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.

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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

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 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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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I drew my collaborative design from several sources and models.

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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?

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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


Homeschoolers: Complex Enough for Fiction

by Amy C. Blake

When I was a kid, I’d never heard of home education. Who could imagine never having to ride a school bus, doing subjects while in pajamas, and calling it a school day as soon as the work was done? Bizarre.

By the time I was in high school, I’d heard there were a few weird people out there (mostly in California) who homeschooled, but I assumed they were all tree-huggers who ate tofu all the time, wore only bulky turtleneck sweaters and ankle-length skirts, couldn’t handle themselves in classroom settings, and didn’t know how to carry on conversations with normal human beings.

Then I reached the first year of my masters’ program in college, and I taught a Freshman Composition course. Many of the students aggravated me with their petty expectations that I coddle them like a bunch of five-year-olds who couldn’t spell or put together the most basic sentences, much less write decent essays. Okay, so a few did fine, but many did not. Still, there was one girl, Ashley, who stood out. She always listened attentively in class, participated in discussions, turned in every assignment on time, and wrote great essays. Imagine my reaction when she told me she’d been homeschooled all her life.

I was truly stunned. Ashley was cute, sweet, respectful, communicative, intelligent, and never wore bulky turtlenecks. She wasn’t even from California. Though I don’t know whether she ate tofu or hugged trees on a regular basis, I do know she was my favorite student. And she totally changed the way I viewed home education.

A few years later, my husband and I began our own family. As our oldest neared kindergarten age, we began to discuss our educational plans, and because of Ashley, the thought of homeschooling wasn’t incomprehensible. As Christians, we knew God had called us to train our children in His ways. We also knew from personal experience in the public school arena how much more difficult it would be for us to influence our kids if they were away from us most of the time. In addition, we realized we’d been teaching our kids since they were born. If we could train them to handle a spoon, say please and thank-you, and use the potty, surely we could teach them to read and write.

So we embarked on the homeschool journey with our four children. More than a decade later, I can say with confidence that it was the right educational decision for our family. I can also say that my high school notions of homeschoolers were way off base. While healthy eating and environmentalism are good things, nobody in my family eats tofu or hugs trees (well, there was that one time when my nine-year-old accidentally embraced a tree while trying to snag the ball from his brother during one of our backyard soccer matches…). Overall, my kids do well with their school subjects, participate in group classes through our homeschool co-op, and keep the Mom Taxi running nonstop to various lessons, sports, and activities. They have friends who attend public school and friends who homeschool, all of whom are fun people with varied interests and plenty of wonderful traits.

Given all I’ve learned about homeschool families over the years, it’s no wonder that when I began writing novel-length fiction, I decided to make my main characters homeschoolers, well-rounded, delightful people like my favorite student in college, Ashley, and like my own kids and their friends.

My debut novel, Whitewashed, released in February and is a Christian suspense about 18-year-old homeschooler Patience McDonough, who heads off to college in Mississippi and ends up on the bad side of a mentally unbalanced villain. In February, 2016, my second Christian suspense novel comes out. Colorblind follows Patience’s best friend Christy Kane to Buckeye Lake, Ohio, where somebody is reenacting history with potentially deadly consequences.

My young adult fantasy, The Trojan Horse Traitor, releases tomorrow (November 17th) and is about 13-year-old homeschooler Levi Prince, who goes to summer camp on an island in the Great Lakes and finds out it’s actually a haven for mythical creatures. I’m hosting a giveaway of two paperback copies of The Trojan Horse Traitor on Goodreads. You can enter tomorrow through December 14th.

Whether your family home educates or not, I’d love for you and your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and random strangers to read my books and get to know Patience, Christy, and Levi. You’ll find they’re not unlike you, intriguing people with characters worth exploring and heroic traits worth discovering. And my characters don’t even hug trees…at least not too often.

Writing Prompt –  Finish this paragraph in the comments section for an extra entry in our giveaway:  Gabe’s teacher asked him to come up with a great idea for a class project, involving his cottage school classmates. He spent an entire weekend thinking and planning, then presented this to his teacher on Monday…

AND don’t forget about Once Upon a Christmas! Our Holiday giveaway! Prizes…prizes…and more prizes! Click here for more information!

IMG_2793-2Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’d love for you to visit her website at for tips on homeschooling, advice for the rookie pastor’s wife, and helps for the Christian life. You can also find more information on her website about her novels–Whitewashed, Colorblind, and The Trojan Horse Traitor.

Also connect with Amy at Amy C. Blake Facebook author page, Amy C. Blake Twitter page, Amy C. Blake on Pinterest, Amy’s Amazon Author Page.

The Trojan Horse Traitor

TrojanHorseTraitor_FlatforeBooksLeft on Castle Island by his parents to attend Camp Classic, Levi Prince finds himself at the center of an enchanted world of amazing abilities, cloudy motives, and wicked beings that will challenge his very spirit. He begins to form friendships, but life at camp becomes more confusing as questionable activities and uncertain agendas bring about conflict that tests his character in ways he never expected. Finally, faced with a friend’s betrayal, Levi is forced to confront true evil. Will he find the courage to stand his ground, and to become the hero he was always meant to be?

Buy links:  The Trojan Horse Traitor       &       Whitewashed

A Different Kind of Homeschool

Long ago, in a far away land…

All magical stories start out that way, don’t they? Well, the story of my childhood is magical and it too happened long ago in a far away land.

AfricaPolaroidI was born in the jungles of Africa, in the country of Nigeria, quite a long time ago. After a year at the remote jungle station, my family moved to a less remote place for language school, and then on to Ogbomoso, a city that contained one of the largest mission stations.

Ogbomoso had both a seminary and a hospital. All together, there were roughly a dozen missionary families and single missionaries, depending on who was on furlough at any given time. And all of these families had children in need of an education. So the mission we served came up with a solution—home school them until the fifth grade and then pool the resources into a boarding school established and run by the mission.

In most homes, this meant the parents homeschooled their own children. But since Ogbomoso had so many families in one place, we formed a school…sort of.

For several years, one brave woman accepted the job of teacher to all MK’s (missionary kids) in Ogbomoso. I fondly remember her as “Aunt Lil”, since we MK’s called all the missionaries aunt or uncle.

Aunt Lil held a teaching certificate and had experience as an elementary teacher. But I imagine teaching a room full of students who were all in the same grade and who studied the same curriculum, was a walk in the park compared to teaching ten or more students in four grades, four different curriculums, all in the same room—which happened to be her garage.

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Original drawing by Harriet Michael

It was magical indeed. She clumped the desks of the various classes together and walked around the garage overseeing all of her students’ work. I had a large class with three to four depending on who was gone on furlough. Some classes only had one student and his or her desk would sit off by itself.

Aunt Lil decorated her room brightly. The front, which was actually the back of the garage, had a chalk board. The two side walls each had a small window and a bulletin board, and the back of the school had two large garage doors that stayed open.

autumn-922378_1920She decorated the bulletin boards and changed them regularly. Sometimes they had letters or numbers but other times they had seasonal items. She also placed bright educational or decorative items and boarders on the walls around the bulletin boards. I can still remember the magic of watching the seasons change on the walls around me. The decorations went from bright fall leaves, pumpkins, black cats, harvest moons, and hay stacks to lacy snowflakes, snow covered scenes, stockings hung by a roaring fireplace, to spring tulips, baskets, fields of daffodils, bunnies, and colored eggs.

These really did feel magical to me and the other students because Nigeria only had two seasons—rainy and dry. Our world went from lush green, full of abundant fruit to dry brown with dust so thick sometimes it looked like a fog.

Education in her one-room garage school was fun. Nothing quite compares to sitting at a desk, surrounded by friends, with paper, pencil, scissors and glue strewn on the floor for use in the project you are eagerly working on. And then looking up at pilgrims and orange pumpkins, while your mind wanders off to a land you only barely remember where leaves turn colors and frost crunches beneath your feet. A place where you need to bundle up in mittens and a coat or come inside to warm yourself by an inside fire…and just as you are lost in your thoughts, a gecko scampers across the bulletin board on its way out the open window and you feel a tropical breeze across your face.

My garage school only had class from eight o’clock until noon with one snack break and recess in the middle of the morning. At recess we all scattered around Aunt Lil’s yard climbing trees, chasing lizards, or playing on the swing set next to the house.

soccer-434343_1920Once as a child, my family took a trip to the much larger city of Lagos. We stayed in the hostel there. My room had a window, which overlooked a Nigerian Grammar school play yard. From my chair near the second story window, I saw the children come out to recess. There were so many of them, all in the same uniform—blue pants and shirts or blue pinafore type dresses. They walked in single-file behind their teacher out the door until they reached the center of the large play yard where they broke into free play. But when their teacher blew her whistle, they all single-filed quietly back inside.

…I thought their school was so strange.

Writing prompt*:  Martha inhaled the tantalizing aroma of simmering soup. It was almost ready. Good thing, too. She had a roomful of hungry schoolchildren to feed. She never dreamed her first teaching position would also require culinary skills. She glanced around the room at her students, varying in age from six to eighteen. Some were engrossed in their work, others squirmed and fidgeted. Her satisfied mood changed to alarm when… (Finish the story and post as a comment). *Writing prompt by Betty Owens

A bit about Harriet Michael –  Harriet’s writing journey began in 2004 during a difficult time in the life of someone close to her. She started a journal and personal Scripture-search on the topic of prayer. Four years later, she had a manuscript written, and a love of writing. She began freelancing small pieces in 2009. Today, she has a growing list of published credits, including articles, devotions, and stories. Her work has appeared in publications by LifeWay, Focus on the Family, Bethany House, David C. Cook Company, Standard Publishing, American Life League, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Judson Press, The Pentecostal Publishing House, Smyth & Helwys, The Upper Room, and more.

A book by Harriet E. Michael and Shirley Crowder:

Glimpses_HarrietMichaelIn early November, we get busy preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, and we often forget the real meanings behind these celebrations. We can guard against this by preparing our hearts to seek Him as we focus on God’s Word, and by remembering that Thanksgiving is a time to give God thanks; Christmas is the celebration of the Savior’s birth; the New Year brings new beginnings. Then, as we go about doing the things the Lord has called us to do where He has called us to do them, we catch Glimpses of the Savior and biblical truth in the things we experience and observe. These devotionals are based on memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations in Africa and America. May the Holy Spirit work through these meditations to help readers recognize Glimpses of the Savior in the things they observe, and become skilled at finding Jesus among the celebrations and decorations.

♥ Available at Amazon ♥

The Curious Education of a Writer

writing450By Jennifer Hallmark

Education. It’s the Writing Prompts word of the month. One of the meanings of the word educate is to give (someone) training in or information on a particular field. A doctor needs a minimum of twelve years of specified training. A lawyer needs a four-year bachelor’s degree, then 3-4 years of law school before taking the bar exam and obtaining a license.

But a writer? I used the word curious in the title because it can mean strange or unusual, a good description of the education of someone who picks up a pen or keyboard and goes to work. Like artists and others in creative fields of work, writing is subjective and there are many ways and means to become educated. A college education can be helpful when it comes to writing. Stephen King graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English. However, many well-known authors did not have college degrees. Mark Twain dropped out of school at the age of twelve to support his family after his father died. H.G. Wells also left school to support his family.


Today’s writers have a plethora of opportunities to learn their craft, from online courses to writing and critique groups to one-on-one mentoring. The information is out there. You just need to search for what’s right for you in your own walk of life. If you are looking for more education or groups, I’ve listed a few places to check out.

The paths we follow on this journey vary. One of our blogging crew, Karen Jurgens, spent a lifetime teaching and began her writing journey after she retired. I had a similar journey as my friend, Sandra Ardoin. We both started with Community Education classes, writing groups, then onto blogging and novel writing.

Another Crew member, Betty Thomason Owens, said, “I took a short story writing class at the University of Louisville to get started. The rest of my “training” has come from ACFW Scribes and the many classes at the conferences. And reading Edie Melson’s blog, among others.”

As you can see, right and wrong ways to learn the craft do not exist. Whether you start writing in high school or college or after retirement, do everything you can to learn the craft. Read well-written books by the dozen. Discuss writing with others who know more than you and less than you. I truly believe you can learn from anyone.

Keep learning.

Stay curious.

And keep writing.snoopy writer

A Teacher’s Influence

By Karen Jurgens

Education has been front and center my entire life. After my years as a student, I continued with a life-long teaching career until my retirement a year ago. As I look back, scenes from my own elementary and secondary school days stand out like cars of a long train which shaped and influenced my future. Are teachers important on life’s journey? Take a look.

Third grade: Mrs. Foster plays the piano in a corner of the room, teaching us how to sing O Tannenbaum in German. One day she chooses me to teach the class our math problems, and I write them on the board for the class, happily grading all the papers at home. That year I learn a love for foreign language and the desire to be a teacher.


Eighth grade: Miss Pruden teaches us how to deliver a book report. I stand up straight, elbows at my side, holding index cards. I talk between three and five minutes. Afterwards, she takes a desk bell and taps it for each time I uttered an “um” during my report. Here the foundation for speaking is laid in her class, which I will always use in my future.

Tenth grade: Mr. Stirling teases and jokes as he leads us in French grammar and literature in our immersion class. His perfect French accent is permanently recorded in my memory. I enjoy learning the poetry and literature of the French Masters, and I know I want to also teach French. I will pursue it as a minor through my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Eleventh grade: Miss Koenitzer flounces into the room, her long dress billowing behind her. She teaches us writing, which will ground me in my love of creative writing and future writing career. With great flamboyance, she acts out Shakespeare, and her favorite lines she often quotes to us spoken by Marullus from the play Julius Caesar are, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Literature comes alive, and I will pursue English as a major in college.

Twelfth grade: Mrs. Liebich teaches American History, speaking slowly so we can take good notes on her lecture, preparing us for a university experience. During a required interview, she gives me feedback, declaring, “You will always succeed because you can think on your feet.” Her confidence in me instills courage to speak spontaneously in the future, as I recall her prophetic words spoken over my life.

Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our quarterly drawings! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments.

Writing Prompt: Do you have favorite teachers who molded your life?

Karen Jurgens, a native Cincinnatian, has been a Texan transplant for thirty years and counting. Since retiring from teaching in 2014, she has begun a new career writing, blogging, and speaking within the context of Christian ministry.

Her first contemporary romance novella has now been published on Amazon. A Mosaic Christmas is part of a multi-author anthology, Warm Mulled Kisses. Link to it here:

She is a Crew Member at Jennifer Hallmark’s Writing Prompts, Thoughts, and Ideas blog and a member of ACFW. You can follow her blog about scriptural answers to life’s trials at Touched by Him Ministries: