Schools need to be designed with the whole community in mind including safety, cognition, curiosity, economics, mood, attendance, ecology and other social factors. Aesthetically pleasant, attractive, colorful, comfortable and engaging to the senses is brain-compatible. Jensen predicts that more and more, traditional classrooms will give way to multipurpose “learning studios” or “zones” -places where children can engage in specialized task-specific activities together.
Components of a sustainable school include protecting the environment, channelizing daylight into classrooms to minimize the use of artificial light, using recycled products and material and incorporating the school’s design into the academic program. It gives teachers a host of meaningful resources to illustrate lessons in math, reading, writing and especially science. “The school design has not only enhanced the environment for learning, but it’s also a part of it,” says Jensen. Moreover, schools need to be “socially smart, cognitively supportive, emotionally safe and environmentally friendly.
What feeling do students get when they walk into your room?
- Caring attitude from a teacher is accepting of diversity: culture, gender, race, and class.
- Scientists know that the learning brain does not respond well to real or imagined threats of harm. Such environments trigger the amygdala (the brain’s fear and emotional response center)”. Maximum attention ought to be given to creating an engaging, interesting and safe environment.
- Peripheral displays impact students on the subconscious level. Motivational posters are great.
- Be aware and try to repair – “Schools with shattered windows, broken-down restrooms, leaky roofs, insufficient lighting and overcrowding have a significant negative impact on cognition. Such conditions are frequently found in many of our nation’s schools and unfortunately, far too many children, especially those in rural or poor urban areas, are schooled in dilapidated, crowded facilities.”
- Staff Areas – Teachers and other academic personnel need comfortable spaces where they can get away from the hustle and bustle, to think, relax, plan and reflect.
A leaf out of Eric Jensen’s Environments for Learning
- AROMA & ODOR – Research suggests that peppermint, basil, lemon, cinnamon and rosemary enhance mental alertness while lavender, chamomile and orange and rose calm nerves and encourage relaxation. “Alan Hirsch (1993), a Chicago neurologist, found that certain floral odors increased subjects’ ability to learn, create and think”. Unpleasant odors , on the other hand are known to inhibit learning. Olfaction (the neuroscience of smell) influences our moods and levels of anxiety, fear, hunger, depression.
- COLOUR – Colour can enhance moods, emotions and behaviors – and possibly cognition. Our reaction to color is a complex combination of biology, physics and psychology, (Trussel, 1997)
- CLUTTER-FREE – clutter-free may be the way to be according to Zen or even contemporary minimalist design. We do however know that too much clutter is bad. How would one concentrate on a messy desk or disorganization filled environment. Your classroom should convey a feeling of confidence, joy and curiosity. Make sure any learning environment is physically neat before each learning session.
- IONIZATION – When the electrical charge in the air is too positive, it can cause you to feel groggy, lethargic, sleepy or depressed. On the flipside, do you remember feeling fresh and energized just after a shower, by a waterfall, atop a mountain or when you have stepped outside after rainfall? These would be the benefits of negative ionization. Unfortunately, in areas of higher population, the atmosphere’s healthy balance of positive to negative ions can be disrupted. “Human activity, it seems, destroys negative ions and ultimately reduces the amount of oxygen in the air. Smoke, dust, smog, pollutants, electrical emissions, heating systems, coolers and traffic exhaust are all culprits. The air becomes too highly electrified (too many positive ions) and the human reaction is counterproductive to learning”. Ionizers are available in the market.
- LIGHT – Unfortunately, the amount of our exposure to outdoor light has diminished over the last century. As we know, research states that ultraviolet light, present only outdoors, activates the synthesis of vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium (MacLaughlin, et al. 1982). Natural sunlight is best for learning. Fluorescent lights have been shown to increase cortisol levels, a change likely to suppress the immune system. Low light makes close work difficult on the eyes and nervous system.
- NOISE – Noise may have physiological implications. Children in nosier areas have been found to have higher blood pressure, heart rates and elevated stress levels – factors that aren’t conductive to learning. Scientists know that excessive chronic stress causes the brain to release abnormal levels of cortisol, a hormone that finds receptors in the hippocampus, a brain important to memory and learning.”
- PLANTS – Not only do plants provide a green aesthetic touch, they also help filter the air of toxins and increase oxygenation. Jensen suggests the learning environment should include four-eight plants. In a study, the US Federal Clean Air Council found that plants raised indoor oxygen levels and increased productivity by 10%. A single plant can increase productivity in 100 square feet of space! On the other hand, stale air starves the brain. For optimal learning, provide your learners with fresh, uncontaminated, highly oxygenated air.
- POINT on POLLUTION – Pollution combined with urban noise and overcrowding also causes stress and other physical symptoms and may impact cognition. “Research is revealing that these invisible toxins can have a detrimental effect on cognition in young learners.
- SENSES – Opportunity for sensory stimulation – things to hear, touch, see and smell is essential. “When it comes to creating the optimal educational environment, we can learn a lot by giving a thought to what students see, hear, feel, smell, breathe and taste in the places dedicated to their learning,” says Jensen.