CALM CLASSROOMS: CASE STUDIES
We asked two schools what they thought about changing education environments, and how acoustics could potentially impact student learning outcomes.
WOODLEIGH SCHOOL (VIC)
IN 2016, Woodleigh School in Victoria won the Learning Environments Australasia Award for the best new construction/major facility for its Homesteads development.
Principal Jonathan Walter puts this down to the flexibility of the space.
“I think it’s the bringing together of the social learning and the formal learning spaces. The fact that those two blend together [means] we’ve got enormous flexibility in the way that we can set up the learning environment,” he said.
Homesteads allow seamless integration between outside and inside.
“It makes for an incredibly calm and restful environment which is very productive for students,” Mr Walter said.
“The new facilities that we’ve built really respond to the environment, with passive solar and the natural light making them very habitable spaces.”
The key to managing acoustics in the space is flexibility; parts of the building can be shut off to create separate spaces, or all the doors can be withdrawn to accommodate 80 to 100 students.
“We thought very carefully about the acoustics. We engaged an acoustic engineer into the design and that was about putting in a lot of absorbing materials to make sure we had the sounds being sucked up,” Mr Walter said.
“There’s some features there around perforated ceiling panels which run right along the roof line with insulation behind them. They’ve been really successful; they really deaden a lot of the sound.”
Homesteads also features absorbent pin boards in many of the walls, soft furnishings, and a heavy set curtain that breaks off one of the spaces.
“There’s a combination of polished cement and carpet in the spaces, and the other main feature is a variation in ceiling heights – which means that we have the sound dissipating in different directions,” Mr Walter said.
“They’re all embedded into the building design itself so for teachers the noise is not a factor because it’s just part of good building design,” he said.
Mr Walter said the challenge for schools thinking of transitioning from traditional to open learning environments comes down to whether a change in the pedagogy or a change in the facility comes first.
“The learning has continued from teachers about how best to utilise the space. It’s encouraged significantly more collaboration between teachers because it provides opportunities for much more observable teaching,” he said.
“One of the important things about an education today is that it’s very social.
“Students can access their learning online but we need to promote ways for children to be able to interact together – also with staff in less formal settings – to build those relationships, and our spaces here provide that,” Mr Walter said.
NORTHERN BEACHES CHRISTIAN SCHOOL (NSW)
A building design that allows for a social interaction was also part of the plan at Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) in New South Wales.
Assistant Principal Culture, Pedagogy & Practice Lou Deibe said the school puts relationships at the centre of everything they do.
“We give our students a sense of belonging and a voice in their learning, encouraging their passions and developing their independence,” Ms Deibe said.
“Together, with our architectural partners WMK Architecture, we have realised a bold vision for our learning spaces. Instead of a typical classroom, our collaborative learning spaces are designed to foster positive relationships and self-directed learning, in a dynamic, flexible environment.”
NBCS believes that spaces need to adapt and inspire new possibilities for students learning.
“Spaces are created very intentionally to embody our student-led, community-based, creative approach to learning, closely replicating and preparing students for future work environments,” Ms Deibe said.
“Our core curriculum foundation is built around project-based, collaborative learning, which is supported by creative learning spaces that allow for endless configurations. Catering for a diverse variety of users at any one time.”
However, Ms Deibe said acoustics are a significant consideration for an open learning space.
“From the floors, to walls, surfaces and the ceiling – all work together to combat reverberation and maximise absorption of sound,” she said.
“The intentional design of our learning spaces ensures we soften noise levels, minimising disruption, while allowing student engagement and discussion to flourish in the space.”
WMK Architecture’s Dr Donna Wheatley said that the acoustic requirements relate to the primary definition of a classroom.
“A didactic style of teaching requires spaces of acoustic separation to enable students to focus on the content being delivered by a teacher,” she said.
“If a classroom is flipped, whereby the teaching space is for the application of content — either individually or groups — being comfortable with discussion will enable higher levels of knowledge sharing, and this requires higher levels of background noise.”
NBCS is all for an enquiry-based learning model and collaborative environment for teachers and students of multiple classes to work together harmoniously, but Ms Deibe said the assumption that a quiet classroom is a sign of learning happening isn’t necessarily true.
“We believe that noise and disruption is not necessarily negative – it can be a sign that genuine, authentic engagement with learning is occurring,” she said.
“We welcome disruption if it is fostering meaningful learning, unleashing students’ curiosity, drive and potential and giving them a voice.”
Perforated ceiling panels are used in the library at Northern Beaches Christian School (NSW).
Different ceiling heights can dissipate sound at Woodleigh School (VIC).
Acoustic engineers used absorbing materials at Woodleigh School (VIC).
Large flexible spaces can be used for different learning tasks at Northern Beaches Christian School (NSW).