Historically, relatively few pupil centric design principles were used in the construction of classrooms. In 19th century Britain, one of the few common considerations was to try orientate new buildings so the class windows faced north as much as possible, while avoiding west or southern facing windows, as in Britain northern light causes less glare. Desks were often arranged in columns and rows, with a teacher’s desk at the front, where he or she would stand and lecture the class. Little color was used for fear of distracting the children. In the 1950s and 60s cheap and harsh fluorescent lights were sometimes used, which could cause eyestrain. Research has suggested that optimal use of daylight, acoustics, color selection and even the arrangement of the furniture in the classroom can affect pupils academic success.
The use of daylight in school buildings is not a new concept. In Great Britain, a common principle in the 19th century was to avoid glare by having as many of the class's windows facing north as possible. From the early 20th century there was greater emphases on the importance of daylight but less concern about glare, so west and south facing windows became more common. From 1945 regulations were put in place mandating a minimal 2% penetration of daylight into British classrooms. In the US, regulations on the amount of lighting were introduced in the late 1950s. Until the 1960s, air conditioning was not used, so windows provided not only sunlight, but necessary air circulation as well. With the advent of air conditioning, school buildings were built with many classrooms that did not include windows. High ceilinged rooms lit with daylight were eventually replaced with generic "shoebox classrooms."  Several studies done on elementary school students attempt to measure student performance in classrooms where daylight is present when compared to classrooms without daylight.
Classrooms with skylights rather than windows have been studied for several reasons. Windows provide a view, which may be distracting, as well as introduce air quality issues that are not a problem with skylights. A study found that the use of skylights improved test scores in reading by 8.8 points and in math by 12.3 points. This translates to a 19% faster learning rate for reading and a 20% faster learning rate for math. The average elementary school child will increase 1 to 1.5 points per month on test scores in math and reading in a classroom with no daylighting. The same child will improve twice as fast, gaining 2 to 3 points per month in a classroom that includes daylight.
The acoustics of the classroom are very often overlooked, but are an important part of the success of a child. Choosing only materials that cause sound to reverberate, such as tile floors and hard wall surfaces, greatly increases noise levels and can prove detrimental to learning. One study of hyperactive versus control groups of children found that white noise has no impact on either group, but that auditory stimulation such as distant conversations or music has a negative effect on both groups of students. Children with attention deficit disorder scored higher on tests when white noise was being pumped into the classroom than when music was played. The control group of children as well as the hyperactive group of children averaged the same test scores when there was no sound as when white noise was being played.
By utilizing soft surfaces, especially on the floor, the sounds within and outside of the classroom will be diminished, taking away from the distractions facing students and improving not just the test scores of hyperactive children, but those without attention deficit disorder as well. Although carpet is an obvious choice for sound absorption, it may not be suitable for high traffic areas like hallways. In such cases, other sound absorbing materials, such as cork, can be used. The use of sound absorbing ceiling tiles may also be a wise choice for areas where carpet cannot be used for practical purposes.
Color theory refers to the psychological effects color has on the human body. Red is said to increase both aggression and appetite, a poor combination for a school’s interior. Yellow increases adrenaline levels and is also undesirable for a school setting. Blue supposedly calms the brain, which is a positive for the classroom. However, blue also is associated with cold and sadness and elongates the sense of time, which would make a blue classroom tortuous for students (Vodvarka, 1999). Warm colors are often favored by students, making them more alert and increasing brain activity, which helps in increasing test scores. Cool colors had the opposite effect. By balancing warm and cool colors, bright and subdued, a pleasing effect can be achieved that will reduce absenteeism in schools and keep the students focused on what the teacher is saying. Test scores go up when children are not in a stark white environment, which can feel sterile and cold.
Traditionally, classrooms have had one setup: straight rows of desks facing the front of the classroom. While this keeps attention focused on the teacher, it does not allow for group work or discussion. One study found that students who sat at desks arranged in a circle were more likely to listen actively and participate in discussions, and less likely to withdraw from the group. However, more instances of on-task, out-of-order comments were recorded. In rows, students respond less during discussion, but are also less disruptive. Instances of cheating went up when desks were placed in clusters and down when placed in a circle. When the children can see everything around them, except their neighbor’s paper, when desks are in a circular pattern, they rely more on their own knowledge and that confidence causes test scores to rise when compared with scores when desks are arranged in clusters or rows.
Another classroom seating alternative would be the use of tables instead of desks. Desks often have small writing spaces that do not allow room for students to comfortably write. Desktops usually have room for only one notebook or one book. This can be a disadvantage to a student who needs to look at more than one object while a teacher is lecturing. Also, it can be a great discomfort if there is not enough room for students to comfortably take notes. Tables allow students to spread out their learning materials and sit comfortably. As for small group discussions, tables can provide great spaces for two to four person discussion groups. However, tables can also be a disadvantage in the classroom when a teacher would like the students to move into a circle for an activity or discussion.
Technology is another important part of the classroom arrangement. Schools used to have one computer lab that served the entire school only at certain times of the week. Computers in the classroom itself increase interest in learning and awareness of the importance of what is being taught. Children are less likely to feel that a subject is archaic if the teacher uses new technological instructional techniques, increasing the students’ interest in learning something new. A study shows that children taught with the integration of technology improved in testing significantly over those who did not.
- ^ a b DFE (1994). Passive Solar Schools - A Design Guide. HMSO. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0112708765.
- ^ a b Loveland, Joel. More Daylight Means Healthier Environment Retrieved 2010-30-04.
- ^ a b Heschong, Wright, Okura (2002), "Daylighting Impacts on Human Performance in School", Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, http://www.lightingcontrols.com/campus/pdfs/IESNA_paper41_schools.pdf
- ^ Lisa Heschong (1999), Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship between Daylighting and Human Performance., http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/16/66/41.pdf
- ^ Zentall, Sydney S.; Shaw, Jandira H. (December 1980), "Effects of classroom noise on performance and activity of second-grade hyperactive and control children", Journal of Educational Psychology 72 (6): 830–840, doi:10.1037/0022-0618.104.22.1680, http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/edu/72/6/830/
- ^ Jago, Elizabeth, Comp.; Tanner, Ken, Comp. (April 1999), Influence of the School Facility on Student Achievement: Lighting; Color, http://www.coe.uga.edu/sdpl/researchabstracts/visual.html
- ^ Fielding, Randall (March 2006), "What They See Is What They Get: Ten Myths about Lighting and Color in Schools", Edutopia 2 (2): 28–30, http://www.edutopia.org/what-they-see-what-we-get
- ^ Color Theory for Classrooms and Schools, National Institute of Building Sciences, http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/color.cfm
- ^ Rosenfield, Peter; Lambert, Nadine M.; Black, Allen (February 1985), "Desk arrangement effects on pupil classroom behavior", Journal of Educational Psychology 77 (1): 101–108, doi:10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.124, http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/edu/77/1/101/
- ^ Hopson, M. H., Simms, R. L., & Knezek, G. A. (2002), "Using a technology-enriched environment to improve higher-order thinking skills", Journal of Research on Technology in Education 34 (2): 109–119
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