Green Walls in Schools: Beyond Health Benefits and Into Curriculum

You have likely seen at least one article on why moss is highly beneficial for the home and for the workplace but we’d like to share why green walls aka moss walls (see our previous post on the differences between the types of green walls)make excellent sense for schools and other educational environments and we’ll go a little further than the stress and psychological benefits–in fact, green walls can be the foundation for project-based curriculum and other learning opportunities.

We were over the moon and crazy-excited to find this superior article by fellow midwestern folk on the benefits of plant life/green walls in educational environments. Michael B. McCullough, Michael D. Martin and Mollika A. Sajady in their superior perspective article, put it simply and succinctly, “Green walls have the potential to inspire critical thinking through a combination of project-based learning strategies and environmental education.”

Wait. What?  So beyond the benefits that we already know and list for you below, there are numerous learning opportunities when greenery is introduced into the learning environment.  In fact, the authors of this great piece have outlined a curriculum that incorporates project-based learning modules that interact with the wall.

“In conjunction with the passive health benefits of a green wall, project-based curriculum models can connect students interactively with indoor nature and have the potential to inspire real-world thinking related to science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics fields within the indoor learning environment. Through a combination of these passive and interactive modes, students are connected to nature in the indoor environment regardless of weather conditions outdoors.”

Source: Implementing Green Walls in SchoolsMichael B. McCullough1*Michael D. Martin2 and Mollika A. Sajady3

Well, that just makes sense.  Who doesn’t remember rainy or cold and snowy days when recess was held indoors and we were relegated to the classroom with maybe one philodendron on the teacher’s desk as the only green life in the room?

So in addition to making recess more fun and healthy, there are also ample STEM and STEAM learning opportunities.  For those of you unfamiliar with STEAM, it adds the wonders of art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math learning programs.  And as Biomimicry expert, Jamie Miller noted in a recent TEDTalk in Collingswood, “Dell put out a study last year saying that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030, do not exist today. There’s a huge transformation taking place and the next generation will actually be building the next economy. So I inspire that next generation to start thinking about their philosophies.”

Many educators have embraced both STEM and STEAM and the forward-thinking educators are thinking in terms of project-based, hands-on curriculum centered on the design of the classroom (or school as a whole) setting.

“It’s already been proven that being in the presence of plants can increase memory retention by around 20%, as well as improving people’s performance in a series of basic tests. This is thought to be due to the fact that their leaves and stems can absorb, deflect, and retract background noise, such as exterior traffic, children playing in the playground, and people talking in corridors.”

Source: The Benefits of Plants in Schools and Educational Facilities by phs.Greenleaf out of the U.K.

And here is where we explain that our moss walls function like plants.  Though the moss we use (harvested in North Carolina and Kentucky) is preserved and dormant, it still absorbs both noise and air pollution and is maintenance free (no watering or misting ever needed).

And because moss covers a greater area (in terms of square footage), it actually absorbs as much noise and air pollution as hundreds of plants.  The photo below aptly illustrates how that is possible.

The benefits of moss do not end with reduced noise and air pollution though, so we rely on the work and research of others to substantiate the statement that moss is very, very good for your health and for learning.


Improves classroom performance

The lovely folks at phs Greenleaf in the U.K. spell out for us what happens when just three plants are introduced into a learning environment.  Student performance in spelling, math, reading and science improved by over 10% (a significant increase for those of us familiar with curriculum development and learning research).

researcher in Taiwan found similar positive effects from greenery in the classroom.  K.T. Han used surveys every two weeks to assess students’ emotions. He also collected objective information on students’ academic performance, health, and behavior and found that students in the experimental classroom (where plants were introduced) had significantly higher scores than the “control” classroom in terms of preference, comfort, and friendliness.  Additionally, those in the experimental classroom had higher test scores on academic measures than those in the other classroom.

In addition to serving as a filter for distracting background noise, another explanation for why plant life can improve student classroom performance is because moss reduces levels of CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds in the air). Studies explicate that students exposed to high levels, this can experience headaches, dizziness, and tiredness, all of which impact a student’s ability to concentrate and focus.  And speaking of focus…

Reduces “directed-attention” fatigue

So this is cool–way back in the 1970s, USDA Forest Service provided funding for research on the effects of an outdoor challenge program in the wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That research spurred a series of investigations with findings that have influenced a generation of environmental psychologists.

“What grew out of that work was the influential theory of restorative environmentsoutlined in such books as “With People in Mind: Design and Management for Everyday Nature” (Island Press, 1998). Drawing on William James’s distinction, between two kinds of attention, which they refer to as directed attention and fascination, the Kaplans [Rachel Kaplan, PhD and Stephen Kaplan, PhD) argue that using too much of the former can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility, and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state.”

Source: Green is Good for You by Rebecca A. Clay. April 2001, Vol 32, No. 4

Reduces anxiety and stress

Introducing greenery to an environment reduces feelings of tension and anxiety by around 37%,  and anger by 44%. 

We are all quite aware that frequent, high levels of stress can have a negative effect on a person’s health and well-being, from causing headaches, fatigue and general aches and pains (which can impact your productivity by making you feel generally unwell), to making you feel more sad, fearful, and irritable.

The cool kids at phs Greenleaf recommend introducing Lemon Balm, Haworthia, and the Snake Plant to classrooms and school hallways.  These are excellent recommendations but be aware that plants (in comparison to moss) do require maintenance whereas moss does not and moss will retain its color for at least ten years, if not longer.

Fewer sick days/illnesses

So we already know that greenery in schools and other educational environments will reduce the CO2 levels in the building, which reduces the likelihood of teachers and students experiencing unwanted side effects, such as headaches (Yes, yes, we are obsessed with headaches since 38 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from migraines or some kind of chronic headache).  We know from a Norwegian study by Fjeld in 2002 that introducing potted plants to classrooms reduced the amount of sickness-related absences amongst primary school students and we know from our own experience of introducing moss in an environment not only reduces migraine attacks, it also increases humidity in the environment, making it more healthy overall.

And it’s not just us.  Taiwanese researcher K. T. Han also found that students in the classroom with plants had significantly fewer sick leave hours and punishment records than students in the regular classroom.

But let us be clear—we are not suggesting that a moss wall is the complete and total solution for improving and enhancing learning environments.  In fact, we underscore and applaud the work of Oliver Heath out of the U.K.  He has shared a fantastic case study on The Garden School, Hackney in which he explains his holistic approach to creating a nature-enhanced, optimal learning environment.  Heath introduced natural wood in hectagon shapes along with multi-sensory features with which the students can interact.  Highly recommend you watch the video and read the case study on The Garden School, it’s inspiring.

So inspiring that we are planning an imaginary “bio-dinner” with Oliver Heath, Jamie Miller, Janine Benyus, Anna Lappe, Woody Harrelson, and, of course, Willie Nelson.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  And after dinner, there will be dancing.

As Jamie Miller suggests, “start to dance with nature, start to figure out how to leverage nature and participate with nature, in harmony.”

Great suggestion Jamie.  We’re excited to keep learning.  And we’re ready to dance.

As Ever, Yours in the Love of Learning and All Things Green.

Kasey and Morten

The Fat Plant Society 

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