Is the Sound Right for Sound Learning? A study on classroom noise

By Gaia Fameli
Intermediate Category (Grades 9-10)
Study | Physics

School plays a crucial role in an individual’s life as it opens the doors to possibilities and lays the foundations from which one can grow. Therefore, it is baffling that sometimes learning takes place in poorly designed classrooms and guidelines to create the best learning environment for students are not implemented.  ​

In particular, there has been increasing evidence that poor room acoustics can negatively affect one’s learning. For example, the ability to focus on speech in the presence of background noise does not fully mature until ages 13 to 15, which suggests that younger students require a better acoustical environment than adults to achieve the same word recognition score. For this reason, teachers may not be aware of their student’s troubles with understanding speech, and hence learning/acquiring new knowledge, in noisy situations and generally under poor acoustics conditions. ​

Based on other research findings, there is strong evidence that noise as well as noise reverberation has a negative effect on students’ learning. However, there seems to be a lack of awareness about this topic in the general public, despite the multitude of research and studies. By conducting this study, I aim to find out if the acoustic environment in my school is suitable for learning from the viewpoint of excessive noise and in comparison, to the existing recommendations. Observations from this study can educate people on this important subject and provide suggestions for establishing classroom noise reduction/control regulations for schools in the future. ​

I investigated if the acoustic environment in my school is suitable for learning. I did this by measuring the noise levels while class was in session, as well as measuring the reverberation. There is sufficient evidence that high noise levels (above 55 dB) hinder learning by affecting word recognition, reading and memory to name a few aspects. I employed a sophisticated smart phone app in order to measure sound levels in three different classes, and record data in downloadable files. Results show that on average noise levels surpassed recommendations set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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