Blue: Me Staying Outta Their Way

Over the last two weeks, I gotta way, way outta Blue’s way. They’re on a roll and I told them the last thing I want to do is derail it. Projects are intense, and they are hustling!

So, here’s what Blue is up to:


Audrey is testing out group psychology and group dynamics by selecting specific personality types and having them work as a team to solve a problem. (Because she really likes space and Mars, and really wants to see which types of people would work best together in a one-way mission to the red planet).


Owen is going to tan leather from start to finish. He’s been designing/building/welding tools to assist him in the process. (Because he really likes leather and is interested in the ways in which some of the process has been lost or changed in the commercial industry).


Declan is making a life-sized action figure with joints that move in the way that real human joints move. (Because he’s fed up with the inaccuracies of the toy industry!)


Fran is so busy interviewing the womyn (her spelling, a political statement) of Brightworks. She wants to know how stereotypes effect the way folks interact with one another and also precieve themselves. (Because she identities as a feminist and hates the way girls are taught to act by popular culture).


Basically, Felix is designing an alien. He is researching planets that could potentially support life, and then creating a creature that might be able to survive and thrive there. He’s also researching the interconnected organ systems of people and animals for inspiration and a deeper understanding of what a living body needs and does. (Because he’s fascinated by UFO narratives).


Julian is designing a video game. He has been drafting on paper the worlds and the characters and the accessories, and he also downloaded and is learning to use video game design software. (Because he’s interested in video games’ effect on the brain and their potentially addictive qualities!)


Clem is learning about bones and muscles in order to become a better drawer. She’s been drawing hands and arms while learning about the bones and muscles. (Because she loves art and wants to get better at drawing people).


Kaia has been intensely focused on math. She wants to complete the core curriculum generally taught to public school 7th graders. She’s been working for hours each day to go learn the subject matter, and has been hanging out with me most of the day so that I can help her. We’ve had a lot of deep conversations about applied math and also the math that we just learn and practice now so that we can later apply more complicated processes on top of it later. (Because she is really interested in learning skills that might be useful in her adult life).

And here are some more awesome moments —  just because I love these kids! Carry on, Blue.










Blue: Mathing and Memorizing


This week was a strange week for Blue. We ended up doing a few things that, at their core, struck me as antithetical to Brightworks — but we ended up doing them in some pretty Brightworksy ways.

We’ve been doing math in the mornings. All the students are at different levels in math (which admittedly makes it sometimes difficult to teach group lessons), so we’ve mostly been using an online module to assist with lesson instruction. I get them all going at the same time, and they work independently on lessons. I float from student to student and assist. The lessons vary from fractions to inordinate mapping to surface area calculation to logic problems. It’s pretty “real school” like sometimes, and sometimes Blue hates that, and sometimes it’s okay. This week it’s been okay. And then something magical happened.

“Amanda! Can you explain Pythagorean Theorem?” I got asked. “I understand how to figure out the equation, but I don’t really get how it works or why.”

(Yes. Duh. Totally. We’re gonna get off the computer to do this. Meet me in the shop after lunch.)


This simple question turned into an afternoon of math exploration. I set up a series of problems for Clem and Kaia in the shop so they could practice using the Pythagorean Theorem. I cut a length of paracord, used screws as three points on a triangle, and kept moving the points around. For each math problem, I asked them to calculate the length of cord needed to wrap around the triangle. They each solved the problem on paper, and then we tested their answers.


This was all well and good, but why? Why does this work?

“I actually can’t remember,” I told them, and we consulted the internet.

Thank you, Vi Hart, for explaining it so well! We spent the rest of the afternoon testing out triangles and watching more math videos.


In a similar vein, Clem’s project has begun to bloom into a meditation on the intersections of rote memorization and figure drawing. She is testing out the hypothesis that learning about the structures of anatomy will make her a better illustrator of humans. She began by doing a drawing of arms and hands, and is now taking the time to study the bones and muscles that make up the body parts found in her drawing. Then at the end of the study, she will draw the same composition again and compare the two.

We usually don’t explicitly memorize things for the sake of memorizing things, so when Clem came to me one morning this week and asked me to witness her testing herself, it felt a little strange.


Nonetheless, we sat in the dining room and went through the names and correct spelling of the bones that make up the wrist. With this simple activity came a whole discussion about memorization tactics, strategies for spelling words that you don’t have any idea how to pronounce, and also about the structural intricacies of wrist bones. This conversation quickly shifted into a discussion about short-term and long-term memory, and after Clem asked if I would re-test her right then, I then told her to give it a rest and move on to something else.

“I think our brains work the same,” I told her. “Go draw for a bit and come back to this.”

She said no, that she had started making the quiz for the next part of the hand and since earlier in the week I taught her how to use the photocopier, she wanted to prep her testing materials.


(Well, imagine that — excitement about testing!)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Blue: Declare Your Project


During one of our closing circles last week, one of the Blue Banders raised his hand to share an appreciation with the school. “I want to appreciate Amanda for turning our Declaration writing into a game! It’s helped us all make better Declarations!”

Without further adieu, I present: The Declaration Flowchart.


The Declaration Flowchart has been up in the Bandspace for the past two weeks. It accounted for every step of the process from brainstorming to drafting to revision to project starting, and it helped do two things:

  1. The Flowchart both tracked and displayed the student’s progress to me and the rest of the Band.
  2. The Flowchart also helped the students remain independent and self-motivated as they drafted and refined their ideas.


Additionally, the Chart incorporated several opportunities for direct feedback from me and other people in the BWX Community. It allowed an audience to ask questions and challenge the student’s ideas, and thus built INTO the process places for Blue to respond directly to holes in their logic and practice re-explaining and re-pitching their ideas before going to the Administration for approval.


The other really great part about the Declaration Flowchart was the day that we all sat down and created avatars to track our progress. I even drew myself and asked Blue to catch up to me on the Flowchart. Creating a visual that the kids had to look at everyday (as it took up A WHOLE WALL of the Bandspace) generated an external representation of a process that is usually largely done in abstract and nonrepresentational ways.

After all, who really sees how many times you delete a sentence when drafting a letter?
Who knows if you’ve gotten feedback from other people?
Who is really going to know if you’re revising writing?

…especially if we’re editing something in Google Docs. And everyone is independently working on their computer. And everyone in the Band is too anxious and focused on their own work to look up and realize that everyone else is struggling with the same thing they are.


Who really knows what we’re working on if we can’t all see it?

To further cement the awesome progress that everyone made last week, on Friday, Blue did 2 minute / 8 slide pitches of their project to the Band. We got to see some more visuals and got to hear what people were thinking. In a lot of ways, this presentation was also a litmus test for understanding — we all agreed, if you can’t talk about your project to other people, you probably don’t actually know what your project is.

And with that, this week on Friday, we are doing a take two. Everyone can definitely pitch their project better, and we’re gonna try it again.


Declarations aside, we also had some fun this week!




Fake Animal Ears!


Library Elevator Selfies!


Blue (+Upper School): Let’s Talk About Sex



This week was pretty uncomfortable. But in that discomfort, some amazing things happened.


Similar to the Upper School Band Swap, during this week, the Upper School mixed things up in order to teach Sex Ed.

On Monday and Tuesday, the students got a crash course in physical anatomy+body changes and in the mental+emotional aspects of sex and relationships. The Bands were paired up (Teal+Blue, and Indigo+Violet) and they spent the mornings hanging out with co-teachers. Rich and Oberski teamed up to talk biology, and me and Phillip co-taught sex/gender/sexuality and consent. 


While I can’t personally speak for Rich+Oberski’s sessions, some wonderfully rich conversation happened with the kids, Phillip, and me. We established group norms, talked about how uncomfortable our discussions might be, and also created a safe space for the students to ask candid and honest questions without fear of being judged or of their privacy being violated. In a school that’s constantly being documented and observed, this was sometimes a tall order. (…And it also meant that I didn’t take many photos this week, and I didn’t post to Instagram much.)

Creating a safe and non-judgemental space for the kids to learn comfortably about a delicate (and usually stigmatized) topic also meant that the Collaborators had to be open and welcoming in their answers. We carefully, considerately, and honestly answered sometimes very personal questions about our own private relationships.

And on Wednesday and Thursday, we did just that in formal sessions.

For this second half of the week, Oberski+Lindsay+Me teamed up to host a 90-minute panel discussion, and Rich+Phillip did the same. All week, we had encouraged the kids to anonymously (or not) submit questions that they had related to sex and relationships. We compiled all the questions, discussed our answered to them in a staff meeting, and then hosted an open Q&A with the students. On Wednesday, the girls hung out with the girl panel and boys with boys, and then on Thursday we swapped (adult boys+student girls, adult girls+student boys).*

*Also, point of clarity on all of this: we chatted a long time about the division of boys/girls for the Q&A sessions and the way that division problematizes some of the binary thinking that we had been dismantling in our conversations all week. By and large, we acknowledged that it caused problems to split the kids like that, but also ultimately decided on the division based on shared anatomical experience of body changes and puberty.


We talked about a lot things and answered a lot of questions this week. We addressed things like body changes, masturbation, virginity, consent, sexuality, gender identity, feminism, body image, sexual health (physical+emotional), porn, and also where to go for answers to questions as they arise, and whatever point in your lifetime they arise.

Without digging too deep, I think that’s really the takeaway from this week: where to go for answers to questions as they arise.

By thoughtfully and explicitly creating a safe space for kids to ask honest questions without judgement, we learned a lot about ourselves, the capabilities of this school, and about the students. They are deeply and critically thinking, curious people. And they have lots of questions.

The one thing that I kept thinking about and trying to emphasize with Blue and with everyone, all week, was that sex is a topic that we as an American culture have been taught not to talk about. If we’ve been taught not to talk about it, and have a question about it, sometimes it’s confusing where or how we can safely find an answer. The last thing that I would want for any of these students (or for anyone) is to go searching for the answer in the wrong place or to find the wrong answer. This week was about creating a space where it was okay to ask, and where we weren’t going to lead them down a wrong path.

In fact, we also demonstrated that sometimes the answers to certain questions are different for different people. And that’s okay too. We don’t all look the same. We don’t all think the same. And in relationships, that’s tricky. Half the battle is recognizing those differences, and the other half is making sure that you’re taking care of yourself while considering the safety and feelings of others.

And with that, I think that Upper School did a great job at teaching sex ed.

Blue: Systems and Stereotypes


This first week back from spring break and last official week of Exploration, Blue dove deep into thinking about systems and stereotypes.


On Monday and Tuesday, we had a visiting Teaching Artist from Southern Exposure Gallery, Claire Rabkin.

Backstory/Gesture to the Near Future
Robby Herbst is an artist who makes art about games. Over the next few months, Southern Exposure will be hosting a few events that feature his work and also place him in conversation with other Bay Area artists and critical theorists. Claire is working with area students respond to Robby’s games by hosting workshops where we play the games and then create our own. The material generated from the workshops will also be in a youth exhibition at the gallery.

What?! This is such an awesome opportunity for the students Brightworks! I connected Claire with Blue, and some amazingness happened.


To get warmed up, we played one of Robby’s games called Grabster. Grabster is a lot like Twister (it uses the same game board), but with two exceptions. The game board is cut into pieces, and each of the colors have a civil right inspired label on them: free speech, safety, jobs, education.

The game also starts a lot like Twister, except some of the rules are ambiguous. Can we move the pieces? Sure. Can we prevent other people from touching the pieces? Sure. Can we form alliances and make enemies? Sure.

During the first few minutes of the game, craziness ensued! Folks ran off with the game board, and on the chaos of the barrel-ridden cork floor, kids were barricading themselves off, chasing one another, and also tucking the game board in their pockets. After this initial explosion, it became evident that the game was less fun than originally thought. Once a pod of people had at least one of each color game piece, the interaction was basically over. No one cared anymore if everyone had access to all four colors.


After much critical discussion of what made the game fun and not fun, we used Robby’s formula to make our own games: Find a system in society that has distinct rules, and then use those rules to create a board game of our own.


In true Brightworks fashion, this prompt that was supposed to fill two afternoons turned into a week-long exploration of board game prototypes. The Blue Band split into three groups and each group developed a wildly different game. They are still working on their projects, and I’m excited to share that the materials will be hung in the gallery at Southern Exposure. (More info to come as we get closer.)

Meanwhile, have I mentioned this is the end of the Exploration phase?

(Declarations. Human Arc Projects. Elaborate Flowcharts.) While thinking about games, Blue is also deep in brainstorming…


…to be continued.

BlueBlueBlueBlue: Upper School Band Swap Week 4


I gotta be honest.
I’ve waited three weeks for this.
I’ve waited three long weeks for the Band Swap to cycle through and for Band Band to come back to me.

Welcome home, Friends. I’m so ready to blow your minds.

The Collaborators structured the schedule of the Upper School Band Swap so that during the fourth week of the Swap we would be with our own Band. It would be right before going on spring break, and it would also give us three other weeks to tweak and perfect the curriculum before we dove into the content with the kids we are so familiar with.


Let’s talk about familiarity for just a second, though — it can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Familiarity can create situations where the content seems boring because the content delivery system (me) has lost its newness and sparkle. Being so familiar with the patterns and habits of such a small group of human can make it harder to pay attention or to stay interested or to continue to be invested. Sometimes newness (the opposite of familiarity) creates an inspiring space where everything is actually interesting.

Everything. Is. Interesting.

That was the idea behind the Band Swap: mix it up, create a new context, introduce a new voice and new content, and create investment at a time in the school year when things might seem routine or unexciting.

So then, it would be understandable that on week four of the Band Swap, when Bands return to their home Collaborator, that the Collaborator might be a little nervous. The flock got a chance to go roam around for three weeks and see what else is out there. Learn new things. From different people. In difference spaces. Now they’re back.

…and what if I’m no longer interesting?


Okay, I’m going to be so honest right now.

Blue Band, you blew my mind this week!

Familiarity worked to my advantage (and yours, for sure). You were so invested in the content. You thought everything was so interesting. You asked great questions and helped connect the dots with some equally great conclusions. You thought critically and deeply about some really hard subject matter. Our conversations were so intense (so intense, in fact, that our East Bay teacher friend Dana sent us snacks, see protocol (spelling is hard) line item #6).


This blog post could go on and on about all wonderful, amazing, mind-blowing things that happened this week. There were so many. This was my favorite week of the Band Swap, for sure. I could easily write an individual post about each of the amazing moments. (And I still might, but not now).

In interest of time, let’s recap.

Blue Band, do you…

  • …remember when we talked about gentrification in the Mission for so long that we were almost late to our field trip?
  • …remember when we watched that video about the Sit-In Movement of the 1960s and we couldn’t believe how that women who was saying that allowing African Americans to eat at the same restaurant as her might be a violation of her civil rights?
  • …remember when you were watching that video about Gavin Newsom with Violet Band and you were “Booooo-ing” the television? And then you were cheering at the television?
  • …remember when you suggested that marriage be misspelled “merraje” in order for a state to circumvent the Defense of Marriage Act?
  • …remember when we talked about Lawrence vs. Texas? Remember how confusing and hard and also important that was to talk about?
  • …remember that afternoon when you asked me why I went to talk to the Chartreuse Band about gender identity? Do you remember how supportive you were when I explained why?
  • …remember when we went to the Kadist Foundation to see the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition, and the curator Heidi was so nice, and you all were so curious and attentive, and then you insisted that we watch the entire 29 minute video piece end to end? And then we were late for Park?
  • …remember when you called that crayon image “genius”?


I do.

I remember all those things.

Thank you for being so invested and creative and curious. It was a pleasure to teach you about civil rights this past week and have it be so well received. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your Band Swap projects, and I also can’t wait to see how this experiment influences your Human Arc projects.

(Yes, that’s right — it’s almost project time again!)

Enjoy the rest of your Spring Break and see you next week.


Blue+Indigo: Upper School Band Swap Week 3


Oh Hey, Indigo Band!

It was week 3 of Upper School Band Swap, I had a great week hanging out with you. We talked about so many unexpected things and in such deep and productive ways. In fact, Wednesday was the best day ever. For realz. No joke. Seriously.


Let me tell you why Wednesday was the best day ever.

During the Band Swap, on every Wednesday (#hellagayday) I have been doing a 90 minute crash course in same sex marriage history. Starting in 1962 with the first state to legalize homosexual acts in private, I try to demonstrate how state laws effect federal laws, how federal laws blockade progress and how state in turn find ways around the blockades. Using the lens of same sex marriage is just a tactic to help explain all of these other really complicated  inner workings of the US government and legal system. This content is just a way for us to talk about how laws shape humanity, and how humanity sometimes fights back.

This past #hellagayday started much like the others. I drew my timeline on the board, we watched a video, and chatted. And then something unexpected and magical happened — all of these simple historical provocations sparked all of these other things for the Band. And suddenly, we went from talking about Gavin Newsom’s political stunt in 2004 to talking about polygamy, to talking about trans rights, to talking about gender as a spectrum, to talking about sex as a spectrum, to talking about what happens if a baby is born with both sets of genitals.

Indigo, you had serious, thoughtful, complicated, and beautiful questions about what it means to be human in 2016. We had in depth, critical, and respectful conversation about all of these things (and more). This is what it means to be an educator at this school: having the freedom to productively tangent, explore ideas, be flexible and excited, and above everything, be genuinely interested.

I could have continued this conversation for an additional 90 minutes. I could have been sitting in a college classroom. I could have been chatting with a group of friends on a Saturday night.

So, heartemojis to you, Indigo!


Meanwhile, the rest of the week was an interesting lesson (for me!) in what it means to be a teen human in 2016:

Did you know that pretty advanced technology is just a simple part of every life for these humans?
No big deal. It’s totally normal to video conference an assessment meeting, or to record yourself doing your homework assignment, upload it to YouTube, and then embed it into a Google Slides presentation for when you’re absent.


Also, safety has been an interesting topic of conversation this week.

I spent the week wearing safety goggles because in a fit of excitement, a pencil was thrown in during the morning check in. This has sparked all sorts of conversation, including what it means to “consent” to something, how tools can be used inappropriately as weapons, and also the difference between play and fighting and what can happen when the lines are blurred.


And this happened:


Also, as uncool as they sometimes might pretend it is, our penpals are on our minds.

Blue is having some pretty interesting conversations with their mystery East Bay friends. Some folks are writing under pseudonyms and presenting them fictional stories, while others are asking some intriguing questions. It’s rumored that our friends in Oakland are interested in having a picnic with Blue, and we are working out the details.


With that, here’s to another week!

Band Swap rotates me back with Blue this week, so it’ll be interesting to close out this curriculum with some familiar faces.

Blue+Teal: Upper School Band Swap Week 2


As the Upper School Band Swap of 2016 continues, and I got to hang out with the Teal Band last week.

Same Curriculum: Civil Rights.
Different Kids: From the oldest kids of Upper School to the youngest.

It’s funny to reflect on this past week. I teach at this school that is revolutionary in its curriculum development and freedom. As teachers, we can change and shift and grow in experimental, unconventional ways. But in this great experiment, here we are, doing something pretty conventional: each collaborator is teaching the same mini-course 4 weeks in a row but to different groups of kids.

For me, what’s been truly extraordinary about this process so far is seeing how (roughly) the same content is received in vastly different ways by different students. Each group finds a different entry into the content, and then each group explores that content and finds connections to it in very different ways.


For me, this illuminates the content and provides a fuller picture of how learning occurs, what the content itself actually means, and also gives me deeper insight into how to better teach/communicate/facilitate it.


My biggest take away from this week with the Teal Band has to do with two things:

  1. Context and background information is sometimes so important. We can’t actually talk about marriage rights if the difference between a having a wedding and entering into the legal agreement is not clear. We can’t fully understand the racial discrimination revolution of the 1960s, if we don’t understand why the racial divide occurred in the first place. We can’t talk about women’s rights without understanding that birth control hasn’t always been an option. And with that foundation, the concrete information breeds abstraction and allows us to critically examine the thing. We can’t be equally critical if we’re not equally all on the same page.
  2. By taking inventory of and reflecting on the nitty-gritty details and concrete historical events that have birthed civil rights movements, this week I’ve created a clearer picture (for myself) of the material, and have also developed a stronger foundation upon which to base my critical conversation. Way to go, Teal. You did that.



Meanwhile, the Blue Band got to hang out with Amanda Oberski for a week and learn the ins and outs of psychology. They learned about social experiments, the ethics of human and animal testing, and also learned a lot about themselves and their own growth and development. So far, they have been most jazzed about this: something about learning about themselves through engaging subject matter and really traumatic-seeming articles, research, and videos.

I caught this great sequence of shocked and appalled faces during our afternoon work time:


Shock and appauledness aside, Blue has really dove into psychology last week. The afternoons were filled with critical conversation about the whole morning and about the homework. They begged to continue working when we had to shift gears, and many of them even applied the concepts and terms that they learned to our critical conversation around Lord of the Flies. To see them draw lines and weave together concepts from the morning session and then apply them to the close reading of a novel was amazing, well timed, and such an asset to my time with the Band.

So, I’ll end with some shout outs:

  • Thank you, Teal. You made me a better instructor by giving me new perspective on my material.
  • Thank you, Amanda Oberski for creating such a rich foundation for Blue to critically discuss literature.

What a great week!

Blue+Violet: Upper School Band Swap Week 1


The Upper School did something revolutionary this week: 

  • The Blue Band went to Rich.
  • The Teal Band went to Phillip.
  • The Indigo Band went to Oberski.
  • And Violet Band went to Simons.

In the morning, each Collaborator taught a 5-day mini crash course in a particular subject related to the Human Arc. In the afternoon, the Bands got to work on reflections or projects or homework related to that crash course, as well as spend a little bit of quality time with their usual Collaborator. With that said, I can tell you this about Blue: they got to learn about the human anatomy and body systems and health and body maintenance. They ate it up. They were super excited each afternoon, and could tell me all sorts of weird and interesting facts and names for things that I have only surface knowledge of. What a great opportunity for these kids — each of the Upper School Collaborators are experts on divergent topics and this has been a chance for us to nerd out and really shine!

Here’s a really brief visual recap of what Rich and Blue nerded out about:




Meanwhile, we started reading Lord of the Flies, and Blue has started to run with the idea of recreating the story with each of the Band members as characters in the narrative. Kaia polled the Band and asked about the story line. What would your role in the society be? Would you die in the story and if so, how? And then Clem started designing the island. And everyone, of course, started designing their individual sleeping quarters. We had a pretty productive conversation about the advantages of not separating the girls sleeping area from the boys sleeping area — especially if we are a society that is concerned about safety and protecting one another from predators at night. In the end, we decided we could handle sleeping in the same area.


And then, Felix started to learn how to design video games using a program called Unreal Engine 4. As of the end of this week, we have a draft of Blue Band Lord of the Flies the Video Game: complete with a patch of grass, lots of rocks, and one sleeping area complete with fire. Whoa! I would have never predicted this.


And then, in the mornings, I hung out with the Violet Band. (Equally whoa!)

They got to experience a crash course in civil rights from a social/critical, and not always historical perspective. In this really, really, quick introduction, we talked about:

  • How US law gets changed by politicians.
  • How US law gets changed by the people (through sometimes violent protest).
  • The intersections of how women gained rights, how African-American folks gained rights, and how gay folks gained rights.
  • And, I think most importantly, how law defines who we consider fully “human” and who we do not.


All this chat was heavy, heavy, and sometimes hard. We had to acknowledge our power positions and also try to talk about the issues and not always the people.

The really quick week ended on two important notes:

  • The beginning of individual projects that involved researching laws, digesting them in their as-is state of a bill template, and then writing a law yourself using the template that US lawmakers use for bills on the Senate or House floor.
  • And, we got to visit the Kadist Foundation for a guided tour of a racially charged, really powerful, exhibition of art by Hank Willis Thomas.

Below, Sayuri is interacting with one of the pieces from the show. When the microphone picks up voices, the projected image (which is a South African Nazi symbol) explodes and dances and becomes unrecognizable.

Speaking up allows for change. Thanks for a great week, Violet!



Blue: Human Arc / And Now For Something Different

Hello, Human Arc!
To recap the amazingness that happened this week, I present to you:

6 Images / 6 Haikus


Define what it means.
Brain storming while braiding, “We
are Humans Because:”

Money means nothing.
We made it up and yet we
Place value on it.



Why? The important
thing is being together
When there’s no wifi.



Weird things make us us.
Like drinking water from art.
Or steam in an egg.


Lord of the Flies in
the green morning grass with cheese
puffs, hats, and Bandmates.



Beyonce, race talk,
sometimes unplanned, and hard to
talk about: so now rules.