Controlling the Classroom Climate
How Weather and Temperature Affects Our Moods – and Our Learning Abilities
Brian D. Hadfield, Middle School Teacher, Chippewa Valley Public Schools, Michigan
Mother Nature’s mood swings have a way of affecting our mood. Whether it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, or so cold you can see your breath, her ups and downs make us feel up and down, too. And while this may not come as a surprise, did you know that weather affects learning, too? This is particularly true in schools, where dozens of teachers and hundreds of students are assembled every day to teach and be taught, no matter what conditions are like on the outside. And while we cannot control the whims of weather, we can control conditions inside our classrooms to provide a more comfortable learning environment.
Ask anyone where they’d like to visit within the United States, and it’s a good bet many will tell you Hawaii. So, it may not shock you to learn that Hawaii is considered the happiest state in America. According to a 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index report, Hawaii scored highest in emotional health (smiling, happiness and laughter), life evaluation (an expectation of good times for the next five years) and physical health (energy and feeling well-rested). Is it a coincidence that the average yearly temperature in Hawaii is in the mid-70s? There is a good chance that it’s not. According to most experts, the optimal temperature for optimal mood is 72 degrees for most Americans; raise or lower that temperature a significant amount, and studies have shown a considerable decrease in mood.
So what effect does our mood have on our learning ability? The biggest effect, aside from general attitude, is on our memory and cognitive abilities. A recent study at Westview High School in Beaverton, Oregon, demonstrated this perfectly. The study placed students in different rooms set at varying temperatures. Students were given exams, and their scores were compared against the temperature of the room. The results confirmed that 72 degrees was optimum for the students:
- At 61 degrees, students averaged a score of 76%
- At 81 degrees, students averaged a score of 72%
- At 72 degrees, student achieved an average score of 90%
Other studies performed throughout the United States have yielded similar findings, lending credence to the necessity of functional air conditioning and heating systems in all schools. While most schools have heating systems (and warm clothes can fend off much of the cold), some still do not have air conditioning, or use it sparingly to decrease costs. If your school falls into this category, organize a meeting with the administration to discuss the findings of these studies, and to explain how it could be affecting your ability to teach and your students’ ability to learn. In the meantime, the National Union of Teachers has some other suggestions for cooling down the classroom:
- Install fans or safety windows that open
- Rearrange classrooms (e.g., move desks away from windows)
- Create shade by planting trees near windows
- Schedule classes that use heat-generating equipment (e.g., computers, ovens and Bunsen burners) in the AM
- Allow students to bring bottled water to class
- Adhere reflective film to windows
- Avoid strenuous activity in PE on the warmest days
From heat waves to snow rage, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. But a comfortable classroom climate can make the school year much more productive, and reduce feelings of fatigue, irritability and depression. After all, not all of us can live in Hawaii.