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Is it Quiet Enough for You? Technology for Monitoring Classroom Volume

TL;DR (Too Long, Didn't Read Summary)

The quest for quiet is not new, but we have some new tools to help us create it in our classrooms.
 
This post explores some context around classroom volume and the following tools for measuring and managing classroom volume:

Context - I'm the teacher with the noisy classroom...

 Full Disclosure: I’m the teacher with the noisy classroom.  Throughout my 15-plus years leading classrooms, each of  my classrooms have generally had two very different volume levels: silent and roaring.  When my students were engaged in individual work, most often one could hear the proverbial pin drop.  However, when we engaged in either whole-group or small-group activities, my classes could customarily be heard throughout the entire wing of our building.
 
Honestly, part of me is okay with that.  While I would certainly never condone my class interfering with the learning of students in other classrooms, experience has taught me that  learning can be messy and noisy and that chaos can be constructive.  Still, there is a certain amount of guilt that goes along with being the teacher who disturbs the silence of the hallowed halls of learning.  Even if you are comfortable with chaos, askance looks from your peers and administrators can lead you to consider, “Would my classes be better if they were quieter, and if so, for whom would they be better?”
 
Part of my comfort in noisy classrooms is personal bias.  When I am truly engaged in a task, whether reading, writing, listening, or playing, you would likely have to physically strike me (with a train, perhaps) to pull me away from it and garner my attention. (Full disclosure: my wife is less than a fan of this particular character trait.) .  Yet, I understand that not everyone is so easily enraptured.  
 
Like many experienced educators, I have experimented with a variety of methods for controlling noise in my classroom over the course of my career. (“Clap once if you can hear me.  Clap twice if you can hear me.”)  Recently, however, technology has provided us with new tools for monitoring classroom volume. Devices specifically designed to monitor noise in schools go back at least as far as 2005, but the microphones built into our laptops and cell phones now make it possible for almost any teacher to monitor classroom volume using free (or paid) software.
 
I have gathered a selection of these tools and created a list of pros and cons for each.  As you experiment with these tools in your classroom, you might find some additional information helpful.  To begin with, please check out the two “Noise Thermometers” listed below.  These thermometers will provide you with some context for adjusting the sensitivity of your classroom volume monitoring software.
 
 
Honeywell Noise Thermometer
Honeywell Noise Thermometer (Click to view full PDF)
Quietly Making Noise LLC Noise Thermometer
Quietly Making Noise LLC Thermometer (Click to view full PDF)
In general, it is good to know that:
  • An audible whisper is about 30 decibels.
  • A quiet library is around 40 decibels.
  • Normal conversation occurs around 60 decibels.
  • A school cafeteria is around 80 decibels.
  • Hearing protection is required by OSHA at 90 decibels.
  • An ambulance siren is around 112 decibels.
  • Unprotected noise exposure of any duration is not permitted by OSHA above 115 decibels.
  • The immediate pain threshold for sound is around 130 decibels.
 
In addition to this information, it is great to know that Germany has adopted a recommendation for workplaces performing intellectual work to keep noise levels below 55 decibels.  As our classrooms are intellectual spaces and normal conversation occurs at 60 decibels, it is great to remember that voices should certainly be kept to a whisper during independent work.
 
A list of tools for monitoring classroom volume and references follow.  As you experiment with these tools, please let me know about your experiences and if there is anything that I can do to help as you seek the perfect volume of and for learning in your classroom.

The Tools - Volume Monitoring Apps

References

Brodwater, Taryn. “School tries ‘blab-o-meter’.” The Spokesman-Review. 9 Feb 2005. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2005/feb/09/school-tries-blab-o-meter/. Accessed 11 Feb 2019.
 
“Classroom noise.”  Hear-it.org. (2019) https://www.hear-it.org/Classroom-noise-. Accessed 7 Feb 2019.
 
Goldsmith, Mike. “History of Noise.” https://mikegoldsmith.weebly.com/history-of-noise.html. Accessed 11 Feb 2019.
 
“Decibel.” Dictionary (Online). Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decibel. Accessed 11 Feb 2019.
 
“Noise Pollution and Acoustics in the Office.” Steelcase, 11 Jan. 2019, www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/open-plan-workplace/much-noise/. Accessed 8 Feb 2019.
 
Suter, Alice H. “Standards and Regulations.” ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. 24 March 2011,http://iloencyclopaedia.org/part-vi-16255/noise/81-47-noise/standards-and-regulations. Accessed 8 Feb 2019.