The Cognitive Impact of Fresh Air

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A consistent argument I’ve made here is that the physical environment of a school alone can have a significant impact.

So here’s a really interesting study that demonstrated that healthier air quality (in the form of low CO2 levels) can double cognitive scores.

“The results are striking,” lead researcher Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard, told Ars. Researchers knew that air quality would likely affect cognitive function and work performance, but earlier studies included few people and reported subjective data. We didn’t expect to see that high quality air could double cognitive scores, Allen said.

Can you imagine if any school ever posted results where they doubled cognitive scores—or doubled any score, for that matter? To say that the “results are striking” would be an understatement.

In this study, the researchers looked specifically at office workers. But most workers in offices at least work in buildings where there is no mold growing on the ceiling, where there is no water that will run down the chalkboard whenever it rains, and where there is no thick black-green “dust” that will coat your desks on a daily basis.

Whereas we find it somehow OK to send off thousands of our nations children each day to schools where this is the everyday norm.

So if ventilating the air can DOUBLE the cognitive scores of office workers — imagine, just imagine, what it could do for the long-term well-being and academic performance of students. . .

Access to fresh air, greenery, and natural light should be a right, not a luxury, for all of our children.

The Impact of Rosenwald School Design

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NPR has an interesting piece up about one-room schoolhouses in the segregated South, called Rosenwald Schools after the man who funded them. An economist, Dan Aaronson, conducted a study on their impact:

“He and other economists used this data to compare communities that had a Rosenwald school with communities that didn’t. It turns out these schools had a big impact on kids in the area.

“First and foremost, they got more education,” says Aaronson. But that’s only the beginning. Students who went to Rosenwald schools had higher IQ scores than kids who didn’t. They made more money later in life. They were more likely to travel to the North as part of the Great Migration. They lived a little bit longer. The women delayed marriage and had fewer kids. And crime rates in the area of the schools went down.”

There are no doubt multiple reasons for this significant impact, but there’s a clue that stood out to me as very relevant here:

These so-called Rosenwald Schools had the best architectural designs of the time, with big windows to maximize sunlight — there was no electricity — good sanitation and good ventilation.”

Could it be that the physical design of Rosenwald schools played a role in the significant long-term positive outcomes associated with these schools?

Being In Nature Benefits Health – But How? | IFLScience

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“Kuo suggests that fresh air, sunlight and a beautiful view relax us and turn off our “fight or flight” responses. “When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes – growing, reproducing, and building the immune system,” she said. If so, many of the same benefits can be achieved for those who really aren’t the outdoor type by doing what they love, be it reading a good book or spending time with friends. However, Kuo adds these don’t provide elements of good health such as Vitamin D.”

–Stephen Luntz, “Being In Nature Benefits Health – But How?” On IFL

Lighting Systems as Interventions

“Lighting is really not about a fixture in the ceiling anymore,” said Mariana Figueiro, who leads light and health research at the Lighting Research Center of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It’s about delivering individualized light treatments to people.”

. . . At Brown University, researchers are looking at both spectrum and intensity to design a system to help adolescents stay alert in school.

“If we just did blue enhanced light it might be better for the circadian timing system, but it might not be as good for the alertness and the academic needs that they have,” said Mary A. Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior who studies sleep in children, adolescents and young adults. “We want to see if we can hit on the best combination that will enhance those features.”

—Diane Cardwell, “High-Tech Lights to Help Baby Sleep, or Students Stay Alert” on the NY Times

A School Building as Curriculum

“On a cloudless summer day, sunlight touched nearly every corner of the building with the help of vast windows and sun tubes; experts say that students learn better when they are exposed to natural light.

The building, too, is designed to be incorporated in lessons. With a rooftop full of solar panels and a geothermal-well system to heat and cool water, it will be a “net-zero” building . . .

The school will feature a rooftop solar lab with a moveable solar array, allowing students to learn about the photovoltaic panels fueling their school. Signs will teach them about the geothermal wells.”

Even the school’s layout is intended to be built into lessons.

—Moriah Balingit, “More sunlight, moveable walls: New Va. school reflects new teaching ideals” on The Washington Post