The Unsung Superhero of Education

The Unsung Superhero of the ClassroomWe all want the best for our children, and one of the most important ways we can help the next generation is by ensuring that they are receiving the highest quality education they can. But what if I told you there is an element to education that most people overlook when discussing ways to change education, even though it has been proven to improve behavior and focus, reduce disruptions and increase reading speed and learning capacity?

Though often overlooked, classroom environment plays a crucial role in students’ abilities to focus and learn. Think about it. If you want to be really focused and productive, where do you go? All people – children included – have different learning styles, and they are very much affected by the environments in which we learn. That is why it is essential that educators take the time to learn about all the ways lighting can impact a classroom, both positively and negatively.

First, let’s talk about color temperature. Color temperature is something that many educators don’t know to watch out for, but it can have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of a classroom as a learning environment. The warmth or coolness of light is measured in degrees Kelvin, where higher temperatures (above 3,500 Kelvin) equate with cooler, more vividly white light, and lower temperatures (below 3,500 Kelvin) are warmer and more yellow. Research has shown that full-spectrum, cool white light is best for encouraging concentration in a classroom, so swapping out outdated fixtures for newer technology could be a great start to better classroom lighting.

Although fluorescent fixtures are popular in schools, the way they flicker (often imperceptibly) has been linked with eye strain, fatigue and headaches, all of which contribute to poor concentration. For this reason, LEDs are a better option in places like classrooms and offices. Not only do they reduce fatigue, but they are extremely energy efficient, long-lasting, and often capable of changing their color temperature or dimming in brightness. These qualities make this type of light a fantastic investment for a classroom environment.

All over the world, educators have used lighting technology to aid student focus and behavior. Many of these experiments have been wildly successful: for example, elementary schools in Hamburg, Germany saw a 35% increase in reading speed and a 76% decrease in hyperactivity when they began using the Philips’ SchoolVision lighting system. Another great example of the positive impact strategic lighting can have comes from a Las Vegas elementary school. When the school’s fluorescent lights were replaced with LEDs for a little girl with a disease that made her sensitive to UV rays, behavior and test scores improved in the school as a whole. The lights enhanced performance by enhancing visibility – all while the school’s average monthly energy bill decreased by about $500!

But what if changing the lights isn’t an option for you? If you’re restricted by budget or rank, there are still ways you can adjust the lighting in your classroom to get the most out of your students. One of the most important rules of lighting is easy to follow: DON’T MIX COLOR TEMPERATURES! Similar to flickering fluorescents, contrasting lights can be a source of fatigue and distraction. The actual degree of color temperature is not nearly as important as the consistency of color temperature. There are few things more uncomfortable than a room with clashing color temperatures, so do your best to make sure your light sources match. This will not only look a lot nicer, but it can have a tangible impact on student concentration.

Task lighting can be very benefitial to students, especially if a child has a visual impairment that necessitates a brighter environment. Try to position the lights (or the students) so that the task lighting is on the opposite side of their dominant (writing) side. This ensures that their writing arm won’t block the light, and distracting shadows won’t affect their work.

Teachers should try to avoid standing in front of lights or windows when talking, because these can easily distract or bother students. Though it can be difficult, students will focus and learn better when the teacher eliminates as many distractions as possible. And who among us hasn’t caught themselves drifting in a daydream out a window, whether interested in the topic at hand or not?

There are many programs and initiatives for better classroom lighting in place, though many are local to specific regions. Have you heard of any neat programs geared towards smart classroom lighting? Let us know in the comments!

Deanna Alrutz

Deanna was our E-Commerce Marketing Specialist in 2013.