Classroom Acoustics: The Value of a Sound Education
Our kids deserve a sound education, and classroom acoustics can help.
School buildings should be designed to help students, teachers, and administrators achieve positive learning outcomes. Proper classroom acoustics play an important role in reaching students. The way a student learns depends on what they hear, and how they hear it.
Schools face unique challenges in maintaining an optimal acoustic environment. Think of a typical classroom — windows, smartboards/blackboards, concrete, plasterboard walls, often bare floors. These are all hard surfaces that reflect sound rather than absorb it, causing long reverberation times.
When reverberation builds up, the sound environment becomes confusing and unintelligible. Add to that the average ambient noise in a classroom — HVAC systems, hallway activity, exterior traffic — and the classroom environment becomes anything but an optimal learning environment.
According to acousticstoday.org, kids require more favorable acoustics than adults for the kind of daily auditory learning that occurs in classrooms. Since most learning comes from a teacher’s verbal communication, kids need full access to auditory signals regardless of where they are sitting in the classroom. Many students miss up to 1 in 4 words spoken by their teacher due to poor intelligibility. [source] Classroom acoustics is probably the culprit.
This illustration shows how a student in the front row can experience reverberating sound due to poor classroom acoustics. The problem? Listening challenges increase as sound reflection increases — an avoidable problem.
Fortunately, proper acoustic treatments can correct the room’s reverberation problems. After assessing a classroom (size and reflective surfaces), acoustical sound experts can determine the best solutions for the space. Installing acoustical wall panels made of sound-absorbing material shortens reverberation times, easing the echo effect in the classroom. An acoustic ceiling has a similar impact, increasing the intelligibility of the teacher’s voice.
According to The Essex Study, as the reverberation time in a classroom is reduced, students generate less noise, indicating better behavior and more attentive listening. The teacher can speak less loudly, reducing vocal stress while still reaching students in a quieter and calmer environment.
Teachers should not have to adapt their teaching methods to a noisy space; instead, the space should be adapted to the teacher’s instruction. The right acoustical panels or acoustical ceilings can provide proper sound absorption to satisfy the needs of teachers and students.
MBI Products’ expert Chuck Splain says, “The most recent studies suggest that a reverb time between 1 and 1.5 seconds is ideal and easily achievable with sound-absorbing panels on classroom walls and ceiling. At our Ohio plant, MBI manufactures a wide variety of panels that can be used in any classroom design. We typically treat open ceilings with Cloud-Lite Acoustical Baffles and Lapendary Panels and drop ceilings usually leverage Colorsonix floaters for additional sound absorption. The walls can also be acoustically treated with Colorsonix wall panels.”
Splain also recommends consulting an acoustical engineer in some cases, particularly if the goal is to even out reverberation times using the concept of diffusion. “Incorporating acoustic diffusion only makes sense if you have the science to back it up, especially in band or music classrooms,” he explains. “A reputable acoustics supplier will explain the difference between sound absorption and sound diffusion, and provide solutions that are appropriate for the desired space, nothing more.”
Fine Arts classrooms require specialized acoustics to create spaces conducive to musical performances. For Hedrick Middle School in Lewisville, Texas, MBI manufactured state-of-the-art custom acoustics to optimize music spaces in the building. Ceiling and wall treatments have helped take Hedrick’s Fine Arts department to the head of the class!
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