Sound Audit: Evaluating Our Learning Spaces

Setting the Scene…

One of the challenges of learning spaces has always been noise levels; acoustic concerns continue to plague schools as they design innovative classroom setups and shared spaces. If you ask a group of teachers to share their opinion of the idea of breaking down walls to create a more flexible learning space, I guarantee that one of their primary concerns will be noise .

Well, while the classrooms of Oberoi International School remain fairly traditional, my classroom happens to be bordering what is commonly called the “Pit Area” – which is an enormous open space with a vaulting ceiling that opens up into the floor above. This space is where the majority of indoor recess occurs for primary students, as well as assemblies for senior kindergarten to fifth grade.

Needless to say, having such a noise-generating space right next to the IT Lab where my team works is challenging. Imagine trying to use the green screen for recording, or deliver instruction, have a meeting with so much happening just a few feet away.

The Proposal…

When our head of school, Neil McWilliam walked into my room several months ago and asked me to find and mentor a group of students capable of performing a sound audit; I not only thought it was a wonderful idea, but I was excited by the idea that our findings might inform real change. His vision was for this group of students to ultimately present their findings before the board of trustees. With the purpose of changing not only this campus but the currently in development building dubbed “OIS 2”.

I immediately set out to contact the fifth-grade teachers and gave them a brief regarding the project and asked them to send me the names of one boy and one girl from each class. I was looking for students who would be willing to take time out of their day to collect data, survey community members, measure sound levels, and more. I wanted kids who genuinely cared about creating a better learning space for future students.

The Process…

Once I had spoken to the teachers of fifth grade, I found myself with a list of twelve names. Six boys and six girls had been recommended to me by their teachers, and I began by contacting them and telling them to meet during their lunch break. By asking them to come in during their lunch, I already began to get an idea of who would be dedicated to the cause and who wouldn’t stick around.

We sat down together and talked about the purpose of our group and how we would begin to approach the problem. We decided that we would follow these steps:

  1. Survey: Create a survey using Google Forms which would target teachers and students of various grade levels in order to identify the spots where noise is an issue.
  2. Sampling: Gather sound sample data using an iPad app called Sound Meter+ which would measure the decibel level of the space. We would also collect the time of day, date, and more information in order to paint a complete picture.
  3. Recommendations: After collecting the data, we would review it and begin to build our recommendations for the board.
  4. Presentation: We would present our findings to the board in a compelling format that would help them understand the gravity of the situation.

The Product…

We followed the steps detailed above and ultimately discovered some incredibly loud areas, which are definitely above safe levels. We then created a presentation using Prezi and showed it to the board. The students gave the presentation independently and successfully. The adults in the room were stunned by their confidence and comfort speaking to them about a topic they found important.

You can look at the Prezi here.


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