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Needham Public Schools Enlightened by Sennheiser

Aug 2, 2006 3:38 PM


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The Needham Public Schools district, located in the suburbs of Boston, recently turned to Sennheiser to provide a clear and robust wireless sound field solution. The district needed a system that would ensure the intelligibility of teachers in the classroom, while also reducing the strain on their voices. In the case of John Eliot School in Needham, the system would also operate in an unfriendly RF environment.

The ability to hear teachers clearly in the classroom is a critical factor in the learning abilities of pre-teen children, whose auditory processes are not yet fully developed. "The biological structure of children's auditory processes mature around age 15," reports Suzanne Wilcox, principal of The John Eliot School, a kindergarten-through-grade-five school. "General-education classrooms are really verbal environments. Imagine children in a classroom environment that is, by nature, active and not always noisy, but has lots of background noise. If they can't hear one or two words, their years of language and life experience don't help them fill in the gaps of the words that they missed, whereas, adults can. If they miss one or two words, they can get the context."

Therefore, she says, "A louder signal from a sound field system really allows the children to hear far better than they would in a regular environment. It's not loud; it just raises the spoken word up above the level of all the other noise."

Steve Tedeschi of Needham Public Schools' Educational Technology Center has installed at least 40 channels of Sennheiser EW112-G2 evolution wireless systems in the district. The biggest challenge was at John Eliot School, "Almost every television and radio station have their towers in this town," Tedeschi says. "This is probably the worst place to try to pick up a wireless signal."

Working with local supplier Talamas Broadcasting of nearby Newton, Mass., Tedeschi made full use of the A-, B-, and C-frequency bands available in the Sennheiser evolution wireless series equipment to work around the dense RF environment at the school. "It worked out perfectly fine," he says. "It's crisp and clear, and it's loud enough to be able to hear the teacher clearly."

Previously, says Tedeschi, another company installed Sennheiser evolution series equipment in a district school's performance center, gym, and cafeteria, but left them on the factory frequency settings. "Talamas showed me how to change the frequencies and they gave me a list of the frequencies that are used around here," he says. "So when the John Eliot School project came up, I said this is what we're going to buy."

The Sennheiser microphones and belt-packs at John Eliot School are tied into amplifiers feeding ceiling speakers, which are also fed by DVD and VCR projection system. "And we tie the transmitters for the hearing impaired students into the amplifier so the teacher doesn't have to carry an extra microphone," Tedeschi adds.

Wilcox comments, "Initially, some of the research I read talked a lot about how helpful a sound field system is for phonics and the acquisition of phonics skills, particularly in kindergarten and first grade classrooms. So many sounds in phonics can sound very similar, and with the sound field system the teacher is really able to enunciate it in a way that the child can hear.

"But I've really found that it's helpful in all environments. One of the other things that we had read about was that children who have attention deficit disorder really benefit from a sound field system because of it being loud enough and crisp enough to hear. It holds their attention."

It isn't only the children that benefit, she notes. "The teacher benefit is less strain on their voices. They're not quite as fatigued. Another thing that's helpful is that when children are reading reports to the class the teacher can give them the microphone, and then the kids naturally attend far more closely."

She concludes, "There are studies that show that sound field systems can improve literacy development. I believe that is absolutely true. I don't have any data that says that children have done better in school as a result, but I really believe that the children are hearing things more clearly."





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