Thank You for An Amazing Global Day of Design #gdd16

I realize that the Global Day of Design was "only a day." However, it proved to be so much more! It was powerful to see so many students designing, making, building, and launching their products to a global audience. We had over 450 schools and over 40,0000 students actively sharing both their process and their products.

When AJ Juliani and I set up this event, we had no idea it would get this big.

As I watched the stream of videos and picture, I was reminded, yet again, of the power of creativity and design thinking to transform the learning experience.

Each day, I ask my kids at home, "What did you make in school today?" Too often, there is nothing to share. But on the days, they do, their eyes light up as they excitedly share what they are creating. It's a reminder that making is magic.

So, to all the educators who made this event happen, thanks for making something magical. I know it was a single day, but you do amazing things everyday. Thanks for inspiring me and reminding me of the value of creative classrooms.

Here's the Storify with a short snippet of all of the awesome things students were doing.

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You Don’t Need a Makerspace to Have a Space for Makers

When I was a kid, my brother and I built a "roller coaster" in the backyard with a wagon, some scraps of wood, and tons of pipes. Was it safe? Probably not. Did it ever work properly? Not really. But it didn't matter. We were makers. 

In the fourth grade, I wrote my first "novel." It was a derivative mess with flat characters and a predictable plot. I'm pretty sure I based it on what I'd seen on Scooby Doo. But it didn't matter. I was a maker. 

We created our own "music studio," where we recorded sounds on layers of tapes to create our own beats. We made our instruments with rubber bands and buckets and anything else we could find that sounded cool. Did it sound any good? Probably not. But it didn't matter. We were makers. 

That was my childhood. Whether we were designing baseball stadiums, building structures or writing stories, we spent hours making stuff. We were designing, tinkering, building, tweaking. We were makers.

But here's the thing: we didn't need a maker space to make it happen. All we needed was a little freedom, some encouragement, and a few random supplies. And time. Tons and tons of time.

See, I love makerspaces. I'm excited about the new makerspace our engineering department is building at the university where I work. I love visiting STEM labs and STEAM labs (or, if you drop the science from it, a MEAT Lab). However, I never want students to believe that making must be confined to a specific space. I never want teachers to believe that a fancy makerspace is somehow a prerequisite for having a creative classroom.


Last year, when I gave a TEDx Talk, I toured an innovative makerspace where students were prototyping with 3D printers. They worked collaboratively in a state-of-the-art space. They were thinking deeply and solving complex problems.

I then talked to a student volunteer running the TEDx Talk and said, "Don't you wish you could be in a class like that?" He shook his head. "It's not my thing. I want to make stuff, but I want to make art. I want to move people. It's why I'm in theater." This student reminded me that we have makerspaces all over our world. A kitchen, a theater, a cafe packed with writers -- these places are makerspaces. Making happens all around us if we're paying attention.

We just need a bigger definition of creativity:

When it comes to making, it's about a mindset and not a space. True, the spaces are great. However, it's more about the creative thinking that occurs. It's about that powerful transformation that occurs when students view themselves as makers. It's about imagination and problem-solving and design thinking. It's about seeing the world differently so that you go beyond merely being a consumer.

I don't want that type of mindset to be confined to a physical space. I want students to be empowered to think creatively in any context, at any time. I want them to engage in divergent thinking and figure out new ways to solve problems. I want them to dream up things that nobody has ever considered before. I want them to take creative risks. None of this requires a specific location.


Technology can be a powerful way to share your process and your product with the world. In many cases, you can leverage technology to do things that were previously unimaginable. Technology is great. However, there’s also power in all things analog. A 3D printer is amazing, but so are human hands. Sometimes the best tools for prototyping are cardboard and duct tape. Kids can snap a picture at any time. But sometimes the best way to make sense of the world is to draw it or paint it. I’m a huge fan of blogging. But journaling can create a safe space to explore ideas through webs and charts and sketch-notes. Global Twitter chats are great for conversations, but so are Socratic Seminars. I love virtual field trips but kids also need gardens and parks and playgrounds. Video simulations interesting are but there’s power in doing actual experiments. The point is, digital tools are amazing, but sometimes in making, the best option is vintage.

One of the things I love about design thinking is that it's not dependent on technology. I love when students share their process with the world and leverage digital tools in their creativity. However, it's all about the thinking -- and sometimes the best tools available are analogy, vintage, and lo-fi. It's less about the gadgets and more about the pedagogy.


People tend to toss makerspaces and design thinking into STEM or STEM. But some of my favorite design thinking projects were the ones I saw in a social studies class at Kent Innovation High, where students engaged in a service learning project with refugees. We need to see design thinking as something that transcends subjects.

I used design thinking with my students when I taught self-contained (the same students for all subjects) in the years that I taught both ELL and Gifted. Students used design thinking in every subject area. Students used design thinking in math as they invented their board games and arcades. They used it often in science as they experimented. They used it in economics when we invented products and in language arts when they filmed documentaries and created media packages.

What about the standards? What about the curriculum map?

You have two different approaches that work here. The first is to find standards that will encourage creative thinking and allow students to create products that matter to them. For example, when I taught social studies, design thinking worked well with the documentary project and the shark tank project. However, I'm not sure that design thinking would have worked as well in our World War I unit, where it was more of an immersive experience with a lot of discussion and debate.

An alternative approach you can take is to develop a design thinking unit and then find the standards that correspond to what students are doing. So, when they do research, you find the research standards in the ELA standards. When they launch, you look for the publishing standards.


Students can be makers in any classroom, in any grade level, and in any subject. It’s why AJ Juliani and I created The LAUNCH Cycle to bring design thinking into every aspect of K-12 and let every teacher know that any student can be a maker.

It’s why on April 26th (in two days) we’re having the first ever Global Day of Design where teachers and students from around the world focus on how they can make, build, design, and launch projects and products with/without a maker space. We have hundreds of classrooms signed up already and thousands of students ready to participate in the Global Day of Design. We hope that you’ll join us to for this awesome event meant to engage and empower all students to make.

Looking for More on Design Thinking?

Here are free resources I've developed along with A.J. Juliani:
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What's Your Manifesto?

This is my manifesto.

A little over a year ago, A.J. Juliani and I tossed around an idea for a book called The Creative Classroom.  Given our combined experience with design thinking (as educators, leaders, and people who actively engage in creative work), we planned out a solid book on the topic. We wrote the kind of book we thought education publishers would want us to submit. It was decent. It was informative. But then Dave Burgess contacted us and said, "I'm not interested in an education book. I'm interested in a manifesto. I'm interested in a bold statement telling the world the heart and soul of what you are about."

Dave encouraged us to make this book our own - to write the kind of book that we would have wanted to read as teachers. To my surprise, he wanted to use my sketches (noticeable on the cover) and he wanted us to share our stories. But more importantly, he encouraged us to abandon the idea of writing a book we were "supposed" to write and instead write the book we felt we needed to write.

And that's exactly what we did. A.J. and I tossed the outline. In fact, we scrapped the entire first draft. We focused on a single idea: that every child deserves a creative classroom and that design thinking can help make that happen in every classroom with every child. We dove into research. We asked hard questions. We interviewed tons of teachers doing amazing things. We fine-tuned the LAUNCH Cycle, adding some key components often missing in design thinking.

But before we did any of that, we started with a manifesto that would eventually be the core of our book with two core ideas: all children should are naturally creative and powerful things happen when they share what they create with the world. At that point, we opened up a Google Doc and started with the core ideas of what we believe. Here it is:

We believe . . .

We believe that all kids are naturally creative and that every classroom should be filled with creativity and wonder.

We want to see teachers unleash the creative potential in all of their students so that kids can be makers, designers, artists, and engineers.

We know that school can be busy. Materials can be scarce. The creative process can seem confusing, especially when you have a tight curriculum map. So creativity becomes a side project, an enrichment activity you get to when you have time for it. But the thing is, there’s never enough time.
We can do better.

We believe that creative thinking is as vital as math or reading or writing. There’s power in problem-solving and experimenting and taking things from questions to ideas to authentic products that you launch to the world. Something happens in students when they define themselves as makers and inventors and creators.

That’s the power of design thinking. It provides a flexible framework for creative work. It’s used in engineering, publishing, business, the humanities, in non-profit and community work. And yes, it can be used in education! You can use it in every subject with every age group. Although there are many versions of the design thinking model, we have developed the LAUNCH Cycle as a student-friendly way to engage in design thinking.

We believe all students deserve the opportunity to be their best creative selves, both in and out of school. We believe all kids are unique, authentic, and destined to be original.

Most importantly, we believe this is not an all encompassing solution, but a start. We believe our role is to empower kids to make an impact on the world around them and fully believe in themselves.

It is because of these beliefs that we wrote this book. We wrote it for ourselves, for our colleagues, for our friends, for our students, and for you. Because ultimately, we believe that you have the power to inspire kids and create a ripple effect that lasts for years to come.

From there, we wrote a book for teachers. Real teachers. The kind of teachers who are taking creative risks everyday in their classroom even when the system focuses on higher test scores. We wrote a book for the misfits, for the rebels, for the curious educators willing to chase their imagination and pursue design thinking. We wrote it for the ones who know that we teach students and not data points. We told stories. We shared ideas. We offered a realistic framework teachers could use. We asked questions even when we didn't have all the answers.

We didn't write an instruction manual. We know that creative teachers don't need an instruction manual. We didn't write a journal article for college professors to pick apart. We didn't write a specific book for a narrow niche. If you're looking for that kind of a book, then Launch isn't for you.

We wrote a manifesto for teachers who want to boost creativity and bring out the maker in all students. We see a lot of posts complaining about what's broken in education (testing, homework, the institution of school itself) but we created something different. This is an unabashedly positive look at what we can do as educators to spark creativity in every classroom. This is our manifesto. And I can't wait for it to drop in the next month.

Looking for More on Design Thinking?

Here are free resources I've developed along with A.J. Juliani:

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What do we actually mean by motivation?

When a teacher says, "I have an unmotivated student" or a principal says, "my staff seems really motivated," what does that actually mean? I've been thinking about that lately after writing a post on differentiated motivation and working on a rewrite about Flow Theory for student engagement. I sometimes use those words interchangeably: empowering, inspiring, engaging, motivating. I realize that the nuances are actually pretty important but I love the overlap. I love the question of what it means to have complete buy-in from students.

And yet . . .

What do we mean by motivation? What does it actually mean when a person says, "I want to do this" or "I don't want to do that?"

I jotted down a few completely unscientific examples of what we mean when I use the term "motivation."

I am intrigued by this.

I think doing this would be fun.

I want to do this.

I'm hoping that . . .

I need to do this. I should do this.

Self-Efficacy (or perhaps agency or empowerment)
I can do this.

Beliefs and Values
I believe in doing this.

I am allowed to do this. I am required to do this.

Note that this list is not comprehensive. You could easily add other words. Note, too, how these ideas often overlap. Compliance and duty are similar (the key difference being duty is self-imposed while compliance is external). The same goes with desire and enjoyment. Often, you experience mixed motives. A teacher might want to use project-based learning (desire) and might feel that it is something she believes in (beliefs) but she doesn't believe in her own abilities (self-efficacy) or she feels that she is not allowed to do use it.

Motivation often shifts within sub-tasks of a larger task. I thoroughly enjoy writing a book. I edit that book out of a sense of duty. I add references in the right format out of compliance. Sometimes a subtle change in environment will reshape the motivation. I might drive safely out of a sense of duty or a belief and value, but when a police pulls up behind me, I'm double-checking my speed out of compliance.

The bottom line is that motivation is messy and when someone seems highly motivated or completely disengaged, the actual motives are often complex and fluid. It's why professional development needs to tackle policy (giving teachers the permission to create and innovate) and self-efficacy rather than just skills. It's why the entire classroom environment contributes to student learning.
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Why Aren't Schools Teaching This?

I never learned how to write copy in school. In fact, even after taking a ton (yes, we weigh them in tonnage) of literature and humanities classes, I somehow graduated from college without knowing the term "copy writing." To be fair, I went to Arizona State, so there's that. However, I first learned about the concept of copy writing when my friend Jeremy Macdonald mentioned the term in reference to developing a website.

Jeremy explained how copywriting shapes our world. "It's the words you see in websites and advertising. It's specific lines you see in short form prose." I had never considered how a tagline on a website or the header as an important part of the writing process.

Essentially, copy is the web pages, advertisements, emails, and promotional materials. It's often used in a business context. However, it can also be used in social and civic contexts. It is often persuasive but it can be more functional and expository text as well. Think of copy as the shorter, intentional writing we do that often feels invisible (a blog title, a book description, a short video script) but has a profound influence on what we are thinking.

I remember diving into the copywriting literature and feeling excited and kind-of angry. I vacillated between "why didn't I know about this earlier" and "these folks are overthinking this." As I played around with copy, I realized that it was less like standard prose and more like writing poetry. I wasn't used to the brevity, creativity, or intentionality required in writing copy.

But then . . .

I fell in love with writing copy. It's why I love writing the descriptions in blogs and on social media. It's why I love writing the scripts on my sketchy videos. I love the focus required in copywriting. I love playing around with sentence structure and word choice.

This has me wondering if students should learn how to write copy. We tend to focus on the "more is better" aspect of writing in schools. Students learn how to perfect the five paragraph essay. More and more, they are learning about how to cite evidence and write analytically. And yet, when I think of the writing they will do outside of school, I wonder how often it will be actually require copywriting skills. What happens when students write resumes? What about really important emails? How about the times they create something they want to launch to the world?

We often hear about the need for students to write code, but what about learning how to write great copy? Students inhabit a digital world saturated with cheap text, constantly bombarded with quick and thoughtless language. When they learn to write copy, their words stand out. They learn to write with clarity, brevity, and purpose.

I wonder what it would mean to ask students these questions:
  • Can you write in a way that inspires your readers to take action?
  • What does it look like to write with brevity and clarity? 
  • How do the individual words you choose shape what a reader is thinking? In particular, how do the choice of verbs reframe an idea?
  • Why does sentence structure matter? How does the verb tense shape the interpretation of a text?
  • In what ways will your words shape the mental environment and sense of space in a work?
I'm not suggesting we scrap the five paragraph essay or do away with creative writing. However, I wonder what it would look like to at least expose students to the idea of craft great copy. I wonder how students would change as critical thinkers if they saw language as something profound and intentional and capable of shaping their world. 
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We often hear about the problems in education. What about the solutions?

This morning, I logged into Twitter and noticed a stream of education articles. Several described how homework is ruining childhood. A few mentioned why schools are crushing creativity. I noticed my own blog post describing how "kids aren't tired of learning but they're tired of school." So, here's a little pushback on all of those posts (mine included):

Amazing things are happening schools. All the time. I've seen this as teachers have tagged AJ and I in our Global Day of Design before the day has actually happened. I see this when I go on Instagram and take a glimpse at what's happening in Tim Lauer's school. I notice this when my daughter won't stop talking about what she's learning in kindergarten or when my son gushes about how much he loved the mock business / economics experience his class just finished. I noticed it last week when I observed an amazing teacher in her practicum and noticed all the kids who were excited to be at school and who viewed it as a safe place and a refuge.

These small stories are happening all the time, due, in large part, to amazing, dedicated teachers. It's why I created this video a few months back:

So my first thought is that maybe collectively we need to share and celebrate the good stories. I know it's not the intention of authors and speakers and consultants. However, when all we ever hear is how awful schools are for kids, is it any wonder that teachers feel demonized and scapegoated?

I get it. There are flaws in the system. There are outright injustices that we need to tackle. But what would it look like to listen to all perspectives and then offer holistic solutions?

Take homework for example. I used to speak boldly against it. What about the cool out-of-class extension activity? What about parents who want their children to have additional work? What about that kid who goofed off in class and didn't get any work done? You can dismiss these concerns or you can say, "Maybe we could make homework optional and take a holistic approach to community and school partnerships."

You can complain that schools are crushing creativity. But what would it look like to advocate for project-based learning and design thinking instead? What would it look like to help reform the curriculum map so that it encourages and inspires creativity? What would it mean to have a conversation with teachers in Alberta, where they have overhauled the curriculum to embrace creativity?

I'm not suggesting we ignore the flaws in the system. However, what would it mean for us to take some of the energy we are devoting to complaining and use it to advocate for positive change?
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Are We Missing the Point with Digital Citizenship?

I keep seeing a meme floating around Facebook. It has a quote from Penn State and Duke and, I think maybe MSU, sharing times they passed on student athletes due to social media posts.

I am concerned with the way we approach digital citizenship as this boogey-man, scare-fueled conversation. What would it mean if we allowed kids to make mistakes? What if we treated social media the way we treat in-person interactions? What if we treated social media indiscretions as a chance to grow? What if we approached them as learning opportunities?

What if we were quicker to listen and slower to judge?

What if we viewed it as an evolving story rather than a permanent digital tattoo? Do we risk making kids so risk-averse and image-conscious that they can't be authentic? And are we doing enough to allow all students to express their identity, even in the face of bigotry?

What if we shifted away from PR and image control and toward authenticity and identity?

What if we shifted the conversation from "here's what to avoid" to "what can you do to promote positive change?" What if we highlighted more of the stories of kids who are creating things and sharing them with the world?

What if we celebrated those times when students were courageously authentic about their identity? What if, instead of saying, "your future employer will look at your Facebook," we also had a conversation about corporations and privacy? What if we recognized that maybe a place like Penn State failed because they were focused on image control rather than ethics?

Perhaps when we run across a young person's social media post that is vulgar or sexist or offensive, we should ask, "Who do you want to be?" and "How do you want to live?" rather than "Can you delete this so it doesn't get seen?" 
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Kids Aren't Tired of Learning. They're Tired of School.

Toward the end of the year, I remember feeling absolutely exhausted as a teacher. Once the testing is over and the pressure is gone, there's this sense of relief. However, this was nothing compared to what my eighth graders experienced. You could see it in their slouched shoulders and the glazed-over look in their eyes.

They were done.

And yet . . .

They were done with school but they weren't done with learning. They were done with consuming and not creating. They were done with having compliance. They were done with routines. They were done with repetitive work. But they weren't done with choice. They weren't done with creativity. They weren't done with deep conversations.

It took me a few years to realize that once the test was over, I had two choices:

We could check out and consume or we could engage in creative projects. So, we started creating games on Scratch instead of playing games online. We started engaging in hands-on design projects. We engaged in Genius Hour instead of free time. We filmed a documentary instead of watching movies.

In other words, we chose creativity.

I'm not against consuming. After all, I want students to consume well. And there is nothing wrong with having fun and playing together as a class. Note that there's nothing wrong with the stuff on the left side of the list, but what if we took the end of the year as a chance to pursue the options on the right side of the list?

But this is the chance to be creative. This is the chance to take creative risks. If the policies and the standardized tests limit the types of creative work you can do in your classroom, this is your educational Get Out of Jail free card. If an administrator questions that amazing Genius Hour project, just point out that there is another teacher in the building showing Frozen for the thirteenth time.

Here's what I discovered in my third year of teaching when I shifted toward creative end-of-the-year projects: it changed my practice. I began to see that these projects didn't require a ton of extra resources. I realized that students could thrive on autonomy. I began to see how I could tie the projects to the standards. Eventually, the way I taught at the end of the year became the way I taught year-round.

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Is it time to break up with busy?

About six years ago, I arrived home from work and my five-year-old son was already holding up a baseball.

“We can play, but I don’t have a lot of time,” I told him.

All I could think of was my to-do list. I had a department meeting to plan, papers to grade, and small projects to finish.

However, as I slipped on the baseball glove, something changed.

I forgot about my list.

We tossed the ball back and forth.

But my son kept asking, “Is there still time?”

Is there still time?

I couldn’t answer it.

So, that night, I broke up with busy. I quit committees. I limited my projects. I set a curfew for myself at work. I learned when to give 110% and when to give 11 or 12 percent.

See, I was drowning in busy and yet I’d been wearing busy like a badge of honor; like I was winning some imaginary competition. But life isn’t a game. Actually, Life is a board game and I think it’s also a cereal.

But here’s the thing: You don’t get a trophy for packing your schedule with more projects and more accomplishments and more meetings.

All you get is a bigger load of busy. But busy is hurried. Busy is overwhelmed. Busy is fast. Busy is careless. Busy is a hamster wheel that never ends and a sprint up the ladder without ever asking where it leads.

There are moments when life gets busy. I get that. But I never want busy to be the new normal.I never want to look back at life and say, “Wow, I was really good at being busy.”

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