year four arc topics

Next year’s arc topics are:




The photograph is an instant captured with a mixture of electrical, mechanical, optical, and chemical technology. The light that it captures cannot be seen until it is bathed in chemicals or processed by a computer, yet the image that is revealed can only truly be understood, appreciated, made sense of, by a person. Each frozen moment, a slice of time, reveals hints of what happened before and carries implications of what comes after – a story told in a single frame. Photographers have captured the best and worst of humanity, created infamous hoaxes, and revealed the biggest mysteries. Though there may come a day when face and object recognition algorithms will be able to project and extrapolate from a single frame the way that we do, and the connection that we make with a powerful image is personal and unique to each of us.

​The book is a collection of pages bound together. In essence; a physical representation of the thoughts of a human being, the tangible implementation of telepathy, words arranged in a specific sequence designed to put an idea into a strangers mind.​ The revolution of moveable type revolution, started in China almost 1000 years ago and later adapted by Gütenberg, accelerated the rapid spread of ideas and narratives (locally and globally). Books have proved remarkably long-lasting as artifacts, and centuries of their effectiveness can be seen in the hundreds of examples of history changing manifestos and tomes. Books have been banned, embraced, and banned again. They have been esteemed and reviled; pages filled with words arranged in such a way to move the heart and mind.

The movie is a sequence of still frames played in sequence to simulate motion – it combines the technology of the photograph and structure of the book to create something altogether new. It is a story told in scenes and moments, visual by nature and emotional in delivery. An on-rushing train drove audiences from their seats in the earliest experiments and when talkies were first introduced, audiences would argue with the characters on screen – reality suddenly became mutable on a massive scale. The spectacle and the intimate drama both became popular. Movies defined culture in countries around the world.

What ties these things together is the simple idea of story. Where would you start if you set out to explore the idea of a photograph? With Louis Daguerre in the 1840’s with his incredibly toxic chemical processes that involved chlorine, bromine, and, to fix the image, bathing the plate in mercury vapors? Or perhaps you would consider that the act of composing a photograph might be analogous to writing a book or movie and that cropping, dodging, burning, and the pantheon of darkroom and desktop effects are likewise analogous to editing? Or that the pages of a book could each be works of art and that taken together they are like frames in a movie? Or…?

What also ties each of these topics together is that they each deserve a lifetime of exploration. While that could certainly be said for any of the recent topics (salt, fairness, clock, mirror, etc), these are particularly expansive and each present a soaring and sometimes treacherous mountain with no obvious or singular approach. So we come to the crux of the challenge of 2014/15; for each of the collaborators to find a path that makes sense of the mountains. We chose story as the connective thread because it unifies the three without dwelling on the technologies or the minutia, which, in the same way that measurement tied 2013/14 together, is not meant to exclude deep dives and rich digressions but rather to act as a touchpoint and easy place to call home.

drawing, climbing, filling maps

No good project in this world would ever get started without a moment of exuberant optimism. How else would you cross the gap that lies between where you are now and what you want to get done? Optimism is the fuel that gets projects started, but persistence gets them done.

Maps often describe the boundaries between this and that, and us and them. Inspired by personal events in their own lives, Nicky and Mason used this arc to look deeply at the border between the United States and Mexico. They each discovered something unexpected – tunnels dug nine stories deep into the ground, stories of smugglers risking their lives to get people across the border, and more – and developed informed opinions of border policies and politics which they organized and shared with the school. From compelling statistics to re-enacting the interception of a border crossing.



Quinn shared a progress report on the development of his multi-player cooperative role-playing game. Working with multiple experts from the game-design world, he’s been learning the difference between good ideas and good game-play and how one evolves into the other.



Max thought that the hardest part about writing a book would be the writing – turns out it was the editing. Max spoke eloquently about the struggles of a writer – the blank page, the distractions, the self-doubt, the plot problems – and how he worked through them to finish his first novella. We were gripped by the action in the excerpt he read.



From the department of Be Careful What You Wish For, Madison and Zada may have thought that they were “getting away” with something when they proposed the creation of a mythical island as a project for maps, but when the work started and questions started coming up they realized that there might actually be more work in really inventing a culture than just studying one. When every narrative invention leads to a “why,” they wrestled with what history really is.





It seems like a simple question: “will comparing seemingly unrelated kinds of data on a map reveal previously overlooked relationships?” Isaac wanted to build a map of San Francisco that he could use to explore different kinds of data. He set about to draw every street in every neighborhood in San Francisco and mastered the basic drawing capabilities of Adobe Illustrator, one of the more inscrutable tools in the Graphic Designer’s toolbox. Like a monk working on an illuminated manuscript, he transcribed and interpreted the pixels painstakingly into vectors that he could work with. His work-in-progress result may communicate more about his tenacity than his data (some of which he lost when his laptop died). At one point, Isaac pulled up Natasha’s layered transparencies to explain how virtual layers work in Illustrator, much to her delight.




Henry is the first to admit that a climbing wall is a bit of a stretch as a project for maps (aside from the “you know, climbing routes” argument), but there is an audacity to the project that appealed to the whole school. He will be coming back this summer to finish it up, but it is already inspiring to see it rising above the cork floor. Working with Josh and experts from the local climbing gym, he shared with us the process of developing and refining his ideas and plans until he had something that would be fun to climb, feasible to build, and safe to use for years to come, handling the questions with confidence as he hung monkey-like from his structure.




Here at Brightworks, we don’t always look for “done,” which can so easily be a disguised version of “stopped,” choosing instead the more elusive but valuable condition of being good work with deep emotional and intellectual investment.

the scientific method

Science is not a subject, it is a perspective, a philosophy – a framework for understanding the world. Contrary to cultural trivializations, a scientific approach can make the world seem more fabulous and more bewitching – as fantastical as any great fiction.

Noah and I were playing with some seeds from a large maple tree that I spent some time under this weekend. The seeds of this maple were particularly graceful helicopters as they drifted down in the afternoon breeze. I filled a cup and brought them to the school, and it wasn’t until after-care that I remember to bring them out. Noah and I tried launching them from various places around the school until we found the perfect spot upstairs in his band space. After dropping a few, we discovered that some fell slower than others – “they’re better at flying,” said Noah. Much careful observation followed as we slowly emptied the cup, one pair of flying seeds at a time.



Noah evolved a set of useful terms for describing each flight test; “spin-y”, “drop-y”, and “diver.” These terms, unconsciously developed, helped us codify our observations. Perhaps later we will start sorting the seeds into categories using these terms as labels, then we might try to see what characteristics the members of each category has in common, perhaps even going so far as to make a taxonomy of morphologies, published as a field guide to maple seeds, with a beautiful frontispiece and marbled covers. But for today, we were happy to watch them float down, spinning, dropping, or diving as they were wont to do.

hearing is believing

There is a unique quality to the sound of Expression; it is quiet industriousness punctuated by exclamations of glee and frustration, it is playful and serious, it is Brighworks as we imagine it to be. That was today.












go, go, think

Life is complicated sometimes. You make plans, they go awry. You think you are on a path, only to find yourself standing in a field with no idea how you got there. Things happen, and over time, you learn not only how to make the best of the situation, you learn how to make it the best possible situation.

Justine took the helm with the Flying Fish (pinch-hitting for Mackenzie, who is fighting another of our famous viruses). Justine is a writer, so naturally, they started with writing. Her way of talking about words held the kids in so enthralled that the family that was here for an admissions interview asked if “all the kids are so quiet and focused.”

Gever visited the Fish just before lunch to discuss the anatomy of paper airplanes, helping the students identify the important parts of the simple aircraft so that they could talk about the pros and cons of the various designs. Then he showed them how each of their planes could be improved with the application of a bit of careful refolding and sharpening of creases.

We enjoyed a hot lunch together. Debbie and Evan put out a hearty spread of bratwurst from Wisconsin and a sesame-garlic broccoli salad with pear tomatoes (delicious Hetch-Hetchy water on the side). The hot lunches continue to serve as amazing social anchors in our little community.

And some enjoyed the bratwurst very much, thank you.

After lunch, the amphibious vehicle team of Undead Goats took their early prototype out to the park for a few test runs.

Many lessons were learned about their steering design, about grade, and about the rolling friction of the tires. Also, Ben did a nice job of calling the testing phase complete after two crashes (no injuries). It takes some self-control to not just find the steepest, tallest, curviest bit of path you can when you have a new go-cart.

Near the end of the day, Gever (who is currently feeling a little bit awkward about talking about himself in the third person) demonstrated a fun way to fly a paper airplane on a moving slope. He folded a very simple tumbling floater and then drove it around the room by pushing air up underneath it with a flat sheet of cardboard.

Much to the delight of the assembled crowd.