Getting Started as an Online Mentor / tutorial video + suggestions for providing feedback

Welcome architects, engineers, and designers!

Thank you for volunteering to provide feedback on student design projects.  The Chicago Architecture Foundation created to connect teens, teachers, and architects all across the country for 21st century project-based learning.

Teens - both in the classroom and working on their own at home - use the design process, project-based learning methods, and the social networking features here. They gain new architectural skills, learn green design principles, apply math and science principles to investigate their own school building, and enage in real-world design problem solving. 


If you’re looking to make a true impact on the lives of teens in your community and around the world, we hope you’ll consider volunteering as an online mentor to provide feedback on the various stages of students’ design projects posted on DiscoverDesign.

We encourage you to reach out to the architecture or drafting teacher at your local high school and let them know about DiscoverDesign.  Or comment on any project posted in the Student GalleryAfter you create a user account, you're ready to go!


If you'd like to comment on student's project and you'd like CAF to connect you with teens and teachers using DiscoverDesign - either in your city or around the country - please fill out this short form tell us a little about yourself.  


When you are logged in to the site as a registered user, you can easily follow any student project. You'll find the orange "Follow this project" button the top right hand corner of each student's project.  These projects will appear in your 'My DisocverDesign' tab.

At this point, the system does not yet send automatic notifications when new work or comments are added to a project you follow. That is priority number one in the next phase of development. 

Please check back on those projects on a regular basis between now and the end of this semester (end of May) for new comments and new work the students have uploaded.


In many ways, the process is more important than the final project at this stage of a student’s learning. We want to reinforce that solving an architectural design challenge can’t be done overnight and showing the work of how you arrived at a solution is critical.

Keep an eye on the types of things the students are uploading at each stage of the design process.  Are these items appropriate and useful?  If not, encourage and suggest alternatives as needed.

  • Portfolio cover image
    It should reflect their original design work or a unique logo for their project team, when possible (not just a school mascot or stock photo image, for example).
  • Overview
    Teens should explain the big problems they are trying to solve in this design challenge.
  • Collect Information
    Teens should upload things like photos of existing conditions, video or written interviews with current users, and site plan drawings showing the existing spaces.  They should also explain their thinking.
  • Brainstorm Ideas
    Teens should upload sketches and diagrams of their early, messy, creative ideas as well as post images of buildings or ideas that are inspiring them.  Encourage them to provide captions and explanations for all images.
  • Develop Solutions
    Teens should upload a collection of drawings, views or animations of their digital models, and photos of physical models.  Once again, make sure they provide explain their thinking.
  • Final Design
    Teens should upload drawings, renderings, and views of their final models.  Written text is important here also!



  • Provide ongoing encouragement!  It can be intimidating for a teen to read comments from a professional designer like you.  Keep encouraging their efforts.  Example: "I'm looking foward to seeing what you create and upload." Or  "Your photos are very helpful in understanding the existing conditions."  Or  "Do you have any architectural questions I can help with?"  

  • Each comment you make should be a balance of constructive criticism and encouragement.  Example: "That wall of glass is you've designed is very creative and will let lots of light into the space. But since it faces south can you think about ways to shade or regulate the amount of sun and heat coming into this space?"
  • Kids get overwhelmed by very long comments that list many items you’d like to see them address.  Try to include only one big suggestion/idea per comment per image. Example: "Adding a site plan that shows the existing location of your cafeteria and the new changes, will help me understand your project better."
  • Always include a recommended next step or call to action in your comment. Example: “In your next posting, I’d like to see more of…”  Or, “Can you explain how you arrived at the decision to….”  Or, “Do you have any questions for me?”
  • Whenever possible, encourage the student to write more detailed descriptions about their images, as well as responding to you in writing.  Responding back to mentors is typically the biggest challenge for kids.
  • As appropriate, refer (include hyperlink) the student to an architectural concept in the DiscoverArchitecture tab that they may be struggling with.

    The DiscoverArchitecture tab includes slide shows and text on case study schools around the country, video interviews with architects, digital models, Google maps, case study school construction drawings, the Inspiration Gallery, and other students’ projects in the Student Gallery (those you are reviewing and/or others.

  • As appropriate, feel free to refer the student to an external URL, highlighting a real architecture project, professional, or a current article to explain more.
  • Please model good writing and architectural vocabulary.  The kids will follow your example!


You don’t have to deal with any technical issues.  Just refer any glitches or questions the kids may have directly to the Chicago Architecture Foundation or have them use the Contact Form


Please try to keep track a good estimate of how many hours you spend commenting and reviewing student work.

Drop us a note now and then and keep CAF posted on the good, the bad, the ugly, the great, etc.  We love good stories and anecdotes from volunteers.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!