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

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

Zero Noise Classroom Image

Website Link

Zero Noise Classroom – Chrome Webstore

Platform

  • Chrome Extension

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Ability to adjust volume threshold
  • Ability to adjust timer

Cons

  • Mildly sensitive to vibrations from working on the keyboard while in use

Too Noisy Pro Screenshot

Website Link

Too Noisy Pro

Platform

  • iOS App

Pros

  • Easy to understand interface
  • Background changes as volume exceeds thresholds
  • Highly customizable visualizations appropriate for many age levels

Cons 

  • Not free
  • Difficult to project without access to AppleTV

Price

$4.99

Too Noisy App Screenshot

Website Link

Too Noisy

Platform

  • iOS App

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Background changes as volume exceeds thresholds

Cons 

  • Visualizations are targeted at very young audience
  • Difficult to project without access to AppleTV

Scatch Classroom Noise'O'Meter Image

Website Link

Scratch Classroom Noise’O’Meter

Platform

  • Web Application

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Visualization of sound over time
  • Ability to view the code behind the app
  • Ability to customize through code

Cons 

  • Limited ability to work on laptop while using app

NIOSH Sound App on iPhone Image

Website Link

NIOSH Sound Level Meeter App

Platform

  • iOS App

Pros

  • Free
  • Includes easy access to information about noise and hearing loss
  • Volume level reported in a variety of formats including max volume
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Highly customizable professional tools

Cons 

  • Difficult to project without AppleTV access
  • Designed for professional environments, not classrooms

ClassDojo Noisemeter Image

Website Link

ClassDojo Noise Meter

Platform

  • Web Application

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Visualization of sound over time
  • Ability to view the code behind the app
  • Ability to customize through code

Cons 

  • Sensitive to vibrations from working on the keyboard are detected as classroom noise
  • Limited ability to work on laptop while using app
  • No alerts

Classcraft Volume Meter Image

Website Link

Classcraft Volume Meter

Platform

  • Web Application

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to Understand Interface
  • Ability to set desired time interval
  • Ability to adjust volume threshold
  • Alert when maximum volume is exceeded
  • Ability to extend gamification through Classcraft platform 

Cons 

  • Sensitive to vibrations from working on the keyboard are detected as classroom noise
  • Limited ability to work on laptop while using app

BouncyBalls Image

Website Link

Bouncy Balls

Platform

  • Web Application

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to understand interface
  • Different visualizations of volume level
  • Ability to adjust microphone sensitivity
  • Noise alerts

Cons 

  • Very sensitive to vibrations from working on the keyboard are detected as classroom noise
  • Limited ability to work on laptop while using app

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.