I recently encountered an intriguing project that peaked my curiosity while strolling the halls of Toronto District Christian High school. Uniquely shaped wooden panels had been attached to the walls in the high school hallway. When I moved in for a closer look, I realized that the panels were there to serve a greater purpose than artistic decoration. They were there in answer to a functional driving question, presented as a challenge to a group of students in the Engineering Block; “What can we create to reduce the noise level in the Communications Technology classroom? And subsequently in the hallway outside of Room 28?”
Aaron Hudson and Nathan Blom were two of the students who took on this challenge. They spent time measuring and drawing up design plans. They were both grade 12 students, enrolled in the Engineering Block; a combination of University level Physics and Applied Physics. Their teacher, David Robinson, is committed to helping his students learn together by working on authentic projects. “Learning for the sake of learning skills and ideas is a worthy task in its own right, but when it can serve others it is even better”. In this case, the project aimed to serve students and teachers alike in hopes of reducing levels of noise in the hallways, especially during times of high traffic.
Students learn the principals of sound management in grade 11 Physics, allowing them to take those theories and put them into practice. The project followed a request from the Communications Technology teacher, whose students were struggling to improve the sound quality of their films. Students designed and cut wooden frames, filling them with sound-absorbing insulation and wrapping it with fabric. The room can now be rented commercially for filming!
Having succeeded in their first challenge, the students turned their attention to the hallway outside of room 28. Because hallways tend to be dustier, and more visible than in a classroom, they decided to tackle the next project using wood alone. Students willed their frames with different geometric designs, resulting in sound diffusion and even cancellation. “It was a great introductory project, and I don’t think any of us believed we would be able to turn out the functional artwork we did,” says Nathan. “Every step of the way involved acquainting ourselves with each tool and mastering it. The class had a wide range of previous woodworking skill, but we’re all proud of the collective product achieved.”
As a bonus assignment, one student created a sound wave analysis file, analyzing the hallway noise before and after installing the wooden frames. Results showed that the students were successful in cutting the reverb time in half, and reducing reflected loudness by 20 decibels!
Since then, students have continued to create designs to reduce sound in other areas of the school, including other sections of hallway, and the newly created drama room. Their work has resulted in the transformation of areas that were once noisy, echo-filled areas into quiet nooks and crannies.