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Environmental Effects on Education
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Environmental Effects on Education

A Peer Reviewed Journal - ISSN 1499-819X

Volume 7, Number 6

January 30, 2004

© 2004 Sherry Obenauer and EGallery

Environmental Effects on Education

A Semester 1 Independent Inquiry

By Sherry Obenauer 

For Stephen Jeans

Environmental Effects on Education

Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and education experts have spent years uncovering how children develop emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, behaviorally, and socially. Likewise, a similar amount of time has been spent developing, compiling and revising elementary, junior high, and senior high school curricula. Extensive time has been devoted to uncovering and defining those teaching techniques and styles found to be most conducive to student learning and development. Politicians and various stakeholders have included their own viewpoints regarding the educational system currently in existence in Canada and they have allocated resources and funding based on school, student, and teacher requirements; at least according to the politicians' and stakeholders' definitions of learning "requirements.

How much do we know about the environmental impacts on student learning? Specifically, what factors in the classroom environment affect student learning? Does seating arrangement have any implication in how children learn? Do various wall decorations, including the use of educational posters, graphs, charts, mobiles, and student work correlate with what and how much students learn? What are the effects of music and aroma therapy on student growth and development in the classroom? How does the use of live animals, plants, drinking water, fresh air, color, music, aromas, and lighting influence classroom learning?

Student Learning

Howard Gardner, a renowned psychologist and professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, claims that all human beings have nine multiple intelligences that can be nurtured and strengthened, or ignored and weakened. These intelligence types are defined below.

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence refers to well-developed verbal skills and a sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words. 
  2. Mathematical-logical intelligence is the ability to think conceptually and abstractly and the capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns. 
  3. Musical intelligence is the ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber. 
  4. Visual-spatial intelligence refers to the capacity to think in images and pictures and to visualize accurately and abstractly. 
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully. 
  6. Interpersonal intelligence refers to the capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others. 
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to be self-aware and in tune with one’s inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes. 
  8. Naturalist intelligence is the ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature. 
  9. Existential intelligence refers to the sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why we die, and how we got here. 
According to traditional definition, intelligence is conceptualized as being a uniform cognitive capacity at birth. This capacity can be easily measured by short-answer tests according to those who adhere to this definition. An educational system based on national standards and efficient, relatively inexpensive, universal multiple choice testing is central to the traditional concept of intelligence. Such testing qualifies students for special services such as programs for the gifted or for those with particular learning disabilities. However, such testing often results in labeling students, which is evident in today's school system. 

More than ever before students are assigned a number based on such narrow testing measures, which is then used to develop an independent personal program (IPP) for the student that is intended to address and satisfy the child's specific learning needs. However, school staffs are experiencing an increasing urgency to label more and more children as having special learning needs in order to receive much needed funding. This coupled with an apparent increase in the number of children prescribed Ritalin for presumed attention deficit disorder (Griffin, 1998; Pallarito, 2003) leads me to question the validity of such testing to begin with. I wonder if narrowly defining intelligence, then measuring it using a specific type of testing in order to code children really can then be used as justification for further government funding - is this really serving the needs of children at all (Dean, 2002; Dingle & West, 2002)?

There are numerous ways to express oneself and there are even more ways to gain knowledge and understanding of the universe. Teachers are able to see that visual arts, music and dance can be just as valuable to students' understanding of the world they live in as traditional academic subjects. Numerous teachers and administrators have applied aspects of multiple intelligence theory in their classrooms and schools (Robertson, 1998). Drawing a picture, composing, or listening to music, and/or watching a theatrical performance are activities that can be a vital door to learning, yet are sadly ignored and undervalued in society. This is evidenced by the loss of such programs when there are funding cuts. Hetland (2000) showed that many students who perform poorly on traditional tests are invigorated and enthusiastic learners when classroom experiences incorporate artistic, athletic, and musical activities. For example, the mood of a piece of music might communicate, more clearly than words, the feeling of a historical era under study. The exploration of rhythm can help some students understand fractions and other mathematical concepts. The exploration of the sounds of an organ can lead to an understanding of vibration modes in physics. Astronomy students could program a synthesizer to play Kepler's "music of the spheres" and explore history, science, math and music all at once. The opportunities for learning are endless if we consider expression and environment.

Teachers can provide opportunities for authentic learning based on their students' needs, interests and talents. The multiple intelligence classroom models the "real" world. Students become more active, involved learners. In so doing, students will be able to demonstrate and share their strengths with others. Building strengths motivates a student, which leads to increased self-esteem. Students accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life. Students begin to understand how they are intelligent. In Gardner's view, learning is both a social and a psychological process. When students understand the balance of their own multiple intelligences, they begin to manage their own learning and to value their individual strengths. 

Teachers understand how their students are intelligent as well as how intelligent they are. Knowing which students learn visually, auditorally, kinesthetically, et cetera will help teachers create opportunities where such strengths and styles can be harnessed and fostered. Disregarding such unique differences and assuming that everyone learns the exact same way harnesses and fosters ignorance and does a disservice to children and to all of us. 

Seating Arrangement

Arranging a classroom seems simple enough. Assign students to seats in nice neat little rows -- right? Not necessarily - it is difficult if not impossible to separate instructional activity from the environmental setting within which it occurs. The relationship between the physical learning environment on behavior and attitudes of both teachers and students is well documented (Gump, 1987; McGuffey, 1982; Weinstein, 1979). Classroom management experts and experienced educators purport that the decisions teachers make about whether their students will be allowed to select their own seats and about the physical arrangement of their classroom can have an impact on classroom discipline and the effectiveness of instruction. Fred Jones, classroom management expert and author of Tools for Teaching, (2002) argues that the traditional classroom arrangement, with students’ desks lined up in neat rows, makes it easy for custodians to do their jobs, but difficult for teachers to freely walk among their students' desks. Teachers should be able to get around their classroom quickly and frequently so that they may be able to check students' work and reduce misbehavior. 

Research on seating position in row-and-column arrangements suggests that front-center seating facilitates scholastic achievement (Schwebel & Cherlin, 1972), positive student attitudes toward school and self (Walberg, 1969), and classroom participation (Adams & Biddle, 1970) for older students. This particular desk design may also have a dramatic effect on learner behaviors depending on whether students are placed at a standard desk/chair combination or a carrel/free chair combination that provides an increased sense of privacy for the student. Periodically, teachers are advised to change seating patterns, encourage students sitting in the back rows to come forward, and reflect on a student's choice of seating as a potential indicator of a student's self-esteem and interest in learning (Weinstein, 1981).

In functional arrangements, the physical space is divided into common interest areas or learning centers available to all students. This type of spatial arrangement is typically used for small groups of students working on a variety of different activities. Early childhood and open classrooms are examples of this type of functional arrangement. Research on functional arrangements suggests that spatial arrangement can have a dramatic influence on a young learner’s location, play activities, and social interaction. Well-defined activity areas can have a positive influence on social interaction and on on-task behaviors (Moore, 1986).

Research evidence further suggests that spatial relationships among group members can influence the communication patterns in the group (Sommer, 1967), relative status of group members and emergence of a leader (Howells & Becker, 1962), and feelings of affiliation or solidarity that members feel toward one another (Mehrabian & Diamond, 1971). In forming functional management strategies, teachers might consider placing potential group leaders in visible positions, positioning quiet learners opposite the group leader or a more vocal group leader, and moving overly vocal members adjacent to the designated leader to reduce the potential for negative nonverbal communication and eye contact that may inhibit their participation (Weinstein, 1981). In a particular elementary classroom I observed in, the 46 Grade 5 students are seated in small groups based on how the students' personalities and work habits complement each other. Focused, disciplined workers tend to be placed with those prone to talking and socializing in order to provide the latter students with positive role modeling. When situations arise between students seated together, the teachers separate them into different pods. Even when there are no immediate concerns with student behavior, the teachers alter the seating arrangement every few months in order to encourage social skill development.

For Grade 1 classrooms, room arrangement should generally have wide open spaces with storage that does not interfere with space in the room. The room arrangement should be bright and outgoing as well as feel homey by adding a carpet and rocker. Room arrangement should facilitate partner and group work with desks clustered together, but also facilitate children working on the floor if the activity requires more space than an individual desk can provide.

Grade 2 classrooms should facilitate hands on learning through discovery and inquiry-based teaching with learning centers as well as facilitate community building among children and teachers. Alcoves for children to retreat in small groups for activities must be made available where children are allowed to choose activities. More spacious rooms should be made available as grade level increases to accommodate the growth of children.

Grade 3 classrooms should make full use of all floor and wall space and allow for children’s work displays without wasting space, should be acoustically quiet yet colorful and exciting to promote interest and learning, should include accessible restrooms and water fountain to minimize interruptions, and should provide flexible furniture and equipment with space to circulate as children are working.

Especially in a classroom that is overcrowded, the teacher needs to think about how they can arrange students’ desks so broad walkways run from the front to the back of the class and also from side to side according to Jones. However, there is no one "correct" room arrangement regardless of the grade level being taught. A room arrangement will depend on the dimensions of the classroom in large part. One example of an effective classroom arrangement is one that groups students into three sections. By pushing two desks together on each side of the room, angled at a slant toward the front of the room and pushing four desks together in the middle of the room, creates an effective seating style. This arrangement creates two walkways to the back of the room and four walkways side to side between the rows. 

The physical arrangement to seating is a basic classroom management technique. There is a very delicate balance between the teacher communicating a sense of territory and the students feeling comfortable and at home in their classroom. Each teacher has to find the balance that best suits him/her and the class being taught. In addition, teachers must think about the age group being taught. Most elementary school classrooms have a designated cozy reading corner with chair or rocker and rug in addition to student seating compared to junior and senior high school classrooms, which are typically organized into rows. Each seating arrangement has its place and purpose, and its advantages and disadvantages and teachers need to find the one that works best for them. The teachers as well as the students need to feel comfortable with the seating arrangement and general arrangement of the classroom in order for teaching and learning to be of most benefit. 

For instance, some teachers prefer arranging students' desks in a semicircle, one desk deep. This way, each student can see every other student as can the teacher and each person’s ideas are given equal value in discussions. In my elementary school placement, some classrooms sponsor traditional rows of desks while in others desks are placed two rows deep facing the center of the classroom. In still other classrooms, small groups of students are seated at tables to encourage them to cooperate with each other. Every class has its own distinctive aura and, despite the vast differences in arrangement, seems to work well for both the teachers and the students. 

In my field placement school, two Grade 5 classes have been combined into one space. The 46 students are taught by two teachers and I am one of two Master of Teaching students in the class. In terms of seating, the students are organized into groups of three or four, each with their own desk. In each group of four, two desks are placed facing two other desks so that the four students are facing each other. Initially when school starts in September, the students are given the opportunity to sit wherever they choose. If either teacher notices working incompatibilities between students sitting together, the students will be separated. Even if students sitting together in a group work well together, the teachers relocate them every month and a half or so in order to encourage them to learn to cooperate with other students and for social skill development. In this way, the students are exposed to different personalities and working styles and learns different techniques for completing school tasks. 

According to some experts, teachers should assign seating to let the students know who the "boss" is (the teacher presumably). "Unless the teacher takes responsibility for assigning students to seats that will facilitate discipline and instruction, students will always do just the opposite," Jones (2000) argues in his book. "When students as a group are given the freedom to sit wherever they want in a classroom, they will always choose the location for themselves that is to the teacher’s greatest possible disadvantage," adds Jones. However, not all experts agree with Jones’ assertion (including myself). Such experts do not believe that student control should be the primary aim of a classroom. They believe that students are actually people and that none of us likes to be controlled. There is research and experience that demonstrate that students who have a voice in establishing class rules are much more likely to internalize and truly support and follow those rules. There is something about control that flows counter to education in a democratic society. This is further evidenced in my own classroom where the students are, for the most part, very well behaved and involved in their learning. The students seem eager to learn and generously assist those who appear to be having difficulties with school work. Most participate in class discussions and demonstrate respect and caring for each other and for their teachers. In fact, all of the students in my school appear to be eager respectful learners regardless of the seating arrangement in use. Certainly, there may be a variety of reasons for this, including the school's administration team, the student population, the teaching staff, the parental involvement, funding, and so on. This speaks further for the importance of taking into account a variety of factors when instructing a group of students.

In addition to seating arrangement, adequate spaces must be made available for other activities and purposes. There should be variably sized spaces, individual workspaces, a presentation space, a cave space when appropriate, spaces with access to food and beverage, studios and labs when required, a collaborative incubator, get away spaces and niches, display spaces, and access to technology. The arrangement of furniture and the allocation of spaces within the classroom can greatly affect what can be accomplished within a given instructional setting (Weinstein, 1981). Different classes and grades may use some combination of these spaces based on need and availability.

Unfortunately for many schools, space is at a premium whereas students are abundant. Classroom size is gradually increasing and children are much larger today than they were just a few decades ago and they are maturing at an earlier age (Gursky, 1998; Belkin 2003; Davidson, 2001). Funding restricts many teachers from arranging their classrooms in the way they would most prefer (Neu, 2002). Floor covering and desks are sometimes lacking in quality and in dire need of replacement. Yet, these are things that must be considered when providing a quality education. 


The inclusion of animals in the classroom is another environmental factor that has been shown to have positive effects on student learning, especially for early grades. For instance, a Grade 6 teacher at Clarkesville Middle School in Clarkesville, Indiana, USA incorporated a dog named Denali into her classroom (Moore, 1994). Her students kept a growth chart on Denali. Twice a week the students took and recorded measurements in length, height, girth, and weight. These measurements were later used to teach graphing to the students. 

Basic rules for the students were established early in order to secure the safety and well-being of the puppy. Two students per class period each day were selected to be puppy sitters and were responsible for taking Denali outside for bathroom breaks, cleaned up after him indoors and outdoors, and made sure he had plenty of food and water. In order to be able to puppy sit, the student must have completed their school work from the previous week and turned it in. The teacher noticed a marked positive impact on students turning in their work. In fact, several students approached the teacher and asked if they could have lunch "detention" just so they could eat with Denali. 

The teacher was so impressed with the positive impact the dog had on her students that she decided to advocate having Denali certified as a therapy dog when he got older. In addition to their other learning, the students had a chance to learn about dog training, responsible pet ownership, and spaying and neutering. The teacher strongly believed that raising a dog would be a wonderful experience for the class to do annually.

Animals can be used in the classroom to teach the curriculum in a wide assortment of ways. A thematic unit is a fun way to get students thinking mathematically. Children and teachers work together exploring and practicing mathematical concepts as they develop a collection of animals in the classroom, observe the animals, and care for them. Several animals can serve as models for a classroom zoo providing they are of interest to the students and appropriate for the classroom environment. 

In Jo Ellen Moore’s (1994) book, Math and Classroom Pets, math skills are covered and include nonstandard measurement, counting, recognition of numerals, one-to-one correspondence, patterning, geometric shapes, fractional parts, size comparisons, estimation, readiness for addition and subtraction, graphing, ordinal numbers, and money. Processes covered are identifying, sorting and classifying, questioning, observing and collecting data, recording and processing data, describing and explaining, and communicating. Social skills covered are independence, cooperation, responsibility, and patience.

According to a 1998 survey of 1,999 elementary school teachers in Indiana, USA, more than half of the households contained at least one companion animal (Rud & Beck, 1998). More than a quarter of the elementary classrooms had animals. In addition, 72% of the classroom teachers allowed students to bring in their own pet on occasion. Perhaps more surprising, 46% of the teachers surveyed who were without resident animals allowed the children to bring in their pet to the classroom on occasion.

Animals that may be appropriate for a classroom include, but are not limited to: mammals (chinchillas, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, rats, hedge hogs, and rabbits); birds (budgies, cockatiels, and parakeets); reptiles (anoles, iguanas, legless lizards, snakes, and turtles); amphibians (salamanders, frogs, and toads); fish (guppies, Goldfish, Betas, tropical fish, and minnows); insects (ant farms, butterflies, caterpillars, cockroaches, crickets, and meal worms); invertebrates (earthworms, hermit crabs and craw dads, sea anemones, snails, and spiders).

My experience growing up included an elementary school teacher having a rabbit in our classroom. Each week my teacher would select a different student who then had the choice to take the rabbit home with him or her for a few days and care for it. When it was my turn to take the rabbit home, I remember feeling a little apprehensive initially as I had never cared for a rabbit before and it was a very large rabbit indeed. I had no idea what to expect. Despite my reservations, I decided to take the rabbit home with me. My concern turned into excitement as I observed the rabbit and I felt very responsible for maintaining its care. I fed it, gave it fresh water, and pet it. I watched it hop around my residence in apparent glee. I felt disappointed when I had to return the rabbit a short while later, but I was certainly grateful for the experience. The experience was so meaningful to me that I do not remember anything else about that year in school save for my being allowed to care for the rabbit and my enjoyment in observing its behaviors.

How can animals improve student learning? Animals serve to motivate students to work well and to behave in ways that are appropriate for the animals and for the class in general. Care for the animals provide opportunities for children to be caregivers and are a strong reward for working well in class. An animal in the classroom creates improved learning experiences for students as all areas of the curriculum are enhanced. For example, math (how much does a hamster weigh?), science (what does a snake eat?), geography (where does a ferret come from?), social studies (what pets do different cultures value?), and language arts (how can I describe a Goldfish?). 

In addition, students can easily see, feel, touch, and make connections to the wide world of animals. Observing and caring for an animal instills a sense of responsibility and respect for all life. Children develop enthusiastic participation and an increased sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others (both animals and humans). There will be an understanding that all living things need more than just food and water for survival. Students will see how their behavior and actions affect others. Tensions may be lessened in the classroom. Students learn that animals need food, water, and most of all attention (some perhaps more than others as is the case with my pets). 

Having an animal in the classroom involves tremendous thought and consideration and should not be taken lightly. For instance, it is not enough to send students home with pets for weekends and holidays. Parents must be involved; they need to be made aware of the classroom pet and consent must be acquired prior to permitting a child to take home a pet. The classroom must be suitable for the animal that is chosen. Snakes, hamsters, and rabbits all need a certain environment to be healthy. Research and homework needs to be conducted to see if the classroom is pet-friendly. Certain animals need room to roam so the teacher must insure that such room is made available. The animal's diet must be adhered to in order to ensure adequate health. If the class has both a male and a female hamster rabbit or fish, the teacher must be prepared for the ensuing offspring. Decisions such as spaying or neutering may become issues. If the pet becomes ill, is the class able to care for it? Has a veterinarian been designated to care for the animal? Do any of the students have allergies to any animals? There are alternate animals that can be chosen that do not trigger allergic responses in people, including hairless rodents, dogs, and cats. 

Animals in the classroom can have positive effects on all kinds of students. In some parts of North America, Andrea Mulder-Slater has used neglected and abandoned pets such as snakes and lizards to help children who have various disabilities (Rud & Beck, 1998). Expert Terry Payne has rescued a number of creatures who have been badly treated or carelessly "thrown out" by reckless and ignorant owners, which he now takes around to special needs classrooms in Swansea (Rud & Beck, 1998). Teacher Amy Dobbins has said that the physical contact with animals is having a remarkable affect on her autistic pupils (Rud & Beck, 1998). 

How, specifically, can teachers most utilize animals in the classroom? Some teaching ideas using a caterpillar include: keeping a daily log of the changes in the caterpillar as it matures into a butterfly; measuring the growth of a caterpillar; using a magnifying glass to observe its anatomy; looking for the differences between its true legs and its prolegs; observing the caterpillar’s behaviors (eating, cocoon spinning, and movement); observing the anatomy of the adult butterfly; observing its legs; observing the butterfly’s behaviors (drinking, fanning its wings, and mating); and watching the proboscis as it drinks. 

Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. Exploring the natural world of plants and animals, cooking, taking daily classroom attendance, and serving snacks are all meaningful activities that children can do to enhance their learning. Animals can have a tremendous influence on what, how, and to what extent children of various ages can learn various curriculums. Plants, too, can be an important part of student learning.

Plants & Experiments

The purpose that flora can serve in the classroom is evidenced in the following example. At Wiggs Middle School in the USA, chili peppers were used to teach a variety of subjects (Sommer, 1967). Teachers at this particular school developed an integrated unit on chilies. In social studies, students learned about the historic and continuing tensions between Mexico and New Mexico over the chili crops. In mathematics, students made graphs plotting the relative heat of chilies, studied crop yields in different parts of the world, and computed yields of chilies by acre. Students developed salsa recipes using fractions and adjusting recipe proportions for smaller and larger batches of salsa. In Spanish class, students read literature about the chili god and composed their own stories extending the myth. In science, students studied chilies during the unit on green plants, dissected chilies, and learned about chili seed dispersal. 

In my school class placement, plants have been used effectively to teach the 46 Grade 5 students a variety of subjects, including pollution and its effects on living things. One demonstration involved the teacher adding various colored dyes to glass jars filled with water. A few white carnations were then added to each of the colored water jars and the students were asked for their hypotheses regarding the effects the "pollution" (dye) would have on the flowers. The students generated a large variety of hypotheses and made careful observations by drawing diagrams and writing statements. 

One of my favorite subjects of all time was biology while growing up in the public school system. I found it perhaps the most relevant of all the subjects that were mandatory as it related to real life. I learned about living things that I had encountered while visiting my grandparent’s farm in Manitoba (e.g., frogs, salamanders, snakes, insects, cows, chickens, birds, et cetera). I learned about how my body functions and what it’s made up of. I learned about the weather, something that I experienced every day. I learned about plants and germs and a whole lot more. Like music (my favorite subject in school), biology was the only class in which I got to conduct "experiments".

I remember being excited to dissect a cow's eyeball during a high school biology class and trying to read a newspaper article through the cow's lens. Although my lab partners were completely "grossed out", I was amazed with how the eye operated. During a fetal pig dissection in Grade 7, I stayed after the class had ended to further examine my pig. I remember disturbing my classmates when I removed the pig's intestines to measure their length to determine whether or not intestines truly were as long as the textbook authors proclaimed them to be.

Although English class did not involve experiments, I enjoyed the subject because I could read a piece of writing and create my own images and characters in my own mind and interpret the story in my own way and write an essay based on my own observations and thoughts. English, like music, allowed me to be creative and involved in my own learning. Math, on the other hand, I enjoyed less because no such opportunities existed according to my perceptions. We were given formulas to memorize and examples to do and tests to write. However, when I later learned the applicability of some of the math I was learning, my interest peaked.

As an adult I have taken several outdoor courses on survival and hiking, which I have found to have taught me more than any textbook I have read. I remembered far more what I had the opportunity to experience than I did simply by reading some boring dry academic textbook with a few pretty pictures in it. Besides, I never got to actually keep the textbooks to refer back to, which I found to be a real disappointment. I felt as though the information was given to me and then taken away with the expectation that I was to have completely memorized the book. I can see how much more excited the students in my class become when they get to touch, observe, hypothesize, draw, reenact, create, or research a particular subject or topic and how easily distracted the students seem to be when sitting and listening to someone talk for a long period of time. Although I adjust well to any kind of forum, I am much more engaged in a topic when I am given the opportunity to express my ideas as well as listen to the thoughts of others. Plants, like animals, in the classroom offer students countless opportunities to explore the world around them. 


Many classrooms today house at least one computer; however, having a computer does not necessarily translate into using it. How useful are computers in student learning? Simply having a computer sitting in a classroom does little to enhance student learning; it must be used to be of any importance. Some of the more exemplary schools use technology in the classroom to build knowledge and facilitate communication (McKenzie, 1995). Here, technology serves as a medium to promote thinking, creativity, and self-directed student learning of complex tasks. The technology engages students with their environment and is used as a tool to facilitate collaboration, expand the possibilities for accessing information, and provide an additional medium for expression. 

Exemplary schools use technology in a meaningful, integrated context to enhance student learning (McKenzie, 1995). At such schools, students engage in a self-directed learning process that involves complex, thought-provoking activities. Their curriculum is project-based and relies on technology as a constructive tool. The roles of the students and teachers may shift and the interactions change in these technology-rich learning environments. Teachers and students become collaborators in an environment in which both teachers and students are learners and experts. This type of learning environment is compatible with the principles of educational reform and use instructional strategies that are effective. 

Unfortunately, many applications of technology are often either too passive or are centered on transmission of information rather than on the process of active discovery (McKenzie, 1995). Technology is often not well integrated into learning activities and many computers are left to collect dust in the corners of classrooms. The computer is used most frequently as an add-on for “drill-and-practice,” preempting complex problem-solving, critical thinking, or collaboration (McKenzie, 1995). Often, students have access to engaging stand-alone software packages, offering computer-assisted instruction that requires problem solving and critical thinking, but the use of the software is peripheral and is not incorporated into the core learning activities. In such cases, the technology is often removed from the classroom and relegated to a computer lab where few students visit regularly. Despite technologies available in schools, a substantial number of teachers report little or no use of computers for instruction. Several years after the attempted infusion of technology into schools, we have failed to make much progress (McKenzie, 1995). The federal OTA (Office of Technology Assessment) recently published a disheartening report describing the huge gap between the promise and the reality of technology use by teachers (McKenzie, 1995).

Liberty Elementary School and Wiggs Middle School, both in the USA, have used their technology in powerful ways (McKenzie, 1995). Both schools integrated it into classroom instruction and made it a regular part of students’ learning experiences. Liberty Elementary School was most advanced in its use of hypermedia applications. Wiggs Middle School made effective use of on-line, interactive networks. Both Wiggs Middle School and Liberty Elementary School used additional technology applications (i.e., word processing, spreadsheet, and graphic programs) as tools for learning; these programs were used in classrooms in conjunction with the regular curriculum and in separate “computer literacy” courses taught in a computer lab. 

What determines the use and effectiveness of computers in the classroom? The application of technology to promote meaningful, engaged learning is highly dependent on the approach and skill of the teacher. Teachers at Liberty Elementary School and Wiggs Middle School were well-trained and believed in technology as a tool to help them facilitate student learning. Both schools were involved with external partners who provided training in the form of in-class coaching and intensive teacher practice. If teachers are given the tools to use the technology available to them in the classroom, they will be more likely to use it as a teaching tool for their students. 

Teachers at Liberty Elementary School made remarkable use of HyperCard, a software application that contains a database of graphics, text, and sound, which is used to create multimedia compositions. They used the technology as a tool to support their curricular objectives and instructional strategies. The technology facilitated the learning process and was applied in ways that excited the students about writing and producing oral language. For example, in one lesson students were working on a book report which, through the use of HyperCard, quickly became a dynamic, multimedia composition produced through the collaboration of the whole class working in cooperative groups of three or four. In this cooperative group setting, multimedia technology allowed students to serve as experts in their areas of strength. Groups at Liberty Elementary School typically had a complementary mix of students with respect to academic strength, computer skills, and English fluency. 

Such computer technology was used to facilitate the teachers' goals of providing hands-on, self-directed, student-centered learning. In addition, students were engaged for sustained periods of time as they worked alone or in cooperative groups on the computer, which freed teachers to work one-on-one with students who needed extra support. 

At the middle school, students accessed and analyzed data through on-line computer networks. In one class, the teacher made technology part of an integrated ESL lesson. The students read Sarah, Plain and Tall and worked in groups to extend their learning from the book. The story described Sarah's journey across the country and one of the activities involved learning about the states through which she traveled. A group of students used an on-line database to gather information relating to population, industry, and geography on the state they were studying. The process of gathering information on-line provided students with immediate access to current information. They could easily pursue a specific branch of information and could manipulate and analyze the data. Students were highly engaged in the classes in which they were working on-line and their work had a direct connection to the core curriculum of the class. 

At my school placement site, there are four computers situated in the combined classroom of 46 students in Grade 5. The students are given opportunities to access the computers to go on-line, use the dictionary or thesaurus, and use word processing to do their school work. The teachers seem fairly comfortable with the technology and select students each day to be responsible for turning the machines on and off. Headphones have also been provided in order to lessen the distraction that computer noise may cause neighboring students. The students seem quite comfortable with the technology and are eager to use it. The school also has about a dozen computers available for use in the school library, which is located directly across from the classroom just described. Various classes of all grades can be seen using the computers during class time in order to research information or use given programs. 

Every day, the teaching staff is asked to check their e-mail for school notices. In this sense, even the teachers are expected to become at least somewhat familiar with and comfortable using technology. Besides, my experience has been that the students are very helpful and willing to assist both fellow students and teachers if someone is uncertain how to use the computer. Ironically, the very technology that many skeptics have argued creates isolation and belies the need for cooperation and communication has, in my experience thus far, proven to have provided a platform from which students can help each other and their teachers communicate more effectively.

In addition to my school using the technology, in-service training is provided to the teaching staff. I was enrolled in a twenty-four hour computer course being held at the school January 2003, which was free and included three free software packages, including Microsoft Office. I suspect that if teachers received technology training prior to having to use it in the classroom, they might be much more inclined to use such technology. 


Perhaps one of the first things that many people notice upon entering an elementary school classroom is the amount of material on the walls. Typically, posters, graphs, charts, tables, lists, and directions litter the walls of most elementary classrooms. Every color known to humankind seems to be represented in the plethora of wall adornments such that the classroom appears bright and busy. Is this because elementary school teachers love clutter and noise? Or, can such teachers not decide which wall hangings are most relevant for their students? Or, are they obsessive poster collectors? What purpose do visual displays have in the classroom? 

Wall displays full of color and animation help capture and focus the attention of students, especially those deemed to be visual learners. Who likes to look at bare gray walls all day? Wall displays serve to lighten up a room and represent one way to present lessons to students. Students inevitably look around them, especially, it seems, when the teacher is talking. Young people get bored rather easily and need to be stimulated using a variety of ways (Robertson, 1998). We all learn differently and an effective teacher needs to be able to present curricula in as many different ways as possible in order to reach as many students as possible. 

Some students learn best by listening, while others rely more on visuals and mind mapping strategies in order to conceptualize and retain information; ergo, the importance of wall decor. Teacher effectiveness can be greatly improved by using posters and banners as teaching aids. Combined with other teaching methods, visuals allow the teacher to reach more students by using a wider variety of teaching styles. Posters help create an effective learning environment by outlining lesson objectives, highlighting key points, and providing content overviews. 

Posters can also be used to: explain lesson objectives, which the teacher can refer to throughout lessons to maintain student focus; post learning objectives to help students keep a sense of direction and as a periodic check to assure that objectives are understood; make certain that students know in advance what is expected; give clear written directions; capture and retain student attention with large colorful visuals; give lectures and demonstrations in a clear and focused manner; introduce and review key concepts and skills; reinforce key content from teaching materials; and review lesson activities. Posters can also contain inspirational phrases to motivate the class and enhance self-esteem; outline rules of conduct; describe the daily schedule; list language arts rules of grammar; list mathematical concepts and formulas; show famous people; and so much more. 

Posters can not only help educate students, they also add decorative appeal to the classroom and can be constructed to underscore values and behavior deemed desirable by the school, community, and society. Even high school classroom teachers, who unfortunately, tend to underutilize posters, can paint their walls in such a way as to enhance student learning. Psychology researchers have long since discovered that certain colors stimulate particular moods in people. For instance, researchers (e.g., Carden, n.d.) found that the color green tends to produce feelings of sadness. On the other hand, the color pink has been associated with feelings of happiness and excitement. Yellow has been shown to enhance attentiveness. For many people, orange is associated with cleanliness (which is why many laundry detergents use orange on their product boxes). 

In addition to the use of posters and paint to stimulate student interest, learning, and retention, student work should also adorn the walls (and ceiling in some cases). Such student displays provide a source of positive feedback and offer an opportunity to instill pride and self-esteem in the students (Ayers, 2001). Also, each child in the classroom then has the chance to observe what their peers did differently, thereby, providing him or her with new ideas. My partner teachers gave me the chance to teach an art project to the Grade 5 class one day. I chose to have the students make spooky characters in concert with the Halloween season and because the class was read a spooky story earlier that same day. I offered a model of my own while describing the activity I wanted them to engage in. By showing and explaining to the children how I constructed my "spooky" character, they were then able to create their own unique character by using and adapting some of the ideas I had given them. The students were very attentive and excited and eagerly attacked the project at hand. I was very pleased with the results.

I sat in dozens of classrooms over the years and I found the majority to be quite drab and uninviting. I recently participated in a professional development seminar regarding brain research and teaching. Although the classroom was far too small given the large class that attended the lecture, the room had a cheerful essence to it. Part of the reason I enjoyed being in the crowded stuffy classroom was due to the walls surrounding us. The walls were adorned with bright colorful posters with positive phrases on them and humorous drawings. I felt my eyes expand and flitter about the room examining each poster. Although I tend to feel overwhelmed in rooms that have too much on the walls, I appreciate some degree of wall enhancement whether it be in terms of color or wall décor. Why as we age should the rooms we learn in become more and more like prisons, unadorned and impersonal? We do not lose our ability to see or to appreciate visuals as we age, so why arrange our classrooms as if we do? 


Field studies confirm the beneficial effects of full spectrum lighting in the classroom, which include a lessening in hyperactivity, a reduction in sickness and absenteeism, improved academic performance and, as monitored separately by The Alberta Education Department and the Sarasota County Dental Society in Florida, even a reduction in dental care! In fact, students with the most day lighting in their classrooms progressed twenty percent faster on math tests and twenty-six percent faster on reading tests in just one year than those classrooms with the least amount of day lighting (Cooper, 1999). Similarly, students in classrooms with the largest window areas were found to progress fifteen percent faster in math and twenty-three percent faster in reading (Cooper, 1999).

There is much evidence to suggest that full spectrum lighting has a calming effect on hyperactive children in a classroom setting. This was first noted by Dr. John Ott in a study he carried out in the 1970’s at Sarasota’s Gocio Elementary School from which he concluded that full spectrum lighting improved the behavior of hyperactive children (Ott, 1973). Since that time there have been many separate and diverse examples reported to support Ott’s original findings. A study by the Heschong Mahone Group based near Sacramento, California found that students who took their lessons in classrooms with more natural light scored as much as twenty-five percent higher on standardized tests than other students in the same school district.

As noted in the International Journal of Biosocial Research, in Dr. Ott’s experiment (Ott, 1973), full spectrum radiation-shielded fluorescent fixtures were installed in two windowless classrooms and in two other identical windowless classrooms standard cool white fluorescent fixtures were used as controls. The results showed that several extremely hyperactive children with confirmed learning disabilities calmed down completely and rapidly overcame their learning and reading problems while in the full spectrum lighted environment. The overall academic achievement level showed significant improvement and a simultaneous study by the Sarasota County Dental Society showed that the children in the two rooms with the radiation-shielded full spectrum lighting developed only one-third of the number of cavities in their teeth compared to the children under the standard cool white fluorescent lighting.

Other findings demonstrated that children tended to stay healthier if they were taught under full spectrum fluorescent lighting rather than cool white standard fluorescents (Brainard, n.d.). There was also a dramatic drop in the number of student absences. These were just some of the results of an experiment conducted in a Vermont school during the winter months. The pupils were all between five and nine years old. Three classrooms were converted to full spectrum lighting during the December break. In the term before the new lights were installed, there was no difference in sickness rates between the three converted classrooms and three control rooms. Yet after the new lights were installed, the children in the classrooms with full spectrum lighting took fewer days off from school than the other children had. In the classrooms with full spectrum lighting, the new lights appeared to reverse the normal pattern where children tended to become ill more often in the winter and early months of spring.

More supporting evidence shows that full spectrum lighting gives off more ultraviolet at certain wavelengths than standard cool white fluorescent lighting. The light is closer to natural daylight than ordinary indoor light and, therefore, some dentists prefer it as do cosmeticians and graphic artists because it improves their ability to distinguish colors. It is considered more energy-efficient, even though the bulbs can cost twice as much as standard lighting.

Long Island lighting engineer, Dan Karpen, has been pushing the State of New York to pass legislation requiring full spectrum lighting in all schools (Karpen, 1992). Karpen and his supporters claim that such lighting may improve the health and performance of students. They most often cite a five-year Canadian study that found better attendance and gains in achievement among students in classrooms with full spectrum lighting compared with two other light sources. When trace amounts of ultraviolet were added, gains were recorded in student weight and height. “Even dental cavities were reduced, with savings in dental costs averaging $100.00 a child per year,” said Warren Hathaway of The Alberta Education Department, which conducted the study.

George C. Brainard, Associate Professor of Neurology and Pharmacology at Jefferson University Medical School in Philadelphia, who is noted for his research on light, noted that while the Canadian field study appears to be the best thus far, extensive testing under more rigorously controlled conditions is needed to rule out other possible explanations for the improvements (Brainard, n.d.). Professor Brainard said, "When I look at a handful of applied studies in schools; some conducted with greater rigor than others; the remarkable thing is that each of those studies suggests the same finding...that the quality of light has an impact on either the health or the performance of students". Dr. Brainard recently completed a three-year study that showed that near-ultraviolet light enters the retina and causes both visual stimulation and electrical activity in the brain in children and young adults. Such stimulation, strongest at birth, appears to be lost in adulthood. 

Patricia DeOria, Director of Riverside School in Richmond, Virginia, admitted to feeling skeptical about the initial request she received for installing full spectrum lighting in her classrooms (Karpen, 1992). Just one week after their installation, however, her skepticism changed to admiration. She commented, "It was noticeable that the atmosphere at Riverside School was much calmer within a matter of days".

The kind of lighting used in school can drastically affect student learning as well as their very health. I recall experiencing many headaches following each school day and I found the lighting in my school to be visually taxing. Of course, I cannot say for certain what impact, if any, such lighting may have had on my eventual learning, grades, and health, but I can comment on the fact that I felt much better after graduating high school (no pun intended).


Can smells sell knowledge? What role can aroma play in the classroom? Should scents even be used in the classroom given the high incidence of allergies in schools? What scents should be used and how much? In some Orange County classrooms, aromas of essential oils are being used for their supposed ability to stimulate learning. For years, fragrances have been used by most shopping malls to encourage customers to stay longer and buy more. Some realtors encourage their clients to bake something just prior to an open house so that it appears more "homey".

According to Lillian Reiter (1998), technicians at New York City’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center disperse vanilla-scented oil into the air to help patients cope with the claustrophobic effects of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing. Scents will soon be used at the Chicago Board of Trade to lower the decibel level on the trading floor. Judie Bertolino, who teaches three- and four-year-olds at Palisades United Methodist Preschool in Capistrano Beach, uses a household plastic spray bottle to fill her classroom with spearmint oil twice a day. "There are some aromas that are excellent for helping people who are very uptight", said pediatrician Martin Baren. "There’s no doubt in my mind that some lavenders are very helpful because they have a chemical affect on the ability to relax". "Odors can impact upon behavior", said Alan R. Hirsch, director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, "...because the part of the brain that recognizes smell, the olfactory lobe, is part of the limbic lobe or emotional brain".

Aroma therapy has helped fourth- and fifth-graders concentrate better in Tami Schwartz's class at the Camellia Avenue School in North Hollywood, California and has introduced her students to the concept of using things found in nature for health. Experts advise teachers who use aroma therapy in the classrooms to thoroughly educate themselves first and buy only high-quality essential oils from reputable vendors.

I have never been in a classroom where the teacher used aroma therapy unless you count my junior high school English teacher who smelled as though she bathed in perfume daily. Perhaps it was the brand chosen or the aroma selected, nevertheless, the impact of my teacher's odor was a blatant assault on my olfactory senses. I refrained from asking for help so as to avoid her coming closer to where I was sitting (near the back of the class). Although a wonderful teacher, a nice person, and an attractive woman, the students remembered her only for her extreme abuse of perfumes. Conversely, I have experimented with various aroma therapy oils and have been in homes where such oils are being used and have found the aromas to be quite pleasant and calming. There exists a list of pleasant scents that trigger happy memories in me, including pine, vanilla, cinnamon, freshly baked bread, and coffee. There are even not-so-pleasant scents that trigger memories of my grandparents, the most common one being manure (they lived on a farm). Although pungent at first whiff, the smell of walking into a barn always brings a smile to my face. Despite the associations I have with particular aromas as I am certain we all have, I cannot state with any certainty how any aroma has impacted my ability to learn. What I can say for certain; however, is that I will continue to refrain from wearing perfume while teaching.


Historically, teachers have demanded complete quiet when teaching. Students were assumed to be paying attention and learning only if they and their environment were devoid of any kind of noise, including music. Current research findings have recently challenged this assumption. As a result, many teachers have incorporated music in their classrooms. For example, before certain lessons in teacher Kyunghae Shin's second grade class, the lights are dimmed and soft music is played. These mood enhancements got a thumbs-up from most of the students; "I'd like them to always do this in ordinary classes," said eight-year-old Tyler. The purpose is to keep the kids comfortable, relaxed, and focused in the classroom. Shin explains, "Putting on soft, slow classical music helps them to really relax, takes some tension off them, and you know, have them focus" (Cox News Service, 2000).

In dozens of studies (e.g., Hetland, 2000; and Kariuki & Honeycutt, 1998), listening to music has been found to have a significant impact on spatial reasoning, quality of writing, and prolixity of writing. However, the type of music played determined the effects found. According to Hallam, in an unpublished paper, observations revealed that exciting music had a negative effect on behavior; children were more likely to be off task and ask non-work related questions. Despite the differences observed in test scores, children were split 50/50 in terms of whether they thought that the music was helpful or distracting. Moreover, those who listened to the exciting music were more likely to report liking the music (72 percent) than those listening to the calm music (22 percent).

According to Hetland (2000), the so-called "Mozart effect" is robust and consistent across sets of studies. Music listening appears to enhance spatial-temporal reasoning skills, defined as mental rotation or spatial visualization in the absence of a physical model. Effects do not appear limited to Mozart’s K. 448 or even to the music of Mozart. The Mozart effect is important for educators, because it provides another reason for music educators and parents to entice children to listen to classical music. The fact that passive listening to music appears to "prime" spatial thinking indicates that neural networks normally associated with one kind of mental activity can readily share the cognitive processes involved in a different activity. Thus learning or thinking in one discipline may not be completely independent of another discipline. The significance of a learning transfer that occurs with unconscious priming is that there may also be other neurological avenues and facilitative pedagogical strategies for educators and researchers to integrate learning by identifying modes of thinking common to more than one discipline.

In another study by Kariuki and Honeycutt (1998), music listening was found to help emotionally disturbed, special-needs children focus more when completing a writing assignment in school. Music allowed children with low levels of motivation to focus on tasks rather than serve as a distraction to the writing process itself. Hence, different kinds of music may benefit children with different needs. While music may distract or negatively impact one student's performance, the same music may enhance another child's performance on the same type of activity.

This topic is of particular interest to me given my love for music. While in school, most students are not permitted to listen to their Walkmans or Discmans. I have heard parents demand that their child turn off any music while studying or completing their homework. I have always been under the assumption that people who listened to music on their headphones while in a lecture were rude and totally inattentive. My views have changed since reading the literature regarding music and learning. Although some of the people who choose to wear headphones while in a lecture may in fact be rude and inattentive, some people actually learn more effectively while listening to music. Ironically, some of the people who don such headwear may actually be trying to be more attentive and learn more. 

I still had doubts until I realized that I always have the television on while reading, writing, or completing homework. In fact, I accomplish more when the television is on. In addition, I find it difficult to watch television without engaging in another activity whether it be doing crossword puzzles or reading. Most people love or at least enjoy some kind of music which they listen to on a near daily basis. The reasons for this may be uncertain, but given the need for many people to listen to music suggests to me that it may serve a positive purpose. Instead of trying to get students to stop "fooling around" by listening to music that may seem lyrically empty or musically lacking, teachers need to focus on ways to incorporate societies' love into the classroom so that it can be used as another teaching tool. 


Teachers generally believe that they have some measure of responsibility, influence, and control over their learning environment (Lackney, 1996). They also believe that the learning environment can have both positive and negative effects on their ability to teach and students' ability to focus on learning tasks. To a great degree, teachers feel that they have a significant control over classroom adaptability, instilling a sense of personalization and ownership within their students. Many teachers attempt to create learning environments that foster healthy social interactions (Loo, 1972), provide places for student privacy (Moore, 1986), as well as facilitate and maintain an appropriate level of sensory stimulation. 

The time has come to look beyond what is taught and how it is taught to the environment in which such teaching occurs. Teaching is more than just curriculum and technique. The way in which seats are arranged and space is utilized, animals, plants, music, aromas, technology, and the kind of lighting used all have an impact on the learning, mood, and health of students. In addition, oxygen rich air needs to be circulated in the classroom via an open window or other avenue and students should be permitted to drink large amounts of water, both of which have been found to stimulate the brain and enhance learning (Robertson, 1998). Healthy brains learn more than those poisoned with foul air and lack of hydration.

A new teacher-training model must prepare teachers to become environmentally competent place makers (Schneekloth & Shibley, 1995) for student instruction and learning. Teachers have typically relied on trial and error experiential methods to develop a cogent set of design principles intrinsic to their teaching style and teaching context. Teacher preparation programs must create authentic in-service opportunities for students to gain practical experiences in physical manipulation of the classroom within a reasonably broad range of classroom settings. By learning what environmental factors influence learning (and teaching), teachers can optimize their classrooms and maximize student performance and health. Education, in-service training, seminars, and practice need to be developed and promoted in order to improve the educational system and the effectiveness of teachers. By expecting teachers to flounder their way through environmental adaptations or to ignore environmental influences on student learning and behavior is disservice to the profession, to society, and to the children we aim to teach.


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