We all know that a great many schools and colleges have a need for extra space which they often address by the addition of an outdoor classroom in the grounds. The trouble is that traditionally these structures have not made the ideal environmentally-friendly classroom, leaking heat at an alarming rate, and in winter sometimes leaving teachers and pupils little choice but to keep their coats on.
Now this isn’t exactly the best learning environment, nor does it set a great example in today’s more environment conscious world. So what are manufacturers doing to make the environmentally-friendly classroom an achievable reality? First of all, we need to ask ourselves what makes an environmentally-friendly classroom. Eco-friendly is a term that’s bandied about a lot but we don’t always fully understand the various elements that comprise a truly environmentally friendly building.
The principal consideration is, of course, the amount of energy required to keep the building warm in winter or cool in summer. In order to achieve this, it must first of all have adequate insulation. You might assume that it’s not possible for a building of this type to provide the sort of insulation that you’d expect to find in a residential house but this is simply not the case.
In reality, it’s only the fact that these structures are not subject to the same building regulations that has led manufacturers in the past to pay little or no attention to such matters. Secondly, it’s important to make the structure suitably airtight. Measures to close any sources of draughts and reduce heat loss through windows and other parts of the structure can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the space by 30-40%.
But to be considered genuinely eco-friendly calls for something more than straightforward energy efficiency. The truly environmentally-friendly classroom also shows great care in the selection of materials used in its construction. Timber should be selected from sustainable sources so that forests can be quickly replenished; ideally being of a fast-growing soft-wood variety such as cedar which also contains natural resins that make it extremely durable.
And that all-important insulation can and should be comprised of a high percentage of recycled materials. When it comes to windows and doors, aluminium frames can now be manufactured using over 90% recycled materials, which in turn are fully recyclable when they eventually reach the end of their useful life.
Finally, having put so much care into the construction of the building, it would be almost criminal to allow any heating or lighting to fall short of the same high standards. Low energy consumption LED lamps should be the standard, as should the most energy-efficient appliances with thermostatic controls so they automatically shut off when the desired temperature is reached.
Now that you have a classroom which is built to take care of the environment, don’t forget to carry on being green on an everyday basis. Have recycling bins available in the classroom for paper, cardboard and plastic, and make sure they get used. Turn off lights whenever the classroom is empty and don’t put the lights on unless you really need them.
Conserve paper: print on both sides, and keep any sheets which can be reused as scrap. Even better, you can try not to print at all. Using an overhead projector can rule out the need for printing worksheets. Try taking the email addresses of parents to send messages home instead of printing letters – you might find that they are less likely to get lost at the bottom of a school bag.
Lastly, you can dedicate one lesson a week to educating the children about green issues. You can start off by teaching them how environmentally friendly their new classroom is. This really brings green issues to life when they can see what can be achieved in our everyday lives. Learning about the environment is a cross-curricular subject which can incorporate geography, history, IT as well as cultural issues. We can all do our bit to protect the environment.
Article written by Kate Warr at Green Studios who build environmentally-friendly outdoor classrooms for schools that provide an ideal learning environment for students.