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    Relax, Underachievers: It's Not Your Brain, It's Your Poorly-Designed School

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    Kerri Connolly

    If you ever experienced the soul-crushing defeat of having a concept explained over and over again and yet you still couldn't seem to wrap your brain around it, then you'll be pleased to hear that a new study from researchers in the UK has shown that design of the space around you has significant impact on how you learn.

    Researchers from the University of Salford and the architecture firm Nightingale Associates organized a pilot study which followed hundreds of grade school students in Britain over the course of a complete school year in order to examine how environmental surroundings affected the student's learning abilities.

    Baseline data was collected from 751 primary school pupils on their age, gender and past performance in maths and reading skills. Researchers then looked at how design variables influenced performance – factors such as natural light, noise levels, classroom orientation, spatial use, color schemes and storage spaces.

    After following students throughout the year, the resulting data allowed the authors to conclude that "73% of variation in pupil performance driven at the class level can be explained by the building environment factors measured in this study."

    Among the most significant design variables for student performance were ordered spaces and ventilation. As The Guardian notes on the findings shown to improve student performance, “Good design of "connections" – wide and uncluttered corridors with easy orientation and landmarks, rooms that are quickly accessible from the main entrance, and proximity of classrooms to places such as the library, music room and cafe – accounted for a quarter of the positive impact on learning progression that the built environment can have.”

    Top: Xiaoquan Elementary School, by TAO, in Xiaoquan, China (Yao Li); Bottom: The East Harlem School by Peter Gluck and Partners, New York (Theo Morrisson)

    One factor the authors initially hypothesized would be of importance was color, which was actually shown only to improve student performance when used in sparing amounts. Windows and doors that opened wide were among the most effective elements, allowing carbon dioxide to escape lest naptime be prolonged.

    Of course, the Salford/Nightingale findings aren’t the first to illustrate the link between space and performance, but the data set is compelling.

    In fact, the data indicates that a typical student with the unlucky fortune to be found in a negative environment for learning and information absorption may be adversely affected enough to essentially cancel out what would be "the average improvement across one year” for that particular pupil.

    Which was totally why you ended up with that D+ in pre calculus, right?

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