If You Can’t Stand The Heat Then Get Out Of The Classroom

Should we hold exams in the summer months?

If you can’t stand the heat then get out of the classroom….if only it were that simple.

Many students dread exams but not for the reasons we might expect. Many can be well prepared and all set to go but when the temperature goes up, performance can go down.

The problems start before reaching the exam room. If it’s hot then preparations are hindered because it becomes difficult to focus and you feel lethargic. Even though you are tired, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult.

Some students have the battle with pollen to contend with. Research has found that one in five exam candidates achieves worse grades because of hay fever.

Then there is school.

Despite our obsession with the weather and our ‘all four seasons’ in one day way of living, our schools are pretty hopeless places to learn and are not very well equipped to deal with temperature changes.

We know that temperature makes a huge difference to how we feel and how we learn and cooler is better for learning efficiency.

Mendell and Heath (2005) critically reviewed evidence for direct associations between the indoor environmental quality and performance or attendance. As temperature and humidity increase, students report greater discomfort, and their achievement and task-performance deteriorate as attention spans decrease.

Barrett et al (2015) in their report Clever Classrooms point out that “Classrooms facing north avoid the sun’s radiant heat, while those towards the east and west receive little sun heat for most UK classrooms. These all have a lower risk of overheating than classrooms facing towards the south.”

Spare a thought for schools in Haiwai – one teacher there recorded temperatures inside is Kailua classroom at 108 degrees!

When schools get too hot then this isn’t just about comfort, but it’s a real health and safety issue. When we get hot and bothered then we can feel dizzy, faint or get hear cramps. It won’t surprise you to learn that Park (2017) says that repeated heat stress can disrupt learning and reduce the rate of human capital accumulation.

Driven To Distraction

Temperature impacts our ability to learn and it also affects numerous other mental and physical activities. Extremes are never good for our bodies.

When the classroom is too hot then your body temperature can rise and you can start to feel sick, dizzy and disoriented – heat brings out the worst in all of us in terms of mood too.

When a classroom is too cold then you can feel lonely, depressed and distracted.

Extremes can make us lose concentration and we become easily distracted….not good for learning and hopeless for sitting an exam.

Is there an ideal temperature?

Studies say that lower classroom temperatures and improved air ventilation improve learning ability and pupils working in classrooms with lower temperatures were shown to be more alert and able to work more quickly while making fewer mistakes. According to the ‘experts’, a classroom set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 22 degrees Celsius is best.

It is a ‘basic’ part of a school’s job to create the best possible learning environment for their pupils in order to be as productive and creative – sadly, few succeed.

A major study looking at 10 million US secondary school students over 13 years shows there is a “significant” link between higher temperatures and lower school achievement. Heat and Learning, suggested that hotter weather made it harder to study in lessons in school and to concentrate on homework out of school.

Goodman et al (2018) found for every 0.55C increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1% fall in learning. The reduction in learning accelerated once temperatures rose above 32C and even more so above 38C.

The study suggests  a practical response could be to use more air conditioning but I have first-hand experience of air conditioners being set so cold that pupils have been shivering and have had to wear coats.

A successful educational experience is reliant on many features and the elements are very complex but we cannot underestimate the impact environmental factors have on how we feel, learn and cope.

We need to rethink our classrooms and school and we need to rethink when exams are sat. Expecting children to be at their peak performance level in the hotter months is unrealistic and damaging.

Most school buildings are ill-suited to learning because they have been poorly designed. Only a few children and fortunate to be studying in clever classrooms.

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