summer and three new arcs

Brightworks may be out of session for the school year, but the building is still ringing with the sounds of kids! Check out the summer camp blog for photos of Tinkering School Day Camp in action.

In the meantime… the collaborators are taking a well-deserved rest and the staff is getting things in order for the school year. We had a week of staff development when school got out and made a ton of progress in reflecting on the last school year in anticipation of making some really great changes to the way we do things at Brightworks. We also decided on the three arcs for next year! Gever wrote a really lovely description of what they are and why we chose them, copied below for your reading pleasure:

For a brief period of time, philosophers and learned scientists thought that the defining characteristic that separated humans from animals was the ability to count. This turned out to be a flawed bit of induction – derivation of an absolute from a small sample – and it didn’t take long to find various avian and primate species that could count. Nevertheless, we humans are the top counters on the planet and it has given us the unique ability to measure things – and once we started doing that, we never stopped. It is safe to say that we are obsessed with measurement. We know the tallest, smallest, heaviest, lightest, fastest, slowest, thickest, thinnest, quickest, slowest, widest, deepest, furthest, nearest, flattest, roundest, smoothest, roughest, softest, hardest, loudest, quietest, nicest, meanest, highest, lowest, hottest, coldest, prettiest, ugliest, smelliest, grossest, serenest, tiniest, furriest, of pretty much everything in the known universe.


In the 2013 school year, Brightworks will explore the human impulse to measure and compare things. Based on the past two years of Arc experiments, we are going to make an adjustment to the timing of the year and try a short seven week arc followed by two fourteen week arcs. For incoming students, the first arc of the year is their introduction to the school, and for returning students it is a time to recalibrate, realign, and re-engage – because of this, the first arc is designed to quickly build and integrate our sense of community. The winter arc that follows is when we see some of our best engaged work here, so that arc takes us deeper into the conceptual and abstract. In a similar way, the Spring arc is designed to take advantage of the light and irrepressible energy that builds up in the school as the world turns green again.

In the Fall, we will look at the RULER, the protractor (the curvilinear cousin of the ruler), and a tiny fraction of the myriad measurement tools that have been invented over the ages, we will measure that which is physical, seen, and heard, and all that which can be quantified; and what we cannot directly measure, we will calculate or estimate. Accuracy will be our watchword, and we will enthusiastically ferret out our sources of error.

Come the Winter, we will turn our attention to the humble CLOCK, quiet dictator of our modern lives. From the simple leaky urn of the dripping water clock to the common alarm clock with its gears, catchments, shafts, and miserly and metered consumption of potential energy. Having poked around in the clocks innards we will look out at the world, compressing days to seconds with time-lapse photography and subdividing the second into fractions to capture the fleetingly instantaneous with high-speed photography, and because time is relative, we will come to see it as elastic and subjective.

As the days lengthen and Winter turns to Spring, we celebrate the return of the sun and delve into the many meanings of MIRROR and the role that the reflective surface has played throughout history. The water in the dog bowl catches the morning sun and lights up the ceiling of the kitchen. The reflected light amplifies the tiniest ripples on the water’s surface, making visible the minute vibrations in the floor and faint gusts of wind moving in the room – photons traveling in straight lines. From Narcissus to Snow White and Through the Looking Glass, from reflection (and it’s many meanings) through symmetry and illusion to infinity – we will come to know this thing that we call light in a new way.

We are thrilled to announce these arc topics not only because we find them fascinating keyholes into a myriad of subjects, but also because we feel they will match the ebbs and flows of what the kids need at various points in the year. We’re also excited to have so much time to think and plan both for and with the kids.