Thursday, September 1, 2011

What did you say? Decibels in the classroom

I have a new favorite app!   Most people wouldn't get excited about this, but as a speech pathologist, this app is a very handy tool.---entitled "Decibel" by Gadget Frontier.    To understand why this is such a great tool, read my personal experience below.

Our school (which is a great school, so I'm not really being critical here) has one hallway where the HVAC units are individual classroom systems installed in each room's ceiling.   They rattle incessantly and make a constant blowing noise.  If someone sits under one while kids are contributing in class or reading aloud, the adult has to literally read the child's lips.  Teachers are forced to shout all day (not good for vocal health).  I could hear that these air conditioners were loud, but when I looked into purchasing a decibel reader from Radio Shack, they were a bunch of money!   I complained about the noise levels to the powers in charge, but didn't have empirical data. Remedies were moving slowly.

Screenshot ---indicates the background noise is 68 decibels
Then I found "Decibel".  For 99 cents, I felt it was worth my own dollar to purchase this for the iPad, and then take the iPad into the classrooms and measure noise levels.  National guidelines state that background noise in classrooms should be 35 decibels.  Some of the classrooms I measured recorded nearly 70 decibels (the same loudness as a vacuum cleaner) under the HVAC units.  The same was true in another school (an older middle school)  where a speech pathologist shares an office with a noisy air conditioner---also 70 decibels.  How do the students hear her?  How does one teach speech sounds to a kid when the sounds are masked by background noise?
     So, with data in hand, we are now all working together to get these noisy air conditioners fixed.  Fans are being turned down, teachers are requesting and getting sound field systems, and everyone is more aware of classroom acoustics and student learning!  My school has made great strides with the help of the administration and the School Improvement Team, and will continue to make progress especially since I'll be tracking background noise with 'Decibel'. Life is good!
Decibels are the numbers on the left.

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