We all agree plants are nice to have in the garden and even in the house, but what about plants in classrooms at school? Or at university?

Plants in classrooms, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable design, biophilic design

Plants on a window sill. Plants in classrooms could boost student engagement and even academic performance. Image credit: Pixabay (CC0)

Underpinning intuition with a slew of scientific research, the fledgling field of biophilic design is challenging people to reconsider the humble houseplant and start bringing these manageable pieces of wild nature into more buildings.

Plants in classrooms could enhance student engagement…

A study published in the Journal of Horticultural Science on tropical plants in university classrooms suggests learning with plants could lead to better student engagement.

The researchers designed a study where over 380 students were taught for a semester by the same professor in the same room and were set the same coursework. In one class, the room also included several tropical plants. In the control class, there were no plants. At the end of each semester the students filled out a survey.

The class with the plants rated the course as significantly better, said they had learnt more and were more engaged. It’s worth noting that their grades were not noticeably different to the control group, but their subjective response is surely important to consider. Demographic details like social class, gender and ethnicity were controlled for so it’s very unlikely the results were impacted by these factors, although of course correlation doesn’t have to mean cause and effect.

…and even academic performance

More surprising than university students enjoying having plants in their learning space, is a study from Sydney’s University of Technology which found indoor plants to be correlated with better test scores in maths, spelling and science.

They studied several hundred kids in three middle schools, with some classes having three plants of the same species and control groups having none.

After six weeks, two schools reported an improvement in test scores in these fundamental subjects of over 10%, while one school had no major difference. Interestingly, this unaffected school had an active gardening program so the students already had plenty of chances to engage with nature.

But how can plants have this effect?

How and why plants have such an impact is not entirely clear. It could be any combination of the following:

  • They purify the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and VOCs and producing oxygen
  • They add visual appeal, interest and ‘ambiance’ to a space
  • They act as a diffuse stimulus providing an ‘attention restoration’ effect
  • They help us feel connected to nature, which has some strong yet intangible benefit

Researchers are working on it, but so far the exact details are a mystery.

But you don’t need to understand how something works to see that it works. No one waits until they can get their head around Einstein’s theory of general relativity before they believe in gravity. Luckily, plants are low-cost and don’t require any special skills to install, so why not get a couple into your classrooms straight away, and see what happens?

Do you work in education? Tweet your views on plants in classrooms to @koruarchitects!

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