Education and the Learning Environment

By Robin E. Mason

When I found out the topic of this month’s post, I was stumped at first. Then it dawned on me, I designed a school for my Senior Capstone Project! And I learned a few things in my research.

slide 1

The old—old to us, anyway—model of rows of desks facing a sage teacher is becoming, well, old school. Students in clusters, desks in a circular formation, team-teaching, and team-learning—collaboration—are the order of the day. “Most of today’s classrooms are designed with the teacher at the center. But if the classroom is focused on the learner instead, then learning becomes paramount.” Rick Dewar 3

slide 2

 I knew early on that I wanted to design a school for my senior project. Then the shooting in Connecticut happened and I wasn’t so sure. My professor encouraged me, though, and I addressed the safety issues as part of my total design concept. Turns out, this collaborative learning environment lends to the passive safety after all—high level of (interior) visibility between areas via windows and an expansive courtyard with zero street access. “Learning is contagious; success is seductive. Seeing other students engaged in interesting work can make young people want to do it too.” 1 “Posting student work, both current and past, up on the walls tracks progress in a visible way.” 3

slide 3

One of the key issues I discovered was the need for natural light. My high school had no windows, a pattern that was common in those olden days. “Light affects our motivation, energy, and vision—all of which profoundly connect to learning.” 1 “Of all the elements that make up a high-performance school, none has greater impact on the quality of learning than daylight.” 2

I included an abundance of windows, both interior and to the courtyard, to provide light and extended lines of vision. “ … there is [further] advantage to creating lines of sight that are at least fifty feet away from the students’ work area. This allows tired eyes that spend hours focusing on things close at hand, including notebooks, textbooks and computer screens a needed relief. There is evidence that this kind of relief of looking at objects that are at least fifty feet away exercises eyes (particularly those of young children) and keeps them healthy.” 2

Remember penmanship? And the lined paper so we could learn to make letters properly? Those are still inherent needs in a classroom, but so is access to technology. One model indicated a retractable eight-foot screen, but most classrooms now have fixed Promethean® boards that double as a white board.

slide 4

In my design, I took these and other factors into consideration. Access into the school is via double secured entry. One criterion that initially presented a challenge is that every classroom must have egress, which is a direct exit from the classroom to the outdoors. The plan I utilized lent to the solution—an expansive outdoor courtyard, completely surrounded by the physical structure and not accessible from the street. There is also a gazebo in the center that can serve as outdoor class space.

slide 5

The collaboration aspect became key in my quest; all grade levels are team taught, and all classrooms are interlinked, allowing for student interaction between grade levels. Each classroom “suite” consists of a teacher station, with sink, mini-fridge, and microwave as well as copier/printer and supplies. There is a reading niche, a computer lab, and a small meeting area for group projects. Restrooms are also within each classroom suite. This allows students to “Change up the locations of regular activities so the children can explore new surroundings with their bodies and their minds. 3 “I like to be in a small room. It’s easier for me to hear. Also, I’m small so I fit better.” 3 (I chose to design a first-grade suite because my granddaughter was in first grade at the time.)

slide 6

I drew my collaborative design from several sources and models.

slide 7

The advantages to team teaching and collaborative learning are many. Both teachers and students can draw on their strengths to help others, both within the class and between grade levels. Students can assist one another with assignments or study, or they can read alone in the reading niche or work on their own in the computer lab.

There is a meme I’ve seen floating around Facebook that attributes Einstein with saying, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” How many children have been made to feel this way because the method of teaching was akin to asking the fish to climb a tree? How many children have failed because they thought they were the only one struggling with an issue or a problem? (this blogger is raising her hand) Or how many children work best flying solo but are made to work in a group or vice versa?

This classroom environment provides for greater flexibility in teaching, and in learning. Which lends to greater teaching and learning. And isn’t that the objective of education? To learn?

slide 8


My Senior Capstone Project—SLIDE PRESENTATION


  1. Bersagel, Victoria, Tim Best, Kathleen Cushman and other; Architecture for Achievement; Eagle Chatter Press, LLC; Mercer Island, WA; 2007
  2. Nair, Prakash, Randall Fielding, Jeffery Lackney; The Language of School Design;; 2005-2009
  3. : Syvertsen, John, Thomas Muller and Bruce Mau. The Third Teacher. New York: Abrams, 2010

PS—please forgive my designerly tone—my inner Interior Designer wouldn’t keep quiet!


Describe a scenario in your school years when collaborative teaching would have benefited you.


ME - 041115 - cropped“I once said I should write down all the story ideas in my head so someone could write them someday. I had no idea at the time that someone was me!

Ms. Mason has been writing since 1995 and began working in earnest on her debut novel, Tessa in 2013. She resides in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1988. She is currently working on Clara Bess, the sequel to Tessa, which will be released in November of this year.

Come visit me at:

#education, #thelearningenvironment, #collaborativelearning, #passivesafety, #naturallight, #classroomsuites, #everybodyisagenius, #promethean


9 thoughts on “Education and the Learning Environment

  1. Pingback: Education and the Learning Environment | robinsnest212 - stories by design

  2. thanks so much Caryl! i thought i wanted to be a teacher in years past, but it’s not for me, but it is a critical issue, and what i discovered iin my research—well, you can see my passion!

  3. how awesome is that! thank you Karen! i didn’t include in this post (it was part of my senior project) but there is a piece of land near my house that would be an ideal spot for this school….. jus’ sayin’ ya know??
    where is Westlake Academy? i’d love to see some of this in real life!

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