stop the noise: an investigation of sound levels in elementary school

Hearing Rehabilitation Quarterly – Volume 25, Number 1 (2000)

The following article is a report made by five fifth-grade students on noise levels at the Ida Weller Elementary School, Centerville, Ohio. The student researchers were: Carrie Guiney, Meredith Higgins, Andy Pavlina, Michael Spires, and Alex Turvey. Their teacher and project advisor was Anna Marie Staudenmaier.

Sounds are all around us. Sound occurs when waves vibrate through the air and travel to our eardrum, then to our nerves and brain, where we decode it. Sound above a certain level, though, is called noise. It is unneeded sound. When it is above 85 decibels, noise harms our ears, sometimes permanently. It can also affect the way we speak, how we listen and learn, and even how well we sleep. The louder the sound, the shorter the time it takes to damage a person’s hearing. Average conversations are about 60 dB, alarm clocks and heavy traffic are about 80 dB, and discos or rock concerts are about 115 decibels. You can listen to 90 decibels for 8 hours a day before you begin to lose hearing, but if you listen to 115 decibels, it only takes 15 minutes before your hearing is damaged.

How serious is this topic? It is very serious because people are losing hearing every single day. Traffic and construction are two examples of noise that we often hear that can damage your hearing. And the amount of noise in our world is increasing all the time. Over 40,000,000 people in the U.S. alone suffer from some sort of hearing loss. It is thought that at least 25% of people suffer hearing loss from their workplaces. Twenty-six percent of a group of seniors who played in a marching band had some hearing loss. Even in our school, there are noises that can damage our hearing, like the bells or the lunchroom during lunch hours. We need to take action now to stop hearing loss and its causes. Before we take action, though, we need to know how bad the problem really is.

We chose this topic because we knew it had “meat.” In other words, it had lots of information and we were able to do lots of research on it. Another reason we chose it is because we could take real measurements with an actual piece of scientific equipment. We could actually prove our point to an audience. Next, there is more and more noise, and something needs to be done about it. We thought that people needed to know about the dangers of loud noise. Many people are ignorant, especially teenagers. And finally, we didn’t know about the dangers of loud noise and sound, but we wanted to know about it.

We actually decided on this topic by making a master list of other topics, and then drawing a decision-making matrix. We evaluated each of our topic choices, rating them on a scale from 1-5 for various criteria. Some of the criteria were interest level, information available, and the possibility of a real product at the end. We also wanted to learn a different way to do something in the topic we chose.

After our topic was chosen, we created our “big” research question:

Are there times or activities in our school when the noise level becomes dangerous to people’s hearing?

Then we had to decide where and how we would research. We looked at what noise is damaging and what noises in school seemed too loud to us. We divided up our “big” question into smaller questions, and decided on where to gather data. We also had to buy and learn to use a decibel meter. When we experimented, we set up the sound meter in different areas like the school’s multipurpose room, hallway, classroom, and other areas and took readings. Our research questions are found next.

investigation a-andy pavlina

Question: At Weller Elementary School on Thursdays, which grade is the loudest (makes the most noise) at lunch? Does the noise reach a danger level?

I wanted to know more about the sounds I hear everyday and why Mrs. Peterman always tells students in the lunchroom to quiet down. Are we really too loud? It doesn’t seem too loud to me, from a student’s viewpoint, because I don’t know how loud it really is. It would also be interesting to me to find out what can damage your ears and what can’t.

To gather my information I went into the lunchroom on a Thursday. I planned to set up my meter on a tripod on the stage stairs. When the first grade was eating, I stood for 5 minutes, watching the sound meter, and then I did the same thing when the other grades came to lunch. The sound meter was set to 80 decibels.

To find the answer to my question, I spent five minutes of the time when all the classes in one grade are eating collecting the data. I stood on the stairs in the same place with the same weighting on the sound meter, which was on a tripod, to get the same area of data for each grade. I needed a reading of the grade’s highest noise level, and a reading of the grade’s lowest noise level from each of the five grades. This would be gathered by the end of my last data collection period, at the end of the school lunch hour. I made each grade’s reading when all of the kids were through the cafeteria line and sitting down in the lunchroom. This is how I collected data to answer my question. A chart of the data I collected is below.

There were different noise level data for each grade level. I found that the smallest, youngest kids (grade 1) were the quietest; the next bigger, next older grades (grades 2 and 3) were the loudest, and the oldest, biggest kids are in-between in noise levels. The lowest decibel level reached by all the grades was 62 dBs, which was done by the third grade, but the loudest decibel reached 115 dBs, was also reached by the third grade. The third grade is the loudest and had the greatest range in noise. Some things were the same, though, with all the grade levels. At some time during each grade’s lunch, the noise was above the danger level of 85 dB. This can damage our hearing and also the hearing of the ladies who work in the kitchen and lunchroom.

I conclude that the students do need to quiet down at lunch. We need to take action now, because if we talk as loud as it said in the information we read, we could start to lose our hearing during just one lunch period. Also, the younger kids need to work hard to settle down during lunch . Now when the lights get turned off at lunch to quiet us down, I know why.

investigation b-alex turvy

Question: Is the bell in the hallway or bathroom loud enough to damage the hearing of people standing underneath it when it rings?

There are two bells in the fourth grade hallway and one in each of the bathrooms in the hallway. If you are near these bells when they ring, they really hurt your ears. The walls where the bells are located are made of concrete blocks and the floor is tiled. There is nothing there to absorb the loud sound. We wanted to know how loud they really were.

We collected our data by going out into the hall or the bathroom at 8:05, 2:25, and 2:30, the times when the bells ring each day. We stood five feet from the bell and aimed our sound meter at the bell. We did it this way so there would be very few variables. We collected many separate pieces of data and it was important that we had that many reading for the chart design, and also to be sure that we had accurate readings.

Below is a chart of the readings our class took on February 19-26, to see if the bell was loud enough to damage your hearing.

We found that at all times the bell rang, it was at least 20 dB above the danger level. This was true for both the hall and the bathroom. This is a real problem because there are usually people in the hallway, standing near or under the bell when it rings. Their hearing may be damaged by the bell over time.

investigation c meredith higgins

Question: Is the fifth grade hallway louder in the morning or the afternoons? Does the noise ever reach a danger level?

I collected my data by using our sound level meter and setting it up on the tripod in the fifth grade hallway to record my data. I sat the sound meter at the start of the hallway, where it is open at one end. The walls of the hallway are lined with lockers, and there are two outside doors on the other end. When students stand in front of their lockers, they have about 1-2 square feet of space.

I set the meter at about 70 dB range and moved down to 60 sometimes because the sound got lower and went out of range. I recorded from 7:50 am to 8:05 when the bell rang in the morning, and from 3:20-3:25 in the afternoon. For three days I recorded my data. I did it this way because it was the easiest way to gather data and they were times I could be there.

I kept the sound meter in the same place everyday. The same people were close to the meter and the same were farther away because of their locker positions. I collected 12 pieces of data. If I only had one it would not be as accurate because the fifth grade hallway may be louder on different days. It is important because one collection is not enough to be sure the readings or the conclusions are accurate.

The results of my experiment are in the form of a chart and graph. I have included all of my data and the danger level of sound. I discovered how loud the fifth grade hallway is and also how quiet it is. The hallway is louder in the afternoon when it gets close to the danger level, than the morning when it does not. I discovered that placing the sound meter at the head of the hall captures all the sound. My data answered my specific question.

I think I may have gotten these results because in the afternoon the students are ready to go home and everyone is out in the hall at the same time. In the morning students come to school during a fifteen minute time and not everyone is in the hall at the same time. They are also more tired .

investigation d-carrie guiney

Question: Is the noise during a Book Buddies ( a mixed grade reading activity), when everyone is reading loudly, enough to damage your hearing?

Book Buddies is an activity when a fifth grade class gets together with a second grade class so that we can help each other with our reading skills. This activity happens weekly on Thursdays and lasts for 30 minutes. Sometimes the noise when everyone is reading seems loud.

My procedure was to record the sound levels when my fifth grade class and a second grade class got together and read to each other. I took my readings in the middle of the time, when everyone was reading. After Book Buddies was over, I found the minimum and maximum sound levels from the decibel meter, which I set up in the beginning of the class. When I took the readings, the sound meter was in the same spot and the same children were in the room at all times. I only recorded data once, for one-half hour. After that I recorded the readings and graphed them.

Noise levels recorded in decibels during Book Buddies:

I found that Book Buddies wasn’t as loud as it seemed. I thought that the readings would be much higher than they were. I guess I thought that they would be loud because there are so many students all reading out loud at the same time in one room.

If I had done this experiment more than once, I would have gotten different readings and I might have found a greater range. If I had put the meter in a different place, it might have given different readings, too. I think that at some points, Book Buddies loudness is above the danger level, but I don’t think that it would stay that loud long enough to do damage.

investigation e-carrie guiney

Question: Is the noise during Fit ‘n Fun Day, a set of large-group activities in the gym, loud enough to damage students’ hearing?

Fit ‘n Fun Day is a new activity that we started this year in place of our carnival to earn money for new playground equipment. The activity lasts an hour for each grade. It is held in the gym. When students are there, they do many challenging and athletic activities. On the stage there is a disk jockey from the high school with lots of sound equipment and CD’s. During the hour, there is loud music and the students making noise at the same time.

To collect data, I set up the sound meter on the side of the stage in the beginning of the activity when the third grade was just coming in. Next I checked the sound meter every ten minutes and recorded the data and times it was recorded. When I did this, the sound meter was in the same spot the whole time. It on a small tripod. The same people were in the gym almost all of the time during each session.

I had many pieces of data because I recorded every ten minutes. I think that this is important because you need many readings in a situation like this to draw good conclusions.

Fit ‘n Fun Day Readings

The noise levels during Fit ‘n Fun day went above the danger level 8 times. It was exactly on the danger levels 3 times. During this whole activity, the noise level was close to, at, or above the danger level. No reading was lower than 74, which is still loud. The graph for this data is on the next page.

I found that this activity was louder than it seems. It didn’t bother me before I knew the sound levels, but when I saw the sound levels, I realized that it could really damage some one’s hearing very badly, especially since it goes on for a whole hour. I am glad that I got so many readings so that I could find such a large amount of information. I think that we should try to lower the sound of Fit ‘n Fun Day so that students have a smaller chance of having their hearing damaged.

investigation f michael spires

Question: At Weller Elementary, when the fifth grade is in gym class, does the noise level get loud enough to damage students’ hearing?

In gym class, the fifth grade was learning how to square dance. Therefore, there were two classes of about 22 students each in the gym at once. There was also music playing throughout the gym class. The class was approximately forty-five minutes long. During this forty-five minute class, the students would learn different types of American Heritage dances, like square dances, for example. At times, the gym teacher would blow his whistle very loudly. I wanted to know if the noise level was loud enough to damage students’ hearing, and if so, how big was the problem?

First, I thought of and designed a research question about the loudness of noise in this situation. My teacher bought a sound meter. So for one week, I recorded the loudest sound of the forty-five minute period. When I did this, the sound meter was on a three-foot-high stage, mounted on a tripod. Different fifth grade classes were paired in the gym on different days of the week. They all used the same songs and did the same dances. I did this for 1 week, for 45 minutes each day.

I found that the noise level was loud enough to damage a student’s hearing in every class. Since hearing damage is cumulative, this might be a source of hearing loss. If the dB level was above eight-five for a period of time, it could begin to cause permanent damage.

I think that this means that people should be warned about the noise level. Most people don’t realize how loud the noise is. The data clearly shows that the noise is too loud and something needs to be done.

investigation alex turvy

Questions: Are there any noises like construction, cleaning machines, etc., at Weller that can damage a person’s hearing?

We chose this because we wondered if there were any other noise sources that only happen occasionally that could damage our hearing?

We first thought of things that we had noticed were noisy from time to time and decided to measure them. As they happened in the building, we used our sound meter to measure the decibel level. When we measured them, we kept our sound meter as close as a person would be if he stood next to them. Our results are shown in the following chart and graph.

It is clear from our graph that everything we measured was well over the danger level that is 85 decibels. We found that the miscellaneous noises in the school are much louder than 85 decibels and they can damage the hearing of students who listen to them for a long time, or people who use the equipment daily.

We were surprised that the construction noise was only about 95 decibels, because it seemed louder. We thought it would be well into the 100’s. We were correct in our estimation that miscellaneous noises in our school are too loud for the people who are near them daily.

project summary

The strength of our data is that we have many pieces of data from many activities. We used the same meter all the time, so the readings would not change because of the instrument. In most activities, we kept it steady on the tripod and in the same place to keep the readings equal. When we could, we took readings several times to be sure they were accurate.

Some weaknesses of our data might be that we only got data on certain days. We didn’t record on all the days over a long period of time, but sometimes that wasn’t possible. There were also different classes involved in some of the testing and some classes might be noisier than others, which might change the data. Also, the noises might have been louder on some days than others for different reasons, like attendance, the weather, the day of the week, or just before vacations. The bells and machine noises wouldn’t change much in any case. If we had collected more data in different places, our findings might have differed slightly. We feel overall, though, that this is an accurate measure of the general noise levels in our school.

After collecting this data we think we have enough evidence to say that “Yes, there are times at Weller Elementary when the noise levels in school can damage our hearing.” For example, the bell can almost instantly damage it when you are standing right under it. The time we spend in the lunchroom can damage our hearing also. We need to make others aware of this problem and take actions to stop the increasing noise in our school.