Model Builders

With the changes in expression project structure this spring 8 students from different bands have grouped together to make models of places in San Francisco! During the brainstorm stage many students suggested building particular dioramas as a possible project. Each student joined the group with a solid idea of what building they wanted to create and the worked as a team to bring their ideas to life.

Week 1

Students began by sketching the dioramas they wanted to build and coming up with a cohesive group vision and plan. This included deciding how we would put the project all together and what everyone’s role would be. Some students decided to team up for their builds and others decided to plan a solo project. Soleil joined the project with an intention to make a map and the group loved how that element would help bring the structures all together.

Week 2

Students started their second iterations by noticing how the 3D shape of their building could be made as a flat net that folded into the 3D shape. Students practiced drawing their shapes on graph paper to explore how to ensure that the proportions didn’t change as they shrunk their building into model size. Students also did research to find deatailed plans or maps of their buildings to make sure they fully understood the porportions of their buildings.

Midweek we visited Malcolm Kenter’s studio to observe how the artist used accessible items to make detailed models. He introduced us the the idea of using shrinkydinks to add detailed lettering! We also had the chance to go to scrap and pick up reuse materials for our final builds.

Week 3

Students started the week by sharing out their second iterations and asking the group a few questions to guide the feedback they felt they needed before their next step. For example, Isaac wanted to know what kinds of details he should focus on for his Palace of Fine Arts build since his building was so detailed.

Now students are hard at work addressing that feedback as they build their final models for expo night. The models are getting even bigger, so students are coming up with strategies to stretch their work to a larger scale. Some students are getting ready to use an overhead projector. Other students are working with larger graph paper and multiplying their lengths.

Next week we will be continuing construction and beginning to add details.

Our Community is a Rainbow

The last two weeks Blue Band has been busy answering two questions. The first question come from one of the kids asking me months ago “in Rainbow Arc are we going to study diversity?” This has lead us to try and answer “how is our community a rainbow?” We have also been looking at another student’s question “why is mixing paint different then mixing light?” Here’s our journey:

We started by mixing different colors for a twister board.
Each of our colors got a fun and fitting name.
Then we looked at pictures of the neighborhood and talk about the difference of directly observing something and growing an idea about something (making an inference).
Then we went to the murals on Balmy Alley to try out our observational skills.

We also went hunting for rainbows on a scavenger hunt.
Which included buying snacks to share.
Then we wrote interview questions to ask neighbors and tried out these questions on other kids at school.
Then we walked around the neighborhood interviewing anyone we could!
Before we talked about what role our interviewees have and what groups they belong to, we started with ourselves.
And then closly rewatched our interviews to describe what is importent to the person.
Lastly we made 1st iteration portraits so we could get ready to introduce our neighbors.
Our 1st iterations are do and blue banders are ready to make a big, paintfilled version!

Blue Band Spark Expression Projects

This January and Feburary I journaled weekly summaries for a credential clearing program I’m going through. I figured it might be useful to share this documentation for anyone curious about how we do projects in the Blue Band, how I structure projects for all learners, or anyone curious about what we were up to.

Voting, Research, and Planning
In order to maximize student interest in the project we did a brainstorming activity to reflect on topics we might want to explore in a project. Then I had students do a quick journal write up proposing their favorite project ideas and quickly defending why their idea should be picked. These activities scaffolded writing for my lowest writers by making a quick exercise where the focus was on brief communication of ideas rather that elaboration. It also let me see where students were in their persuasive writing so I knew how to gage my instruction leading up to presenting project ideas to Liz for approval. I then made a list of these ideas for a vote after lunch that day. Students picked making video games, so I had them pick a topic as a class to make games about. Students agreed that everyone really like animals so we settled on making game to teach a player more about animals. This process helped my students direct the topic while giving me space to make sure the project was manageable and accessible to all learners.

The next day we went to the library. Before going students made a list of books that looked useful to introduce them to using the catalog as a tool to help you find the right books. Students plucked 5 “just right” books about their animal. This let readers truly find books at their level and hone their skill in independently finding books at their level. After getting the books we spent 5 sessions reading and “stop and jotting” (taking notes on post-it’s) while we read. I taught students how to take jots about important details, key words, questions we had while reading, and similarities and differences across texts. This helped students practice informational text reading in the context of a useful purpose.

Students used this research to plan their games. I made a graphic organizer where students sketched out each part of their game, explain how that part would be played, and talked about what the player was learning on that level.

Sylvester and Dash taking notes on post-its about important details in their books

May finishing her plan

Declaration and Introducing Coding

At the beginning of this week students shared the project idea and their specific game plans with the principal. This allowed students to get feedback from someone besides me and use that to direct their progress. Students then got to work familiarizing themselves with, the program we were using the code their games. We spent one lesson playing “mentor” games about animals to get inspiration for ways other games organized their games. We had another 2 lessons where I gave them a checklist of mini challenges to try. These challenges taught them how to use a few resources that scaffolded the coding. This included tutorial videos on the site and a bunch of task cards the site provided. There is a lot of new vocabulary within the code options on the site, so these tools allow students to independently figure out this new vocabulary. I love that scratch uses accessible language because all my readers can use the program to practice reading in context, the actions caused by the code give readers immediate feedback on their decoding (reading). It also provided a meaningful context for practicing reading beyond books. I know for my lowest readers this is going to be a labored process, so I am giving a long time period for this project.

Scratch also uses math concepts in context. I let my students discover these ideas as they explored the program and share out with the group after exploring to help everyone make sense of these ideas. Some of my challenges were to move a character 10 steps up, down, left, and right. This caused students to learn that changing the x caused a character to move left and right and changing the y lead the character to go up and down. We used this to discuss the meaning a the x and y axies and negative numbers as backwards steps. I think this exercise will be useful for my student’s number sense and give them a basic idea of a coordinate grid.

An example of a student using the task cards

Students working together to scaffold the coding for each other

Scaffolding Task Management and Introducing the Coordinate Plane Formally

Now that students are more comfortable with scratch I am going to focus our daily math work on concepts relevant to the project. This week I taught students how the coordinate plane is an invisible grid that helps us describe where an object is. We played battleship to start using this language. Because the game uses positive and negative numbers this game helps students see what the game meant when it used negative numbers.
I also taught three mini lessons this week about creating to do lists and breaking down big goals into smaller, clear tasks. This was a big help for students working in teams who were struggling to verbalize how to share the work in their project. Students are starting to lose stamina on these projects and need help re-establishing excitement next week.

Battleship on a Coordinate Plane

Team Big Cats coming up with a plan

Research at Zoo and Finishing Games

This week I intentionally scheduled a break by having the class visit the zoo. This helped students do more research about their animals and feel more motivated to share this information in their games.

I also had students help me make a rubric to clearly articulate their goals for their projects. This took two sittings. I let the students pick the language for the levels their games could be and for the three main goals for their projects.

Zoo fun

The students’ rubric

Making Revisions Based on Feedback
Students worked to finish their games this week. This included adding a credits and instructions to their project pages on Scratch. I gave mini lessons on the importance of giving credit to sources and making sure not to use other author’s words without giving credit.

Students then played each other’s games and had older students and adults in the community play their games. This let my students see what their games looked like begin played and get suggestions for feedback.

Ronin giving feedback to another student

Beckett getting feedback form a Violet Band Student

Documenting Process and Giving a Presentation

Now that students have finished and revised their projects it’s time to document and share. I let students decide if the wanted to work by themselves or in groups to write about the different steps we took in our project. Each group got a stack of photos from the different steps in our project and had to describe what is going on in the photo and what we learned during that step. I used this writing in our presentation script.
Students also wrote a story of their own projects by describing what they made, why they made it, and how they made it in a way that is written for their presentation audience. The student did this by asking questions, telling stories, and/or weaving in explicit details. This also went into the presentation script.

We practiced the presentation 4 times as a group and students had multiple opportunities to practice to a buddy or stuffed animal. After all that practice they presented their project to their families and school mates.

Calvin is writing about the research phase of our project

Atticus is talking about the challenges we faced in our project

Blue Band Heart Work

Hi everyone! It’s been a quick and busy start to the new year. Today the band reflected on our journey during heart and how surprised they were that we learned about the heart as a symbol, feelings, friendship, and anatomical hearts all in one arc!



We started the arc by learning about two artists that were both deeply passionate creators and used heart imagery in their work: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Then we made our own paintings that show a pose that reflects us.



Next we designed chairs to practice the idea that “work is love made visible” (Kahlil Gibran). Since our stools were only on loan from the art space, students had to design a chair to use this year. We started by drawing designs and adding measurements based on our bodies and other chairs we like to use. Then they made small, 3D prototypes to see if their design needed any changes and start thinking through. Lastly, after building the chair students spent a day using them and went back into the shop to make any needed changes.


Anatomical Hearts

We also learned about how our hearts work by using and making stethoscopes, making a model of blood, dissecting chicken hearts, and talking to a cardiologist.



Along the way we’ve been talking about feelings that our close to our heart and how to notice how others are feeling for we can help them. We used role play to help us brainstorm solutions to common social challenges. We have also talked about what makes good teamwork to lay a foundation for all the work we will do together this year. We also talked about how we are in control of our choices and made a remote to help us think of tools to help us stay on the right channel, think through our decisions, and feel encouraged along the way.

Getting inspired about math

To start our year off we used Jo Boelar’s 3 weeks of inspirational math curriculum to think about norms around how we do math as a community and learn about the way our brains work while we do math. We learned how to verbally defend our solutions and about the way our brains grow as we make mistakes and struggle with a problem.


Writing a map of our hearts

Lastly we spent heart arc getting to know each other through sharing our interests and stories in writing. We started by making drawing of all the important people, places, activities, and objects that our close to our hearts. Then we wrote many stories about these things. We’ve been working on making mental movies for our readers through using descriptive language, stretching out every small, important action, and using the same tequniques as our favorite authors. One day during our writing study we went to the community garden in the neighborhood to think about how we can use our senses to come up with descriptive language.   


Where does water go in a city?

We spent April answering one very interesting questions about cities: where does water come from and go? Come follow us on our water journey:

Writing about the experience of one raindrop traveling from the ocean to the mountains to the clouds and beyond!

Sharing our water stories with the Yellow band (who was also thinking about water in the city).

Making mini watersheds

We talked about point vs. non point pollution by telling the story of Fred the Fish and how various contaminates got from the city into its stream.

Designing water filters to clean Fred’s stream.

Testing our filters.

Exploring pH.

A mountain in the Sierras

Explaining his model of our sewer system.

All the final creations!


Although we wrapped up our study of water two weeks ago the curiosity has lived on in student’s independent projects, from adding water treatment centers to our designs to researching the story of Atlantis.

Jumping into City

Hi everyone! As with all things at brightworks Blue Band started City by reflecting and asking questions. Here are are initial efforts to find the answers!

What city is the biggest? How can we find out?

Students were given a table of tool options (string, centimeter and inch cubes, rulers and grid paper) and asked to come up with a stategy to find the perimeter and area of cities they were curious about. We ran into the challenges of using difficult scales and keeping track of lots of numbers.

How can maps help us answer questions?

On the suggestion of another collaborator we tried to solve the famous Bridges of Koenigsberg problem: how can we walk across all seven bridges without going over any bridge more then once? The students eventually realized the task was impossible, but they concluded finding out we can’t do something is just as interesting as discovering we can, even when it feels really frustrating. It was also a fun challenge in creative map making using different materials.

Where does water go?


Students have expressed a lot of interest in water this arc. We started by estimating how much water we got in SF each month on average over the last 5 years. It was a nice chance to evaulate our perceptions and start to think about how we can measure rain. It’s also been very rainy this week, so certainly a useful time to think about H2O


We then went on a journey as water and reflected where water goes and how it gets there. We went from animals to the ocean to clouds to moutains to streams and into the ground. On Monday we are going to share the story of our journeys with yellow band who has also been exploring water in our city.


Our latest exploration was wondering about how water can change along it’s journey and what it can pick up along it’s way. We gathered a collection of our favorite liquids and learned how to find their pH.






Telling Stories With Cloth

Blue Band has launched into cloth by thinking about the stories told by items made of cloth. We started by thinking about the practical aspect of cloth by touring Joshu + Vela, a leather and canvas bag manufactor in the Mission. We learned about all the tools used to cut and prepare leather:

This machine makes impressions to add lettering or designs to leather.

This machine cuts leather.

We also learned about the process of manufactoring bags from making inrpiration boards to trying various samples before coming up with the final designs. It was great to see a real world example of editing and iterating!

We then tried our own hand at working with leather:

Last week we transitioned to thinking about how cloth helps create items with purposes that go beyond the practicle. In Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt by Barbara Smucker students learned how certain patterns of quilt have been developed to tell cultural and sentements stories. In the Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco we learned about the significance of passing down a keepsake within a family for multiple generations. During project time students started their own quilt squares and pillow case projects:



Today we went to see portions of the AIDS quilt project that are on display at Grace Cathedral. Students noticed how friends and family had rememberd their loveones by including meaningful images and fabrics.