I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where Professor Stephen Heppell was talking. He was described by Bournemouth University as, “a world expert on contemporary learning, specialising in online education and learning spaces”. Learning spaces were the focus of his talk, and in turn this blog, hence the title.
I was very interested in what he said for two important reasons. Firstly, his suggestions were rooted in educational research with evidence to back up their effectiveness. Secondly, many of his suggestions seemed like exactly the sort of thing I could go back to my classroom and have a go at right away. We work so hard as education professionals that any marginal gains on offer should be snapped up to maximise outcomes. That extra 5% can make all the difference.
Following Prof. Heppell’s presentation, and back at school, I began a conversation with my class about how we could improve our learning environment.
To begin with, we looked at light levels in the classroom. I downloaded a free luxmeter with the aim of measuring the levels of light in our classroom. 500 lux was our target for close work like writing. We found that with the blinds down (which help to regulate the temperature from our large, south-facing windows, as well as eliminating the bright glare) the light levels were well below 200 lux. We opened the blinds. It got hotter. We opened some windows. That was fine.
The real problem was the glare in children’s eyes every time they tried to look up. Certain times of day are better than others, but there are times we have to concede and close the blinds. However, if the children are all reading or writing for anything more than a couple of minutes, we agree it’s best to have the blinds open. This may be more of a problem in the Summer months. We will continue to look at arrangements of tables chairs to see how we can improve.
To monitor sound I downloaded an app to record decibel levels, anything above 72 decibels starts to became disruptive according to heppell.net. This is useful to know, and a quantifiable number that can be monitored by the class. However, when it comes to motivating the class to control their volume, they really enjoy trying to stop the balls/emojis/bubbles/eyeballs from moving on bouncyballs.org.
CO2 levels are a little harder to monitor but can be damaging to children’s levels of concentration. The children suggested opening windows during break and lunch times to let more oxygen in. This is a good idea and will have some effect, but as CO2 is a heavy gas, and windows open at head height, the levels will stay at a unhealthy level for much of the day. So they agreed we needed some plants. Green ones. In the few days since this conversation, two plants have been brought in and donated to the class by two different. Not very big ones. But it’s a start, and really proves how keen the children are to create the best possible space for learning they can. One of the plants has even been named. The class are becoming quite attached. We best look after it.
The temperature in our classroom can fluctuate widely during the day as we have high ceilings with very large, south-facing windows down one side (the south-side). However, we can easily manage it by opening windows, closing blinds etc. The target is between 18 and 21 degrees, and sometimes, we manage to hit that temperate for more than 5 minutes at a time.
Professor Heppell also extolled the virtues of the shoe-less classroom. Something I have experienced before, but mostly with a view to improve behaviour. Evidence does suggest that this is indeed the case but there are also many other benefits. The children feel more comfortable and relaxed and in turn perform better. Simple really. The children in my class really enjoyed taking their shoes off and all said they felt more comfortable and relaxed. The problem came when I started to tell my colleagues about it and they explained we couldn’t do that for health and safety reasons, in case the fire alarm went off. My search for a solution to this problem goes on.
There is much to consider as future refurbishments and renovations are planned over coming years. But in the short term, and with our very limited budget there are a few things I plan to do.
I’ve been really encouraged by the children’s engagement with the ideas around how to make their learning environment better for themselves. They have a real sense of ownership about monitoring our environment and making the necessary changes to improve it. In the coming weeks I plan to introduce light, sound, CO2 and temperature monitors who will track the data and help suggest changes accordingly.
To find out more about Professor Stephen Heppell and his work visit www.heppell.net.