A birthday wish: Bucket lists and provocations


There’s something about 29.

It’s the last year of your twenties. It’s the missing day of the month in 3/4s of all Februarys. 29 is on the brink, it’s hitting your stride, it’s cresting the hill, but not quite over. It’s… well… something. It makes you feel strangely old and young at the same time. (Much like you are both of these people simultaneously.) It’s a number. It’s just a number. But there’s something strangely motivating about it.

Because this is a year of risks and leaps, I think it’s about time I start seriously thinking about my bucket list. In the spirit of social accountability, I’ve already started on one of the items on the list –"train and complete a triathlon." I’m conditioning. Slowly. Dusting off rusty marathoning skills, enjoying the promise of Chicago’s bikeability, and starting the very humbling task of learning to swim properly. (Yes, I can swim. I play a mean marco polo and can get myself from point A to B, but when it comes to breathing and efficient breaststrokes? I’m a novice.) It feels nice to fall in the rhythm of a goal. It makes me want more.

So, for my birthday this year, I’m enlisting your help to inspire and challenge me. Take no more than five minutes on this simple task.

Fill my bucket list.

I’m all up for crowdsourcing inspiration. Add your ideas and I’ll definitely consider them. What’s one experience I should add to my bucket list?

Share your bucket list.

What do you want to get to in the next year, next ten, or this lifetime? Share it. It’s like a secret accountability buddy. What's one thing on your bucket list?

Craft a Sunday question.

This year I’ve been living in many questions: questions that explore relationships, provocations for living a good life, or decisions about career and work. I admire a few friends who are especially adept at this art of thoughtful provocation (Neil, Zak, Victor, Nils, Sarah, Sami... to name a few.) As a part of creating more ritual in my life, I want to spend a little time each week in more thoughtful reflection. I’d love to invite you– friends, thinkers, collaborators–to be a part of this weekly meditation. Share a question–big or small, serious or lighthearted– for me to ponder in this weekly ritual.

So, that’s it. My 29th birthday wish. If you want to join in – click here to share a bucket list inspiration or weekly provocation. Thanks for being with me all these trips around the sun. Here’s to many more journeys of health, thoughtfulness, adventure, and love. I’m grateful to be surrounded by some seriously incredible friends and family.

Remake Your Class: 6 Steps to Get Started

Remaking your class environment is an opportunity to act as designer, maker and hacker alike. What mindsets does that take?

Remaking your class environment is an opportunity to act as designer, maker and hacker alike. What mindsets does that take?

At TheThirdTeacher+, we believe that, whether it is a large-scale transformation or a small-scale hack, redesigning your classroom is a fun and empowering adventure. When you involve your students, colleagues and community, you can create a powerful conversation about the role of the environment in the student learning experience.

We worked with Edutopia, a collection of creative collaborators and volunteers to help Steve Mattice, a math teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, reimagine his classroom. You can watch the transformation unfold in these videos.

Here are the steps that can help you get started today.

1. Give Yourself Permission to Start

Remaking your physical environment is an exciting way to transform your teaching practice and your students' learning experience. As with any new undertaking, sometimes the biggest barrier is knowing where to start. This is an opportunity to wear new hats as an educator -- so take a moment to rethink your role. Channel the optimism of a designer, the resourcefulness of a hacker, and the playfulness of a maker. Before we began the design process with Steve, we shared some of our inspirations to help prime his creative mindset.

2. Discover Your Context

After giving yourself the permission to playfully begin, it's time to discover. We suggest that this discovery process is both reflective and collaborative. With Steve, our team conducted several interviews, took a classroom tour, facilitated a full-day student workshop, and held three in-class observations with a variety of collaborators. Without this context, we would not have been able to generate authentic design questions. What are some simple ways you can start?

  • Reflect on the status quo: Grab a pen and post-its. Reflect on your school day through the lens of space. What are your key routines and activities? What other areas of practice are you focusing on this year? When are classroom successes amplified or challenges exacerbated by your physical environment?
  • Engage your students: Talk to your students about their learning styles, the culture of your classroom, and impressions of their environment. When you invite students to discover with you, you gain critical insights and empathy for their learning experiences.
  • Invite critical friends: Whether you simply invite a colleague to observe you in your classroom or actively create a renegade maker group, outside perspectives can uncover powerful design opportunities.
Remaking your class can happen at any scale. Whether it is full transformation with a formal process or a series of small interventions at a more informal scale, start where you feel most comfortable.

Remaking your class can happen at any scale. Whether it is full transformation with a formal process or a series of small interventions at a more informal scale, start where you feel most comfortable.

3. Identify Design Opportunities

Remaking your class can happen at any scale. Whether it is full transformation with a formal process or a series of small interventions at a more informal scale, start where you feel most comfortable.

Your role in the discovery process is to reveal patterns and opportunities around which to design solutions. This process of articulation in itself can be transformative. At every meal and at the end of each day, we would set aside critical time to debrief on our observations, insights and ideas for Steve's classroom. While not shown in this video, many of Steve's learning moments came from this daily process of reflection and critical conversation.

  • Identify design priorities and spatial targets: It is important to narrow down your long list of areas you’d like to transform and bias yourself. For Steve, we identified three priorities:
    1. Empowering peer-to-peer learning
    2. Supporting an environment of trust and comfort
    3. Improving the flow and mobility of the classroom
    We remixed these priorities alongside various spatial focuses (teaching zone to storage to student furniture), developed powerful design questions, and brainstormed solutions.
  • Amplify what works: You are probably doing a lot of hacking in your class without even knowing it. How can you refine and expand what is already working? Steve set a great tone for his classroom, so much of what we chose to display on his walls helped convey his philosophy and resources more clearly.
  • Tackle what doesn’t work: Identify your biggest gap. That alone can ease the burden of your class experience. For Steve, the front teacher space was laden with small "frictions" that impacted class management and everyday routine -- it was ripe for redesign.

4. Seek Inspiration and Ideas

Inspiration can be found in the everyday "thoughtless acts" of design or seeking direct inspiration from experts, friends and resources. With clear design opportunities defined, capturing ideas, precedents and analogous experiences will push you closer to creative solutions.

  • Capture inspiration: Document inspiring precedents in a way that is most natural for you, whether it is a Pinterest board of clever ideas, sketchbooks of magazine clippings, or a wall of post-its. Whether it was looking to a DJ's setup to inspire a teaching station or at Steve's own travel photography collection, looking beyond was important to our creative research.
  • Hold a solution session: Mix up your personal planning by hosting a collaborative brainstorm session with critical friends. With Steve, we held a 90-minute "solution session" to help organize learning priorities and spatial focuses around design questions. Armed with a timer, sticky notes, sharpies and plenty of space, we let creativity flow.
  • Narrow your solutions: During this phase, excitement around ideas can easily become paralyzing. Create a list of quick-win projects and bigger obstacles to tackle over time. We had Steve use small stickers to help "vote" for the most promising concepts out of 150+ ideas.

5. Implement with Impact

With clear priorities identified, your next step is making it all happen.

  • Make a plan: It sounds simple, but making a plan that outlines primary projects and breaks them into key tasks, supply lists and other resources makes your project more actionable. We also recommend creating target dates for your implementation to help you plan backward. Your timeframe will depend on how intensive your changes are.
  • Rally support: Whether it is a skilled local carpenter donating time or the helping hands of friends scrubbing your room, classroom transformations don't have to happen alone. Map your social network to identify the talents and skills that you can tap into. And don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Make it a reality: With a compelling story and a specific ask, the crowd can be a generous source of in-kind and monetary support. Whether you use old-fashioned donation letters, Amazon registries or social media, let friends know what in-kind support you need. Read Suzie Boss' blog about navigating crowdfunding for classrooms.


Credit: TTT+ Teammate, Emi Day

Credit: TTT+ Teammate, Emi Day

6. Evolve and Share What Works

Your room is filled with prototypes big and small. Now what? See what happens, share your story, and tinker and refine your re-designs.

  • Evaluate and iterate: Make room for personal reflection, continued observation and feedback from your students, both formally and informally. Use this to power your refinements and next projects. Edutopia checked in with Steve to see what has worked and evolved in his space to fuel his personal iteration process.
  • Share: Talk about your redesign! When you share with colleagues, online communities, and leaders in your school, you fuel the larger conversation about the role of environments in learning experiences. Who knows, you might inspire a colleague across the country or have your prototype serve as the poster child for more sensitive capital investment.
Originally posted on Edutopia

Originally posted on Edutopia

Digital Dinner Party

Sharing a meal with StartingBloc buddy, Nils

Sharing a meal with StartingBloc buddy, Nils

Whether from college or conferences, fellowships or far flung family, the world has brought some incredible people in my life. But youthful transience and transition frequently makes former next door neighbors into long distance friends. No matter how hard we try to make social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram facilitate a sense of connection, they fall short. We glimpse into moments of our friends' lives and minds, but rarely get the deep relationships we seek. The ebb and flow of proximity to those we love can become exhausting.

After years of phone calls, chats, video connection, and even private blogs, I wanted to figure out a way to replace what I missed most about experiences of connection with people I cared about. Sharing a meal.

Making and eating dinner with those I love has always been central to feelings of community. It's creative, collaborative, and feels like home. With the people that mean most to me slipping zip codes away, I search for ways to feel closer.

Enter: The digital-analog dinner party.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are always up for experiments. Thus, the digital-analog dinner party was born. It is the best of a casual take-out night with friends, despite distances.

In essence:

  1. Bob orders Susie delivery.*

  2. Susie orders Bob delivery.

  3. Upon arrival, they boot up their favorite video chat platform and share a meal.

*Try Chicago-grown GrubHub to order

Sounds pretty simple. In fact, you've probably enjoyed a virtual cup of tea or bottle of beer with a friend or two in your day. This digital-analog dinner party has a few basic principles that make it special:

  • So far away, yet so close. Sharing a meal makes you feel closer, regardless of the miles in between. While you may not be sharing a table in a literal sense, with your meal and conversation, you are halfway there, creating a temporary space with the feeling of intimacy.

  • The power of gift giving. Bob and Susie could surely order their own meals, boot up their computers, and say hello. For all technical purposes, nothing would be different. But there is power in the idea of the gift. In searching for a neighborhood place that will cook up a satisfying meal. In selecting a dish based on your understanding of your companion's tastes. Ultimately, you break even, but the process facilitates a sense of of social connection and reciprocity.

  • The element of surprise. Not knowing what meal is going to show up on your doorstep feels like a holiday. Or like any time you show up to a friend's house for dinner. You accept what they provide with eager excitement and gratitude for the gift of a shared meal. These small surprises are often missing in our daily life, so orchestrating experiences of surprise are that much more rewarding.

  • Timing is everything. Okay, this breed of hangout requires a small level of coordination –– addresses, timing, and the like. We suggest ordering food 60-90 minutes before your intended dinner. With phone apps and web platforms, it is fairly easy to get an estimate of a food's arrival time. But don't let coordination ruin your excitement. Be thoughtful and prompt, but flexible. My most recent meal was delayed because of a slight mistiming and bike snafu, flexible friends made the snafu forgiveable. Also, allow yourself time. I find when I do virtual hangouts with food, it is more akin to a dinner than a scheduled meeting…. 2 hours later, we find ourselves deep in conversation, forgetting that our connection is mediated digitally.

The digital dinner party has made meeting up with my long-distance friends an exciting adventure. With platforms to make ordering a breeze and make the "hanging out" experience that much more dynamic, I'm grateful to live in a world where we are increasingly less reliant on proximity for emotional depth. While digital connection will never replace the hello hug, it certainly makes those we love feel closer every day.

Variations on a digital dinner party theme:

  • Field Trip: Just add headphones and your favorite local watering hole and you have an evening out on the town. Caution: While getting burger specials and catching up with a dear friend recently, I confused a patron or two while talking intently to what appeared to be the napkin holder (with my iPhone propped on it). Discreetly get your ordering out of the way as to not be rude to fellow patrons or the waitstaff trying to make your dining experience enjoyable. Make sure you are monitoring your own talking level and being considerate of those around you.

  • Recipe exchange: Instead of ordering each other meals, exchange or mutually decide upon recipes to prepare for your digital dinner party. If you want, time your preparation accordingly to share the whole process together.

  • Coffee hour: Whether you buy a gift certificate to your friend's favorite java joint or send your favorite beans their way, abridge your dinner party to be a coffee or tea hour.

  • Date night: Have somebody take the tab on both of the dishes, turn down the lights, and dress up a bit. Who says you can't be fancy?

  • Birthday party: Send a physical gift and wait for your digital date to open it up. Building in anticipation to relationships is important, regardless of distance.

  • Surprise attack: Know your friend is home one night? Feeling spontaneous? Arrange chat and surprise them with a delivery or anything from cookies to ice cream to sushi. Perfect for a "get well" date.

  • Pick me up or special delivery: Sometime delivery can present it's own limitations –– favorite restaurants may not have offerings besides pick up. Either have your friend pick up their treat or get a local friend (or taskrabbit) to pick up and drop off your culinary delicacies.

What ways have you creatively connected lately?

4 Lessons The Classroom Can Learn From The Design Studio

Designers collaborate across disciplines, give and take constructive criticism, and embrace failure in the process of solving problems. Wouldn't children benefit from developing the same skills in school.

Earlier this year, we peered into the work spaces of some of the most inspiring companies working in the creative economy to glean design ideas for learning spaces. Instead of the tyranny of cubes and boardrooms, we found spaces for serious play, dynamic cross-pollination, and cultivated serendipity. It was easy to find inspiration from the Googles, Pixars, and IDEOs of the world; the grass is always greener. But as architects and designers, we need only to glance at our own proverbial backyard for further inspiration.

In his interview with the Carnegie Foundation, John Seely Brown, scholar and co-author of A New Culture of Learning, suggests that we look for education lessons in the architectural studio. In answer to the question of what could we do better in schools today, especially given the rapid pace of change, Brown responds by saying he’s intrigued by the architectural studio. "All work in progress is made public . . . One of the things you learn in an architectural studio. . . is to accept critique [from your peers, from the master] . . . accept that, to appreciate that, and to learn from that. And that is one of the key platforms that you want for lifelong learning.”

So let’s examine the architectural studio--where we design the places in which we learn, live, heal, and work--to find out what the classroom can learn from these creative environments.


From the everyday “Hey, can you take a look at this?” to the masters’ critique, learning in a studio is constant and multidirectional, formal and informal. Collaboration means communicating concepts, critiques, and questions for the betterment of the individual designer and the entire team. Studio surfaces are notoriously littered with inspirations, precedents, concepts, and drafts. In the studio, the process--not just the product--takes center stage.

Classrooms, in contrast, typically only display completed assignments like final book reports and dioramas; seldom is the evolution of a concept evident. Implicitly, young learners are told that the final outcome--not the project’s development--is most important. We are encouraged by school cultures and spaces that attempt to turn this on its head. The Blue School(started by the Blue Man Group) follows a constructivist methodology. On a recent tour, we saw a hallway project that transformed the squiggle into a vibrant mural by 3-year-old students (bonus points for the UV lights that illuminated it). This simple activity, doodling, was deconstructed, studied, and rebuilt. The evidence of this early childhood exploration convinced us that the school was cultivating young learners and designers, not just test takers.

A culture of healthy critique, full of mature and multidirectional insights, inspires confident, analytical learners. Let’s cultivate a critical eye and language for constructive criticism in young students. They are, after all, our future designers, scientists, and businesspeople.


Image: Associated Press


In the words of the organizational theorist Donald Schön, “Architecture lives both in the world of art and the world of technological performance.” Architecture can be viewed as the process of building structures around our social needs and values. A successful structure deftly balances the beauty of form and structure, the engineering of sustainability, the social politics of community, and the business of building. As such, interdisciplinary problem solving is fundamental to the high-stakes architectural design process.

This complex interplay means the studio must facilitate interdisciplinary cross-collaboration, a hallmark of project-based learning. Designers are problem-solvers and critical thinkers who find solutions through form. It shouldn’t be surprising that some of the people working to solve our biggest problems trained or aspired to be architects.

Studio H in Bertie County, North Carolina, understands the importance of fostering this style of complex problem solving in the classroom. This public high school’s battle cry--design, build, transform--not only helps remediate the basic math and engineering skills of high school students but spurscommunity development in their rural community. The skills and social lessons learned in the design-build process are ingrained in students and empower even those not destined for a career in the studio.


A culture of critical collaboration reframes the concept of failure. In the design studio, mini “failures” are endemic--but they are known by less pejorative names: prototyping, modeling, tinkering, discovery. The real secret of design is that (shh!) we never get it right the first time. The road to the answer you intend to implement is laden with schemes tried, and tossed aside, in an attempt to discover a better solution. Solutions are continuously revisited and improved until it’s time to actually build something.

One problem with general education is that students are too often given assignments or projects that experience only one iteration. Our design practice thrives on making concepts tangible so that they can be rigorously studied, critiqued, and tweaked. Much of this tradition of critique comes from modern architecture’s origins in apprenticeship (before the advent of formal training in the 19th century). This has created a studio environment in which there is constant feedback and a necessary balance between formal learning and learning by doing.

The burgeoning trend in design-thinking education is embracing the F-word. One organization that embodies this empowering education model is Public Workshop. This June, we saw a group of Chicago Architecture Foundation “teen design heroes” work with Public Workshop to take over Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and reclaim failure as a heroic feat. Described as a “summer design camp on steroids” and “a ‘doing’ boot-camp,” it challenged teenage designers to design and build a sensitive, functional structure in only five days. Chicago Public high-schoolers, typically bound by the formal pressures of “making the grade,” used large-scale rapid prototyping, exploration, and thoughtfully led play (mapping capture the flag, anyone?) to discover their design problem and reveal their solution. It was this freedom to test and scrap ideas that paved their path to a final product and empowered a new perspective on learning. In the words of a young designer, Jeisson Apolo: “Prepare yourself to build, tear down, build, tear down, and build again so that finally you can have what you may call your first draft. Sound tough? You’re telling me! Thankfully, while it is challenging, it’s also one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”


Image: Katie Koch


Just as the educational technology discussion heats up with compelling challenges and defenses, the architecture world has gone through its share of high-tech growing pains. But even as computer modeling evolves to support incredible feats of engineering and sustainability, the analog tools of the practice--the pencil, pen, trace paper, cardboard, glue, Exacto knives--are irreplaceable. Not just romantic, these tools of conceptualization, communication, and critique are integral to how a designer works through ideas individually and in groups.

The educational dialogue surrounding technology is often oversimplified. Digital solutions are frequently seen as a silver bullet for education challenges. But the true art of design (and teaching today) is the thoughtful balance between the digital and analog. An interactive whiteboard might as well be a regular whiteboard unless the mode of interaction is fundamentally rethought. The journey to that fancy iPad app senior project was probably paved in notebook sketches and sticky-note mind maps.


Design is a beautiful collection of tensions. There is a constant pull between thinking and doing, the collective and individual, digital and analog, problems and solutions, artistry and engineering. At the heart of this lies creativity. The same is true in teaching and learning. It takes a teacher both artistic and exacting to navigate a diverse group of young minds through an “aha” breakthrough. It seems our policies and structures are forgetting that.

Perhaps the lexicon of education is broken. While the traditional construct of “classroom” may limit how we interact within our spaces, the labels of “teachers” and “students” (not to mention the conflation of authentic learning) may paralyze our progress as well. What would happen if classrooms operated more like studios? What if teachers were empowered to collaborate with one another as designers? Maybe teaching (and architecture) would then move closer to its role in effecting social change. On IDEO’s new site Design Thinking for Educators, Karen Fierst, an educator, reflects on this power: “If teachers viewed themselves as designers, if teachers believed that they could effect change–if they really believed in themselves–I think a much better system is possible.”

As designers, we believe that a much better education system is possible. And we think the inherently collaborative, critical, and empowering characteristics of the design professions offer lessons for this change. While we can help rethink the physical spaces of classrooms and campuses--infusing them with a studio ethic--the real change will happen when we rethink the system itself.

Co-authored with Steve Turckes, Perkins+Will. Originally posted in Fast Co Design in 2011.