The Impact of Acoustics in Special Education Classrooms

May 17th, 2018

AE Works Architectural Intern Angella Dariah Presents Research Findings at Architectural Research Centers Consortium International Conference

Can the impact of acoustics be observed in behaviors of special needs children in classrooms?  Can a better understanding of acoustics on behaviors inform the design process for special education classrooms?

These are the questions that AE Works Architectural Intern Angella Dariah set out to answer while completing her Master of Science in Research and Practice fellowship program at the University of Minnesota.

Angella presented her findings to an international audience at the 2018 Architectural Research Centers Consortium Conference in Philadelphia.

Inspired by her time working at a daycare, Angella quickly became interested in how building design influenced children’s behavior. She shares, “Architecture can create spaces that allow children to express themselves and develop. Being able to positively impact the lives of others is exactly what I want to do and why I went into school to become an architect.”

Angella’s interest in architecture and children’s development motivated her architectural thesis and subsequent research. She quickly discovered that little research had been done on how acoustics impact the behavior of children with special needs in classroom settings. Working closely with her academic adviser Abimbola Asojo at the University of Minnesota and her firm adviser Stefnee Trzpuc at BWBR in St. Paul, Angella developed a plan to explore acoustics in the special education classrooms.

Angella collaborated with a multi-discipline team of contributors from architecture, psychology, anthropology, sociology and special education. Through in-person interviews, electronic surveys and on-site observations of two classroom settings, she gathered diverse perspectives and comprehensive data to help answer if and to what extent acoustics influence the behavior of children with special needs in classrooms.

Survey findings concluded that many aspects impact how a child behaves in a classroom, but most respondents agreed that environmental acoustics such as unplanned noises from mechanical units or outside the classroom negatively impact student behavior. With many elements both inside and outside the classroom impacting behavior, it is difficult to measure the influence of acoustics. Angella sums up her findings, “Through understanding acoustics, its importance, and its potential impact on users, acoustical design can play a major role in supporting the learning and performance of children with special needs.”

As a part of her research, Angella developed an acoustical guide to support architects in designing educational spaces. This tool and Angella’s complete research findings have been submitted for review and publication.

Angella is excited for future students enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Research and Practice program to continue research into acoustics and other areas of design that impact children’s behavior. She also looks forward to applying her findings on acoustics to her work at AE Works where she is working on a diverse range of healthcare, corporate and community projects. Energized by the possibilities, she shares, “Design has the ability to change perspective. Perspective has the ability to open a mind. An open mind has the ability to create.”