Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

New Concerns About the Role Classroom Noise Plays in Failing Grades

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers – From the day they enter kindergarten, children spend long stretches of time learning. Children develop their intellectual, social, and communication skills through their exposure to a variety of situations and experiences, and the classroom is central to the learning process for at least 12 years. The classroom experience is supposed to offer kids the stimuli and tools necessary to focus within a controlled environment, and eventually send them out into the world prepared to work, perhaps raise families, travel – whatever they choose to do with their proverbial oyster.

Now, consider the importance of the classroom environment to a child’s learning process. Researchers are finding that background noise and reverberation – much of which may not even be noticed by adults – adversely affects the learning environment of the classroom, particularly for younger children. Poor classroom acoustics add an extra burden to children with learning disabilities, speech impediments, and impaired hearing, even if the hearing impairment is temporary.

The harmful effect of noise on young children has been well documented. Apart from physiological hearing damage from prolonged exposure, a noisy environment can dull a child’s listening skills. Just as frightening, children exposed to noisy surroundings routinely can lose the ability to distinguish some of the subtle speech components essential to the mastery of language. In today’s noisy world, many children have come to accept noise as a natural element in their everyday activities at home, in school or daycare, and in public places. The classroom should provide an environmental model that facilitates communication for all children regardless of their backgrounds or handicaps, and that requires acoustically optimized surroundings.

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

Two important characteristics of an acoustically optimized classroom are a low background noise level and a low reverberation time. Classroom background noise may be caused by a heating/cooling ventilation (HVAC) unit, activity in an adjacent classroom or hallway, highway traffic or aircraft noise bleeding in from outside, student activity within the classroom, or any combination of these. Reverberation is the multiple reflections of sounds ricocheting off of hard surfaces within a room that can prolong and distort the original sound and interfere with speech intelligibility. It has the added effect of amplifying background noises, which compounds the problem.

A classroom with reverberant noise issues must be treated with sound absorbing material placed on top of the reflecting surfaces. Sound absorption also helps to reduce background noise levels and, by improving speech intelligibility, reduces the need for teachers to speak in raised voices in order to be heard by all pupils.

In Canada and Europe, workable classroom noise abatement policies have been in place for years, and the use of noise abatement materials is being implemented indoors, in addition to outdoor noise barrier fencing and structures to protect the  hearing of both children and teachers.

Many older concrete structured schools are the worst classroom noise offenders, and a variety of corrective noise absorbing and noise barrier solutions are available that work easily with many of these old structures. Corrective action may also require the installation of reverberant noise absorbing materials to the walls and ceilings too.

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

Obviously, a supportive acoustic environment is critical in any listening space, particularly the classroom where so much is at stake. Ideally, the acoustic quality of a classroom will enhance and project the teacher’s voice, have a subdued level of reverberation or echo, and prevent the intrusion of unwanted sound, whether from the traffic outdoors, trains, airplanes, the building’s mechanical and HVAC systems and noise in adjacent spaces.

When you consider that approximately 60 percent of all classroom learning activities involve students listening to and participating in spoken communications with the teacher and other students, the presence of any serious, continuous noise should be a priority for corrective measures to be taken. Yet noise remains far too prevalent in American schools.

According to the United States General Accounting Office, millions of students attend schools with unsatisfactory acoustical conditions. 21,900 schools exhibit poor acoustics or noise control, affecting more than 11 million students. Twenty-eight percent of all U.S. schools report unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory environmental noise conditions — higher than ventilation (27 percent), physical security (24 percent), indoor air quality (19 percent), heating (18 percent), or lighting (16 percent).

The excessive noise levels and lack of support for speech in these classrooms have failed countless students and led to difficulties in learning and instruction. The impediment these classrooms pose to learning is often under-appreciated by students, teachers, and administrators. In some cases, problems caused by poor acoustic conditions may have been falsely attributed to other factors (teacher performance, socio-economic factors, etc). The poor listening conditions in American classrooms results from a lack of understanding and awareness of the detrimental impact that noise and reverberation have on student learning.

Noise in Classrooms – Canadian Teachers Soon to be Sporting Hearing Protection?

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers – With concerns raised and studies forged in recent years on health and learning problems experienced by children exposed to loud noise, it should come as no surprise that teachers are falling victim to noise induced hearing loss, caused by long hours spent in high decibel classrooms and gymnasiums.

However, it does come as a surprise, at least to school district administrators in Canada who have been testing teachers yearly for hearing impairment. This year, officials say, is the first time they have noted a marked rise in hearing loss among teachers.

Winnipeg houses Canada’s largest school district (they call them divisions), and this is where the teachers with noted hearing loss first surfaced.

“It’s a warning sign to us that we need to do something,” Division Director Eugene Gerbasi recently told CBS News.  “If we don’t do something, individuals could potentially lose their hearing,” Gerbasi said.

So why no uproar about the children exposed to the same conditions as the teachers? They’re not at risk because they do not log the long hours, year after year, in gyms, band classes, shop classes and other high decibel classrooms. In some schools where teachers were tested, the loudest classes include choir, music, band, and industrial arts. However, the gym appears to be the worst culprit across the board, with noise levels routinely measured above 90 decibels.

Under Manitoba’s workplace legislation, noise levels cannot exceed 85 decibels.

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

The same problem affects teacher worldwide, and American teacher are expected to be exposed to similar noise overages as their Canadian peers, although many U.S. public schools no longer have the funds to support band, choir, and industrial art classes, and no evidence of routine hearing tests being performed on U.S. teachers could be found, American teachers who teach gym and band classes are reporting moderate to profound hearing loss over time, and many are candidates for cochlear implants.

However, prevention is the name of the game when it comes to noise pollution and protecting our hearing,

A study by researchers at the University of Toronto suggests that music teachers are routinely exposed to noise levels that could result in hearing loss. Gerbasi told CBS News that teachers and staff at the Winnipeg School Division will soon have to start wearing protective hearing devices.

Nick Dyck, a gym teacher for more than 20 years in the Winnipeg Division, says he has lost the ability to hear certain noise levels and participate readily in conversations because he has to strain to hear people. Dyck, now a physical education and health consultant for another Winnipeg school division, says he believes his hearing loss is related to the noise levels he experienced as a gym teacher for two decades.

Another study led by research associate Alberto Behar, and electrical and computer engineering professors Hans Kunov and Willy Wong, generate findings that exposure to general noise over the course of an eight hour day is marginally acceptable, elevated noise levels during teaching periods can cause damage to the inner ear.

“The hair cells of the inner ear simply crumble under the load, and they don’t grow back again,” Kunov explained.

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act caps acceptable noise levels at 90 decibels – the equivalent of a power lawn mower – for more than eight hours in any 24 hour period.  Noise levels on the job should not exceed 90 decibels -the equivalent of a power lawn mower-over eight hours of a 24-hour period.

In their study, Wong and his colleagues used noise dosimeters to measure noise exposure to 18 teachers from 15 Toronto high schools, and found that peak noise levels exceeded 85 dB for 78 per cent of the teachers. In an average eight-hour day exposed to these decibel levels, their findings stated that 39 per cent of the teachers in the study faced potentially harmful noise levels, and acoustics are as much to blame as the noise itself.

“The world is louder than we think,” Wong exclaimed while reviewing their findings.

Most classrooms are constructed of concrete blocks and linoleum flooring, which produces a highly reflective sound surface.  Wong said that schools should consider protective measures such as sound absorbing materials and carpet, and teachers might also want to wear protective earplugs and consider periodic hearing checks.

Children Exposed to Noise Experience a Multitude of Challenges

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers – Parents who hope to help their children adjust to the stress of everyday life may want to turn down the noise at home.

A Purdue University psychologist says children who come from highly noisy or chaotic households can experience delayed language skills and increased anxiety.

Theodore Wachs has studied environmental influences on early childhood development and helped create a questionnaire to help parents measure the level of “noise confusion” in their homes. Wachs says children need some quiet space at home and some sense of order. Otherwise they’re more likely to have trouble adjusting to changing environments outside the home, including school, socialization opportunities, and even ordinary outings to restaurants or religious services.

The effects of ongoing exposure to loud noise can vary with the temperament and sex of a child, according to Wachs.

“Those who have the most trouble are boys who are intense, fussy, or negative.”

Wachs recommends parents stop using the TV as a source of background noise and help their children establish a quiet place where the children can retreat, even if it’s a small room, a study, or a bedroom that is used only for quiet time.

Classroom Noise Concerns Researchers

The location of the family home can also have an effect; studies show that children who live in noisy areas, such as on on highly trafficked roadways, or close to busy airports have poorer reading skills than those in quieter areas, according to findings reported in the New Scientist.

Researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, suggest this is because children raised in noisy environments find it harder to recognize and understand human speech. A study compared 58 children who lived under a New York City airport flight path with 50 children from quiet neighborhoods void of chronic noise levels. Those children raised in noisy environments were found to have more trouble reading, and recognizing and understanding spoken words.

Like adults, children exposed to long periods of loud noise can also suffer higher anxiety levels than their peers raised in quieter surroundings, which can eventually lead to long term health issues, including hearing loss, high blood pressure, inability to concentrate, and other challenges.

There are options for creating quiet spaces in homes exposed to internal and external noise. For instance, despite their architectural appeal, ceiling heights are critical in determining acoustical integrity in homes, schools, daycare centers, and other spaces in which children spend time. Ceiling heights over 14 feet are the most problematic in terms of noise levels, as they offer no acoustical balance unless they are treated with high quality noise deadening material attached to the studs under the drywall during the construction process. Other products available that can be applied on top of the drywall have shown promising soundproofing results, although the best noise barrier material goes in during construction or renovations, under the drywall.

Chronic exposure to noise has been shown to be harmful to children of all ages. It can have especially detrimental effects on younger children when language and discrimination skills are forming. Often, major noise sources are not considered when it comes to designing the spaces used by children. Designers need to be more aware of noise issues when planning spaces that will be used by children. In child care centers, spaces must allow for the fact that children need to make noise, but the subsequent noise levels should not be harmful to them or others in the center.

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