Design incredibly creative and functional solutions for K-12 lighting

Specs with Catherine Hollenshead, P.E.

Do you remember the days of homework, hallways and having to ask for a hall pass to use the restroom? Wandering between algebra, chemistry, creative writing and Spanish class until the bell finally rang for lunch?

We all know the typical environments inside school buildings - classrooms, library, computer labs, cafeteria and gymnasium.  But have you noticed that there are more collaboration, flex and maker spaces popping up in schools recently?  These are designated spaces used as break-out areas for small group learning or where students can explore and have a creative, hands-on experience with concepts they have learned in the classroom.

Trends in Modern Education Lighting

Tunable white lighting is one of the most impactful solutions among recently emerging lighting technologies.   Studies have shown that changing the lighting color temperature for varying tasks can improve student concentration and even performance. 

While this sounds like it could be complicated, the user controls are relatively easy to specify and operate.  Preset control panels can be programmed to provide a specific subset of color temperature options, based upon activities like reading or exams, or fully variable control within a working CCT range (e.g. 3000-5000K or 2700-6500K).  A separate dimming control allows variability of light intensity.

I have specified tunable white lighting in classrooms for several different school districts, including at Davis Elementary school, where it helped shaped an ideal learning environment for any activity.  


Scene Control and Zones

How much do you think about scene controls for a classroom?  Do you simply specify an on/off switch or a dimming switch?  How about taking advantage of dimming technology in the luminaires, combined with lighting control panels, to create preset scenes? 

Consider breaking a classroom up into at least two dimming zones: the teacher zone and the student zone.  The teacher zone is the first row of luminaires parallel to the teaching wall.  The student zone is the rest of the luminaires in a space.  With this set-up, you can create scenes like:

  • General – All luminaires in both the teacher and student zones set to 100%.
  • A/V – All luminaires in the teacher zone set to 0%.  All luminaires in the student zone set to 40%.
  • Presentation – All luminaires in the teacher zone set to 100%.  All luminaires in the student zone set to 30%.
  • Quiet – All luminaires in both the teacher and student zones set to 10%.

These are useful preset scenes that the teacher can utilize throughout the course of the school day.  Adding raise/lower control on top of these scenes gives the teacher an almost unlimited amount of control over the lighting within the classroom to best suit the activity of each moment.

With all these trends and new technologies in our tool bag, we can create incredibly creative and functional solutions for lighting within a school.  Don’t be afraid to experiment! Play around with different options for a space.  Most importantly, make sure to get feedback from your clients.  This will help you stay on the right track, giving them a custom-tailored lighting system that earns an A+.

About the Author

Ms. Hollenshead obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Tyler in 2004.  She began her engineering career with EMA in 2004.  During the first eleven years of her career, Ms. Hollenshead was responsible for preparing complete electrical specifications, electrical power and lighting drawings, coordinating with architects, other engineering disciplines and utility providers. During this time, she developed an unwavering passion for lighting and earned the title of Lighting Specialist. Over the last three years, Ms. Hollenshead has created and managed EMA’s lighting department.  She is responsible for developing lighting design standards and specifications, training lighting designers and educating the firm on new code requirements and innovative lighting trends.  Ms. Hollenshead became a Licensed Professional Engineer by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers in 2009 and Lighting Certified by the NCQLP in 2012.

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Department of Energy Report: Evaluating Tunable Lighting in Three Texas Classrooms
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