noise in classrooms: Is it a problem?

How does noise affect teachers and children during a school day? In Tiesler, Machner, and Brokmann’s paper "Classroom Acoustics and Impact on Health and Social Behavior" (2015) they examine this question empirically and conclude that a significant relation between acoustic conditions and both social and health-related problems in classrooms exists. How does noise affect teachers and children in their everyday life at a school? We all know that schools, together with many other public places in our society, generally are noisy environments. We also know that schools only rarely have the resources to change these environments by other means than attempting to change the behaviour of the children. This leads to the realization that schools are noisy, often very noisy. In Gerhart Tiesler, Rainer Machner, and Holger Brokmann’s presentation "Classroom Acoustics and Impact on Health and Social Behaviour" (2015) at the 6th International Building Physics Conference, they set out to explain just how acoustics in schools work and how it affects both health and sociality. They did so by analysing data from a project carried out by the Institute of Interdisciplinary School Research at the University of Bremen where they, during a 6-year period, monitored education, noise levels, and other variables in different schools. From this data, they point out a series of interesting correlations between acoustic environment, noise, and behavioural effects. The first question which should be raised in an examination of noise and its effects is ‘what is noise?’. Tiesler et al. define it as such: “Noise is more than an SPL [Sound Pressure Level – how loud a sound is] measured in Decibel – it’s the result of an acoustic perception and cognitive process” (Tiesler et al., p. 3109). As such the article acknowledges something important in the study of sound and acoustics. Noise isn’t just a decibel level describing the loudness or pressure of a sound. Noise is sensitive to context. As such, an extremely loud sound can be noisy or beautiful depending on the mind that interprets it. We can’t just measure noise in purely technical terms; we also need to examine how people react and relate to a sound to determine whether it is noise. With this in mind, Tiesler et al. can suggest criteria for examining noise in classrooms. The first criterion is heart rate since heart rate generally correlates with SPL, no matter how we understand or emotionally relate to a sound. Based on this, they analysed the example of a school class that had bad acoustics one week and very good acoustics the next week. Both weeks it was the same students, the same teachers, and the same schedule they were following. The results on heart rate can be seen in figure 1. Red = Very good acoustics, Black = bad acoustics (Tiesler et al., p. 3110) Figure 1 shows an interesting correlation between heart rate and acoustic conditions. When raising the SPL in both classes, the teachers’ heart rate is significantly more affected in the…

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