Brightworks is based on ideas that were developed and tested in summer camps, particularly the internationally-known Tinkering School, created in 2006 by Brightworks founder Gever Tulley. Tinkering School explores the idea that children can build anything, and through building can learn anything. Kids’ experience at camp made them – and Gever himself – wonder why school couldn’t always be as hands-on and memorable as their summers. In 2011, we put the idea to the test by creating a day school program that could combine best practices of summer camp, preschool, graduate school, and meaningful life experiences. Since then, Brightworks has been on the leading edge of a new kind of school that puts lifelong learning and curiosity at the forefront of a student’s experience and in the heart of our pedagogical approach.
The name was inspired by the definition of “brightwork,” which refers to wood or metal that has been varnished or polished, or “finished bright,” rather than coated with paint to protect it from the elements. Finishing something bright requires dedication and commitment to the attention and care of that surface, far beyond what a painted surface requires.
The school opened its doors to 19 students on September 6, 2011 in the old Best Foods Mayonnaise factory in the Mission District of San Francisco. In the first year, the students experienced four arcs, talked to a multitude of experts and went on dozens of field trips while taking on their learning with first-hand experience and focused on projects and applicable learning. The second year saw a change in the space, the number of students, and the number of collaborators, and with three arcs to dive deep into, the students began to embody what it means to be a Brightworks student and a member of the community. In year three, we built a solid foundation and felt more confident than ever in our student body and our curriculum. Years four and five brought more new faces, more new arcs, and a better understanding of what exploration and project work looks like to students of all ages. In year six and coming into year seven, we discovered the benefits of following a narrative in the study of an arc topic. We continue to grow and change each year with new students, staff, and families, and a better, more clear understanding of how the arc pedagogy works and how to approach the curriculum with each student’s needs in mind in order to help them on their way to becoming life-long learners and competent, curious citizens of the world.
Read more about the past school years: