Updated: Aug 12
Schools play a crucial role in shaping the lives and futures of students. While curriculum and teaching methods are vital, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the impact of school design on student performance. A well-designed educational environment can have a profound influence on student learning, engagement, and overall well-being, including important safety measures. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of school design and how it can positively affect student performance and safety.
Over the last 15 years, evidence has been accumulating on the relationship between environments and users health, and in 2020, a group of researchers (Manca, et al., 2020) conducted a comprehensive, systematic review of 1307 studies focused on the effect of the educational environment design on students and teachers performance, satisfaction, and wellbeing. The overall results indicated that a series of school features of both internal and external spaces should be used to fit with users needs and improve learning experiences.
Data showed the use of a pleasant, warm and flexible learning space in both influencing students well being and enhancing their academic marks, even though the presence of open spaces may also have a negative effect on students attention and sense of privacy. To increase the level of comfort, satisfaction, and performance, several studies identified the importance of designing classrooms with specific colors, pictures, and ergonomic furniture, also paying attention to the levels of acoustic, thermal comfort, ventilation, and natural lighting.
Furthermore, to improve students learning and wellbeing, researchers recommended an integration of both indoor and outdoor learning. Green spaces showed relevant positive effects both on scholastic and social aspects.
In the long term, the results could reduce the number of students who leave early, increase the wellbeing of pupils with specific learning disorders, promote positive social interactions and integration, and aid in the prevention of teachers burnout. The recent trends suggest that classic old style schools are likely to disappear to leave room to new learning environments in the future.
5 Key Factors in Classroom Design
1. Creating a Positive Learning Environment
A well-designed school fosters a positive learning environment that encourages student engagement and motivation. Various factors, including ample natural light, comfortable temperature control, and effective acoustics, contribute to creating a conducive atmosphere. In cases where natural light is insufficient, the introduction of ambient lighting can be beneficial. Moreover, thoughtful classroom layouts, featuring flexible seating arrangements and collaborative spaces, promote interaction and active participation, enabling students to thrive academically. It is important to consider the preferred learning styles of students when designing workspaces. Ask yourself, "How do my students prefer to work? Are they comfortable sitting or lying on the floor, standing, sitting at large tables to spread out, working independently, or in groups?"
2. Enhancing Cognitive Function
School design can influence cognitive function and information processing. Studies have shown that elements such as color schemes, visual stimuli, and the use of natural materials can enhance attention span, memory retention, and creativity. Strategic placement of educational resources, such as books, technology, and educational displays, helps stimulate curiosity and encourages exploration, leading to improved learning outcomes. Limit stimuli and avoid clutter. Use real art on the walls and use a limited amount of topical posters.
Here are some colors known for their positive effects on student performance:
Blue: Blue is often associated with calmness, focus, and concentration. It can help create a serene and peaceful atmosphere in the classroom, promoting a sense of tranquility and reducing stress levels. Light shades of blue are particularly effective in creating a soothing environment.
Green: Green is known to have a restorative and refreshing effect on the mind. It is associated with balance, harmony, and growth. Incorporating shades of green in the classroom can help improve concentration, relieve eye strain, and promote a sense of well-being. It is especially beneficial when used in combination with natural elements, such as plants or nature-themed artwork.
Yellow: Yellow is a vibrant and energizing color that stimulates creativity and positivity. It can help enhance mood, increase focus, and encourage active participation. However, it's important to use yellow in moderation, as excessive exposure to bright shades of yellow may cause overstimulation or eye fatigue.
Orange: Orange is an invigorating color that stimulates enthusiasm and creativity. It can evoke a sense of warmth and excitement, making it a great choice for collaborative spaces or areas where students engage in hands-on activities. However, like yellow, it should be used sparingly to avoid overwhelming the senses.
Neutral tones: Neutral colors, such as beige, gray, or soft pastels, can create a calming and balanced environment. They serve as a backdrop that complements other vibrant elements in the classroom, such as educational displays or student work. Neutral colors also provide versatility, allowing teachers to personalize the space with colorful accents or change the overall theme as needed.
3. Supporting Health and Well-being
A well-designed school prioritizes the health and well-being of its students and staff by adopting a biophilic design approach. This includes incorporating green spaces, outdoor learning areas, and gardens, which not only enhance the aesthetic appeal but also promote physical activity, reduce stress levels, and improve overall mental health. It is important to bring nature into the classroom as well, by introducing plants and utilizing natural resources like wood for furniture. Additionally, ensuring proper ventilation, access to clean air and water, and using environmentally friendly materials all contribute to creating a healthier and safer learning environment.
4. Fostering Collaboration and Socialization
Effective school design plays a crucial role in promoting collaboration and socialization among students. According to Educational Adaptive Spaces by Ruppenthal, three trending designs are the untethered classroom, the spontaneous classroom, and the technical education classroom. These designs incorporate flexible furniture and technology, along with open spaces, common areas, and shared learning spaces, to facilitate teamwork, group projects, and peer-to-peer interaction. Furthermore, the inclusion of breakout rooms, quiet study areas, and resource centers provides students with opportunities for independent learning, research, and reflection. Such design elements are instrumental in fostering the development of essential interpersonal and communication skills.
5. Addressing Individual Learning Needs
Every student has unique learning needs, and school design can play a crucial role in addressing these requirements. Inclusive design practices, such as ramps, elevators, and accessible facilities, ensure that all students can navigate the school environment comfortably. Additionally, designated spaces for specialized education, such as laboratories, art studios, and music rooms, cater to diverse learning styles and interests in career fields, allowing students to explore their passions and talents.
In an interview with architect Mary Ruppenthal on The Brighter Side of Education Podcast (2023), Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal, Ruppenthal discussed safety and how she is addressing the concern. She recommends creating a clear single point of entry and having perimeters that can be surveyed, either using the building as the perimeter. Ruppenthal stated, "In more dense environments, so you don't just have fencing around the school, but also using storefront systems that look a little bit more welcoming." Additionally, she suggests ensuring that there are multiple ways out of a classroom.
Furthermore, there is a lot of talk around the idea of communities fostering transparency. Is transparency better than closed? Ruppenthal stated, "We advocate for more openness, the ability to see each other, to see what's coming, as well as the idea that many districts really advocate for what's called small learning communities, where even in a large school, you have these learning communities." These communities might be focused around different kinds of curriculum in high school or by grouping buildings and classrooms in elementary education to create a small learning community.
Is there an ideal number of students in a community? Ruppenthal believes it's 250 because "everyone still kind of knows each other and can keep track of each other." She added, "It's the idea of relational safety, creating communities where everyone can feel included, and also creating a larger campus community that truly focuses on inclusion and belonging." This allows the ability to identify people who may be feeling alienated or falling through the cracks. Ruppenthal concluded with, "I think that kind of visibility and openness, focusing on inclusion and belonging, and creating spaces that support community."
School design is a vital aspect of education that significantly influences student performance. A well-designed learning environment can create a positive atmosphere, enhance cognitive function, support student well-being, foster collaboration, and address individual learning needs. By investing in thoughtful school design, we can provide students with an engaging and conducive environment that maximizes their potential, promotes academic success, prepares them for the future, and keeps them safe. As we continue to shape the future of education, let us remember the crucial role that school design plays in creating an enriching and empowering educational experience for all students.
Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal on The Brighter Side of Education podcast
Educational Adaptive Spaces by Mary Ruppenthal
Three School Building Trends That Are Setting the Curve by Mary Ruppenthal
Manca, Sara & Cerina, Veronica & Tobia, Valentina & Sacchi, Simona & Fornara, Ferdinando. (2020). The Effect of School Design on Users’ Responses: A Systematic Review (2008–2017). Sustainability. 12. 3453. 10.3390/su12083453.
Ruppenthal, M. (2023). Educational Adaptive Spaces. HED. Retrieved from https://www.hed.design/sites/default/files/2023-04/HED_Educational%20Adaptive%20Spaces.pdf
Ruppenthal, M. (2023, March 28). Three School Building Trends That Are Setting the Curve. School Construction News. Retrieved from https://schoolconstructionnews.com/2023/03/28/three-school-building-trends-that-are-setting-the-curve/
Hassler, L. R. (Host). (2023, June 29). Current School Building Trends and Safety Measures with Architect Mary Ruppenthal [Audio podcast episode]. In The Brighter Side of Education. Retrieved from https://www.buzzsprout.com/2048018/13119065.