6 ways to improve your school with interior design
Curriculum is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think of education. More often, curriculum is considered the most important part of education. But what if there was something else keeping many of your students from learning certain subjects or skills? Sensory stimulation from the physical space can both enhance and detract from the learning process of a young child (Day & Midbjer, 2007). How the classroom looks can also greatly impact what is learned and who is able to fully absorb the material.
In a 2009 Stanford study, students visited a computer lab that was decorated by researchers with the stereotypical “computer geek” gear (think Star Trek posters and video games). Other times the computer lab had a neutral office environment (like plants and general interest books). When women took the survey in the stereotypical computer enthusiast lab, they were less likely on average to say they wanted to pursue a career in the field. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “ambient belonging.”
Similarly, not only can classroom decoration influence learning, so do basic physical elements of a room. Conditions such as lighting, noise, temperature, and air quality are other important elements of classroom design often overlooked. Unfortunately, decent conditions for these elements are sorely lacking in many US public schools, and more often than not, bad conditions persist in low-income schools. Go beyond decent conditions to the idea of stimulating conditions and you realize that most learning environments are not making the grade.
So how exactly do you go about designing your school to improve the educational experience of all your students? Here are a few practical ways you can design a better classroom.
Amp Up Natural Lighting
Often, we only worry about whether there is enough light for students to easily see. However, according to one study, more natural lighting helps students perform anywhere from 2% to 26% higher. While you may not be able to change the design of your building to have more windows, you can certainly ditch the fluorescent lighting in your classrooms that lack natural lighting. Fluorescent lighting tends to have a green cast to the light. Choose bulbs with a warm yellow glow to mimic natural sunlight.
Design Seating by Task
It is important to design seating arrangements to fit the task at hand. Some classrooms will benefit more for the lecture style rows while other rooms will benefit from arranging the seats in clusters for a more collaborative style. There are some gender preferences as well. One study found that women felt more at ease in the social, collaborative arrangements. It is important to work directly with teachers so they can help decide what arrangement would benefit their classrooms the most, based on teaching style and gender ratio.
While on the subject of seating, it is important to have comfortable desks and chairs. A student’s level of comfort directly impacts their ability to focus and learn. Choose school furniture that is ergonomic but that can also be easily moved around to meet the different needs of the classroom.
The Impact of Color
It has been found that color can have a major impact on a person’s mood and state of mind. When choosing classroom color, be cognizant of the mood you are trying to set as well as the age of your students. Studies have found that warm colors that can help you feel energized are better for younger learners while cool tones that help a person to relax are better for older learners. No matter what, the key is to create balance. You don’t want to create a space that is overly energizing or a space that will put your students to sleep.
Objects and Decorations for Performance and Inclusivity
When decorating a classroom, it is important to think about performance as well as inclusivity. Busy walls can be distracting to younger learners, like Kindergartners. It is important to find balance when decorating the classroom. You want the decor to be stimulating, but not overstimulating. Factors, such as age, can play a big part in how you decide what is the right balance. Make sure to think about the students themselves. The decor in special education rooms will be different from that of your other classrooms, depending on your special education students and their personal needs.
Most importantly, the setting of a classroom has a huge influence on whether students feel comfortable and included in the learning environment. This is most true for women and students of color. For example, male teachers or assistants who signaled a positive attitude toward women left female students feeling more comfortable about how they were being graded. If you are decorating a room with posters of various leaders, it is important to include both men and women leaders, as well as people of color. Mascots that decorate a school’s walls can also affect learning. Mascots should not portray stereotypical likenesses. Not only are these unrealistic, but they can also affect how that group of students view themselves in academic achievement.
Many teachers, especially at the elementary school level, will adorn the walls and hallways with their students’ own work. This is a form of celebrating the students themselves. Make sure that you display the work of all of your students and not just the “best” work.
Take it a step further and let students help decorate their own classroom. Not only can this can be used as a way to get students interacting and collaborating with one another, but it can also make them feel proud and encourage a sense of community.
Environmental Factors to Improve
Also of note, the general environment in your school can heavily influence learning. Consider improving the air quality, temperature and noise levels in your school. With respect to students and teachers, low air quality can lead to more student absences and affect how well a teacher performs their duties. Reducing distracting noises, such as noisy traffic, is vital to helping students retain classroom material. Comfortable room temperature also impacts a student’s ability to focus and learn. Optimal learning generally occurs between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit.
The greatest takeaway is knowing that how your classrooms look and feel can have a significant impact on your students’ abilities to learn. Lighting, furniture, colors, and decor all play a huge role in the look and feel of the classroom. Not sure where to begin? Start small and see the positive change in your students’ success, engagement and overall eagerness to learn.
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