Year 2: Concept to Implementation

The beginning of the second 2012/2013 school year brought changes to the physical school space, the number of students who occupied the building, the number of teachers, the names of the bands, the flow of the day, and the kinds of Arcs we ventured on. We tried new modes of working through projects, developed ideas about documentation of work, grew our foundation of community, and battled through the challenges of a newly founded school, working from concept to implementation.

Year 2, Arc 1: Salt

To start the new year, we looked at the world through a grain of Salt. The students and their collaborators explored the everyday roles that salt plays in our cells, our food, our playdough. With a wider lens they saw the vast role salt has played in wars that have been fought and in world exploration through ships and wagon trains made possible because of food preservation. We used the topic of Salt as a seed from which many ideas grew and a myriad of projects sprouted.


The members of the Rubber Band explored the chemicals that combine to turn poisons in to harmless salt and how salt changes the body and our food. Their projects ranged from turning pool and drain cleaners into salt and creating fireworks to a pop-up one-night restaurant and salty works of art. The Sand Leopards focused on the role salt played in ancient cultures like Mesopotamia and Egypt, with projects on animal intelligence, important cultural artifacts, and newspaper reporting.


The Phantoms explored the chemical make-up of NaCl and how salt affects chemical reactions in the body. They delved deep in projects like expressing covalent bonding through dance, making toys powered by salt, and lifting 100 pounds of salt. The Coyotes studied fermentation through experiments with cabbage and diffusion by looking at watercolor paintings. Their projects were bite-sized examinations of different kinds of salt from around the world, watercolor paintings affected by salt, the melting rate of salted snow, and re-creations of salt flats in nature.

Read more about the Salt arc in these select blog posts:
Salt, Saltwater, EvaporationOut in the Field, What Salt is Used For, Getting Going, Expression Continues,Experiments, Outside the Box, Presentations Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Return to the Sea

Year 2, Arc 2: Fairness


For the second arc of the year, we chose Fairness as our theme. As we delved into the history of Salt, we discovered that the modes of trade were securely based in this elusive concept and we chose four main way points to guide us in this massive subject: games, trade, government, and social justice. We sought to explore the reasons why the instinct for fairness can be observed in many animal species, not just humans, and yet by itself this instinct does not seem to guarantee a just society. We asked, “If fairness is built into our genetic code, why is there any unfairness in society?” Throughout the arc, the Brightworks students delved into the meanings of fairness in themselves and as part of a school and wrestled with the complexities of creating justice in situations that cannot be made to be fair, decoded the difference between “fair” and “equal,” and tried to understand how sometimes, the best intentions can lead to the worst outcomes. photo(51)
The Rubber Band journeyed into the world and took on unfairness in San Francisco by volunteering at organizations like the Food Bank and the Firefighters’ holiday Toy Drive, exploring moral dilemmas and civil disobedience in their video, art, research, and psychological projects.
The Sand Leopards examined environmental justice, the Civil Rights movement, and the founding of our nation with this lens in mind, coming to realize and represent the realities of fairness and justice through a stage play and a video on environmental issues and a study of the unfairness presented in natural resources meaning dominance of one people over another. 8449423036_15746b9a98_zThe Phantoms dove into the study of fair play by establishing rules for board and dice games while discussing the intricacies of stereotyping and homelessness in San Francisco. Their projects ranged from a book of biographies of civil rights leaders to creating their own board games with complex rules to make play fair. 8535841100_590e2e3fb5_zThe Coyotes looked at currency and fair trade in the food we eat, learned about the history of the Civil Rights Movement through stories about important figures like six-year-old Ruby Bridges, and discussed ways that kids can make a difference in the world. They were activists in full throttle, running book drives to educate people about literacy equality and electronic waste drives to bring awareness to coltan mining in Africa, and educating their peers about waste management and recycling.

Read more on the blog:
Start of Fairness, Board Games, More Board Games, Food Bank, Fair Food, Documenting Trash, Projects, Going and Going, End of Expression, Mostly, Presentations, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Exposition Night

Year 2, Arc 3: Maps

The spring of our second year brought us to the topic of Maps. Brightworks traveled the globe and explored small places, used compasses and legends to figure out where we were, discovered that mapping is more than about finding out where you are located. The students read books about maps during literature circles and documents about how people have made maps of the places they discover. We saw the world through the help of Google maps – and without it, all the while asking questions: What is a map? Why are maps important? Do we only use maps for directions? Are paper maps obsolete in this day of GPS and Google maps? What can you learn about the mapmaker from his or her map? In the end, we realized, a map is another way to represent data and find a new way to look at the world.

image_3The Rubber Band took the world on without the help of Google Maps, using landmarks and sense of direction to figure out where they were in the city. They studied the most efficient way to move between places and measured degrees of longitude in the Mission district. They looked at representations of data using maps from Mission Possible, Stamen Design, and Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Their explorations resulted in expressions of data collection and presentation, stories of maps that silently unravel lives, how a city layout contributes to people’s quality of life, and a role-playing game that brings players through a radioactive earth.

maps2The Sand Leopards dove deep into the locavore food movement and tracked where their food comes from on the map. They looked at changes in the land made by the various peoples who lived on it, explored California agriculture, and discovered habits of animal migration. Their projects included role-playing games, informational displays, and research projects.

The Phantoms explored their heritage through family stories and visited Angel Island and a naturalization ceremony to better understand immigration. They examined the structure of San Francisco and oriented themselves in the city with hand-drawn maps. Their projects were expressions of their interests in mazes and labyrinths, displaying a collection of data about pigeons and bread crumbs, and issues surrounding immigration and citizenship.

The Coyotes explored topography, scale, perimeter, and area, told stories about fantastical maps that they drew themselves, traced their personal histories, read folk tales from around the world, and learned about the fifty U.S. states. They took journeys around the city and created treasure maps with clear directions about how to navigate them. Their projects brought their perspectives down to the tiniest movements of mice and the biggest questions of how Erastothenes discovered that the Earth was round and how the tectonic plates moved to form our continents.

More from the blog:
Maps, First Day of Maps, Coyotes Exploring, Journeys, Mathy Maps, Topography, Stamen Design, Where Lines Meet, Delicacy and Firmness, Inspired by Exploration, Circumference and Pangaea, Pigeons and Labyrinths, Mice, Maps, Games, and Comics, Drawing Climbing Filling Maps, The Truth