Year 1: The Beginning

It started with a question: what if school could be the most interesting place in a child’s life?


We thought we should try to make that place: a learning community driven by kids’ passions and interests, where their curiosity would fuel the curriculum and where their work would really matter. In a whirlwind of preparation, Brightworks went from a school on paper to a school in reality. We had a 9,000 square foot warehouse, a handful of staff and a group of kids ages 6 to 12, and big imaginations to make a different kind of school that thrived on kids’ curiosity and ideas and provided a place for them to think big and be a part of a community of learners.

6196753487_ea5f642c61_zIn the first year, we grew and changed our thinking and our day-to-day by leaps and bounds, built the infrastructure of the space, learned a lot about what kids need in an environment, grabbed the best ideas to use from various pedagogical sources – and more often than not just jumped with what we felt was right. We were open to suggestion, tried out new approaches to learning every step of the way, and heard from the kids what they needed and wanted from their school. In the end, Brightworks grew from a crazy dream to a dynamic reality.

Arc 1: Cities

IMG_0851 2

Through the study of Cities, the Brightworks kids explored what it means to be a member of a community like Brightworks, a neighborhood like the Mission, and a city like San Francisco. Through the exploration of communities they were exposed to concepts of sharing, rulemaking, and social responsibility, and were given a deeper understanding of how many practical aspects of how our city works: bus, transit, safety, fire and water supply systems, as well as creation of currency. The arc culminated in the collaborative creation of Kid City, where the children were able to express their individuality by creating a space for themselves that also served a purpose in the community of Kid City. They worked in multi-age groups to accomplish their visions, and strengthened the bonds with their school friends as they discovered who they each were in the student body: in what ways they were individuals and in what ways they were a community.

Check out some of the blog posts from the first arc of the school:
The First Day, Trash and Goats, , Fire Day, Planning Kid City, Challenges, Framing and Paint, Garden or Build, Everything is Awesome, A Great Feat, Starting Portfolios, Exposition

Arc 2: By Hand


While studying things a person does by hand, the Brightworks students were exposed small group collaboration, fine motor skill acquisition, philosophical discussions about our own hands and what happens if you lose a hand, and were able to have the experience of beginning and finishing multiple small scale projects.  They also had further exposure to diverse experts inside and outside of the school, who demonstrated skills and guided the students as they learned to knit, felt, butcher meat, make ravioli, master sewing machines, and represent their ideas through art, among many other experiences. Through assigned small groups, the bands negotiated the challenges and successes of settling on ideas as a group rather than as individuals, and worked together to create quilts, forests, boats, a stop-motion animation short film, laser-cut comic books, and five-flavor candy.

Read more about the best of the By Hand arc:
What Hands Look Like, Things Hands Can Do, Putting Limits on Hands, Peter and the Pig, A Day of Expression, Progress, Deadline, Afloat, More about Boats, Portfolio, Exposition Party

Arc 3: Motion

6733634297_fbf74c4017_z The school spent more time in their bands and developing deeper interpersonal relationships with peers during Motion, the third arc of the year. With an increase in band-centered time, the students were able to dive deeper into age-appropriate exposures to reading and writing, and the increased routine within their day allowed them to become more secure in the Brightworks environment. The Flying Fish explored concepts of flight through their love of paper airplanes, feeling the effects of lift, drag, and tilt as they experimented with paper airplane building indoors, at parks, in various wind conditions. As a larger group, they collaborated on an air show to demonstrate the properties of flight they had learned, as well as their grasp on counting: chairs, entrance tickets, taking turns. The Ninja Cats explored concept of gravity, momentum, and potential energy through experiments at the park on the monkey bars and the swings, feeling their effects on their bodies and on pendulums as they moved around and tested objects according to the laws of physics. The Undead Goats explored filmmaking and high-speed photography while working with equations and concepts for potential energy, kinetic energy, horizontal projectile motion and vertical projectile motion. In small groups or individually, they worked on various projects to represent their understanding of motion or apply the principles they had learned.

More about Motion from the blog:
Motion, Ballasts and Laser Beams, Flying High, Social and Emotional, Cognitive Knots, Play Think Eat, Work Space, Go Go Think, Working Hard, Hardly Working, Just Doing, Busy, Prepping, Motion Exposition


Arc 4: Locomotion


The three bands took three different approaches to the study of Locomotion. The Flying Fish examined how birds are able to fly and were exposed to aspects of birds’ life cycles, habitats, feeding, and breeding, and integrated their understanding of the concepts of flight into the world of birds. The group took their role as expert ornithologists very seriously, and looked at the world in a new way while on walks, hikes, and field trips. The Ninja Cats were exposed to traversing the city on foot, by bicycle, in cars, on buses, on horses and on cable cars. They explored time and measured great distances like the circumference of the United States and the small distances of city blocks around the school. The Undead Goats explored the component parts of bicycles and bicycle repair, while taking multiple bike rides per week to become street and hill savvy within the city limits. Each group took on collaborative projects during the Expression phase and provided them with the opportunity to share language around how to be sensitive of other people’s ideas and effectively collaborated on their projects with guidance as well as allowing them to see a project through to the end and confirm their understanding that they can work together to accomplish big things, whether it be collaborative plays or sixty-four mile bike rides.6778358312_89c6a7af11_z

Read more about the Locomotion arc:
Arc: Locomotion, Wings and Wheels, Hatching, Chicks and Bikes, Observing, Outside, Inside, Birding, Pigeons and Walls, Welding, Birding, Acting, Projects, Chickens at the Park, Sparks at School, High Adventure, Last Exposition, First Year, Deconstruction