Amber Band Declarations

All of the proposed Amber Band project declarations have been approved! Throughout the exploration phase of the By Land Arc, we took a closer look at human migration. We researched traditions local to San Francisco, and traced those traditions back to their origins in Mexico; mapped how our school’s neighborhood, the Mission, has changed over time; designed vehicles that mimic systems from nature in a way that might allow them to cross borders; tracked movement by experimenting with mark-making techniques; and researched forced migration through the close observation of personally meaningful objects. Now in the third week of the expression phase, students are building on what they learned in the exploration phase through their own expression project. Last week students shared declarations with Gever and Liz for final approval, and here’s what was proposed:

Audrey’s plans for testing bryophytes in extreme environments.


I am proposing to build on a project that I did previously in the seed arc where I figured out what you would have to do to plant something on Mars, or I learned how to terraform Mars in other words. I want to do this by building on the plant aspect of this project and researching plants that live in extreme environments. My guiding question will be: How do plants survive in extreme environments on Earth? How will they do the same thing with the environment on Mars? I want to research these plants because they could easily be fit to be the first plants on Mars. Two of the biggest problems with trying to plant things on Mars are dust storms and radiation. During this arc, we have mostly focused on how humans move by land, well, plants do it too!! I want to learn how plants in extreme environments got there.

Declan white-boarding out his plans for a steam engine model.


I want my final product to be a small, safe, portable steam engine that could be used for educational and recreational purposes. It should also be easily put together and taken apart safely, or could simply fit in a 12” x 12” box. You are probably wondering what makes this steam engine educational. Well, I am going to paint the steam engine different colors to indicate what is doing what. For example I would paint the airways that the steam is escaping from the piston blue to indicate this steam has been used and is not going to be powering the engine anymore.

Elijah collecting feedback from the BWX community for his ladder.


The end goal is to have a wooden ladder on wheels that can be stowed when not used. It should have a foam landing pad to accompany it which will help for safer and easier transportation of the barrels and whatever else is up there. I may need help from someone else for construction due to my inexperience building and to help speed up the project, especially if I want to paint it. This is challenging because of my lack of knowledge about building. I will have to research the best ways to use wood in order to create a safe ladder. This will be a great opportunity to learn and develop new skills like design and engineering, while building a product that will benefit the school.

Khalia, Ella, and Norabelle drawing out the plans for their Rube Goldberg machine.

Norabelle, Khalia, and Ella

We will build a Rube Goldberg machine that will follow transportation on land through the years. At the beginning of the Arc Megan said we could make a Rube Goldberg Machine, but we had to do it in 45 minutes. We tried, but it didn’t work. So I, Norabelle, decided that I wanted to do it for my project so that I could actually get it to work. Ella and Khalia wanted to join because they liked making Rube Goldberg machines too. This project would be challenging because we’ve never really done many mechanical engineering projects, so it will be fun to see the chain reactions all leading to the end.

Felix experimenting with tape as a way to track his marks.


This project is based around the question “Can thirty minutes of meditation calm you down?” In order to find the answer to this question I’m going to practice walking meditation thirty minutes a day. While walking I will be listening to a calming meditation tape. In order to see the effect of this meditation I’m going to track my heart rate in the morning, before I go on my walk and after I go on my walk. I’ll then take my heart rate and put it into a chart listing the average heart beats a minute a day.  I’m also going to write a reflection at the end of each day that talks about how I’m feeling. When I’m all done if my heart rate has slowed down the question will be answered yes. If it stays the same or beats faster the question will be answered no.

Audrey, Elijah, and Oscar reflecting on all the work we did during the exploration phase of the By Land Arc.


I will build a wagon add-on that will transport LARPing weapons to and from park. The desired product will make bringing the LARPing weapons to park much easier and more efficient by holding all of the LARPing weapons in a safe and efficient manner, and dividing the weight of the LARPing weapons throughout the wagon. By researching how weapons have been transported, I will be able to see how others have transported weapons, and incorporate other’s designs into my final design.

This project is a challenge for me because it will exercise my building skills, my programing skills, and my reading and writing skills. It will exercise my building skills because I will be building a cart add-on to hold LARPing weapons and armor. It will exercise my programming skills because I will be programing an Arduino to track RFID chips. It will exercise my reading and writing skills because I will be writing a research paper about how weapons were transported from one place to another throughout time. Right now we use a barrel on a wagon to transport the LARPing weapons to park. I think that making a wagon that is designed to carry LARPing weapons will be more efficient, and easier to carry, therefore making the entire experience more enjoyable.

Rhone hacking an old bike for his drift trike design.


For my project I will make two drift trikes one out of wood and one out of metal and drive it down Bernal Hill to see if there are any problems and how I can fix them. I think that this project will be challenging because  it will involve welding and physics. I think that it is worth five weeks because it’s something that I am interested in and will not only get to explore the world of welding and drift karts, but also get to meet people in the BYOBW (Bring Your Own Big Wheel) community. I will talk about the BYOBW community and the people I got to meet in my presentation.



Precious Cargo + Persistence

Over the last two weeks, the Amber Band has continued to explore human migration by designing and building a vehicle to safely transport us and the things we need to start a new life. This phrase “start a new life” has been a common one among the group as we research human migration, so we wanted to take some time to understand what that might mean to each of us.

Hong Kong International School and Brightworks SF meet to discuss similarities and differences in their schools.

To help us dig a bit deeper into this topic, each student chose a particular place in the world to research how humans have migrated to or from that region. In addition to their independent research, we had the opportunity to interview students at Hong Kong International School to hear their stories of migration. Because of the 15 hour time difference, we stayed overnight at school so that we could chat with students in Hong Kong during their school day.
We also got a chance to have an expert visit from human migration researcher, Alice Taylor. She asked students to consider how they might design a school for refugees. She also shared some powerful resources with the group, like the educational online game Against All Odds. The game is designed to show you what it feels like to flee a country. As you play, you have to try and start a new life in a different country after you’ve escaped conflict. The game is built on facts and short films, and comes from The UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

A lesson in physics with Gever.

Declan’s work space

Audrey and Norabelle’s vehicle prototype.

Each student considered the things they would need to start a new life—their precious cargo. Those things ranged from survival items like food and water to pets and card games. We built prototype vehicles to test on a small ramp to measure and graph each vehicle’s speed, and approximate the speed of our final build. Gever visited for a guest lesson on vehicle safety and physics, and helped students start to transform their design into a vehicle big enough to test drive down Bernal Hill.

All hands on deck!

Audrey and Norabelle reviewing their vehicle designs with Gever.

Audrey and Norabelle’s designs for their vehicle… so many ideas!

Rhone on the drill press, working on the steering of his vehicle.

After many hours in the shop, each group followed up with Gever for a safety check on their vehicle build—all of the groups were sent back to the drawing board! Some needed to make steering revisions, others had to install brakes, while others struggled with structural problems. This set us all back, but no one was ready to give up. The whole group worked double time last week to try and meet our Friday deadline to race down Bernal Hill.

Audrey on the chop saw cutting out the posts for the box design of her vehicle.

Khalia on the circular saw to cut the chassis for her vehicle.

Rhone, Felix, and Elijah work on the frame for their vehicle.

“Can you supervise a bunch of cuts?” – Ella

In the end, we didn’t meet our deadline. However, this did give us the opportunity to have a conversation about persistence, and to learn from our mistakes and failures. Students reflected on questions like: How did we work towards our goal over the two weeks? How did we manage our time? What might we do differently next time? For many, they realized that working as one big team would have helped us meet our deadline. They also talked about strategies to help them get focused in the future. All this helped us prepare for the upcoming expression phase of the By Land Arc, as students will need to find ways to set their own goals, manage their time, and work towards making something epic!

Biomimicry + Borders


Students reflected on the election news through collaging.

The Amber Band took some time to reflect on the current events taking place in our country, and tried to process the recent election news through art-making. Students talked about how their art showed a divide in our country, and for many this divide sparked questions around immigration. We decided to research the history of our political borders, and how the natural world crosses those borders freely. To guide our work, we asked: How might we design a vehicle that mimics a system from nature, allowing us to travel across borders?

Some students colored printouts of Favianna Rodriguez’s work while we watched videos of artists as activists.

Artists like Favianna Rodriguez, Tania Bruguera, and Theo Jansen were all great sources of inspiration for our work. Favianna’s Migration is Beautiful series uses the butterfly as a symbol for migration, and it got us thinking metaphorically about our own work. Tania Brugera’s Immigrant Movement International project, a community space that seeks to empower immigrants, showed us the power of community. Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests captured the potential for bringing life to our vehicle designs. We organized ideas for our designs by conducting short research projects around immigration.

War & Expansion: Crash Course US History #17

As an introduction to the complicated history of the political border between the United States and Mexico, we analyzed Crash Course’s War and Expansion video. We also read Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States, Chapter 8, War with Mexico. Students were surprised to learn that several of our States were previously part of Mexico, and that the Mexicans and Native Americans who had been living on that land were suddenly under the jurisdiction of the United States. This lead us to explore current events on immigration. Students read this article on Donald Trump’s deportation plan. The article got us thinking more about how and why people might cross borders.

Audrey made close observations of the frogs in the rainforest at Cal Academy.


Felix, Elijah, and Oscar were inspired by the snapping turtles in the aquarium at Cal Academy.


Norabelle practiced using the camera lucida to make a scientific illustration of an alligator skull.

 We talked about examples of how the natural world crosses borders through migrations, in search of food and shelter for survival. Then we looked at how scientists and inventors are learning from nature to make advancements in technology, like how Tokyo’s Shinkansen Bullet Train was inspired by the aerodynamic head of the Kingfisher. To help us take a closer look at nature, and to get inspiration for our biomimicry vehicles, we went on an excursion to the California Academy of Sciences. We got up close to living creatures and preserved specimens to make detailed scientific illustrations in our journals, and students made note of the qualities they would use in the design of their vehicle.

The Amber Band strikes a pose on the Cal Academy living roof.


Ella explains her biomimicry vehicle design to the group.

On Friday students presented their biomimicry vehicle designs, along with their research on immigration. We took some time to reflect on how our thinking had changed on immigration. Each vehicle design showed new possibilities for exploration, and their written reflections captured the challenges many face by crossing borders. After the Thanksgiving break, we’ll continue exploring alternative vehicle designs and looking closely at our global community.


It’s the first week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the Amber Band is digging in! NaNoWriMo has become a rich tradition at Brightworks. For some of the Amber Band though, myself included, participating in NaNoWriMo is new territory. To help us get into the writing zone, we’ve decided to transform our upstairs band space into a cozy writing nook.


Our upstairs band space blue prints.

We wanted a creative space for each of us to work on our daily NaNoWriMo goals, and so we brainstormed what we might need to do to transform the space. Teams quickly formed to tackle building a roof to reduce sound, curtains to block out light, furniture to sit on, and a mural to inspire creativity. Students created scale drawings of our band space to map out plans before we jumped right into building.


Norabelle and Khalia working on the mural.


Oscar and Elijah assembling one of our chairs.

Then each team had to tackle problems involving volume, and surface area. What’s the surface area of the wood panel for our mural, and how much paint will we need to buy to cover it? How big can we build the chairs, given the volume of our space? 


Declan double checking his math before we got the supplies to build our roof.


Amber Band on the move shopping for materials in SOMA

Designing a modular roof was very tricky, and we’re still working on it. The team wanted to use cardboard as our roofing material, but we couldn’t find any panels that were the exact size of our roof area. We worked through this constraint by designing tiles for the roof. To help determine how many tiles, and what size to cut them, the roofing team had to identify factor pairs of the roof size. What’s the largest size tile piece we can cut from the cardboard sheets we bought, and how many cardboard sheets will it take to cover our roof?


Audrey testing out The Most Dangerous Writing App.

Of course, we also took time this week to set our NaNoWriMo goals, analyze stories, and write! Each student set a personal goal for how they’ll be using their time during NaNoWriMo, and we’re working together to help one another through this journey. Some students experimented with using The Most Dangerous Writing App to help with this. The app is designed to encourage writers to just keep writing, and if they don’t, the app deletes their text. We’ll have all of December to edit our work, but for now students are encouraged to turn off their inner editor.


Ella sewing our curtains.


Our cozy writing nook from below.


Our cozy writing nook from inside.

Redesigning our upstairs bandspace into a cozy writing nook got our band thinking about shelter and home. We talked about how people seek out shelter as they move by land. Next week we’ll explore what causes people to move by land, and the effect that movement can have. 

Ambigo’s Mission to Mars


Declan at the white board brainstorming designs for the Mars HAB.

What would it be like to live on another planet? This question inspired great exploration for Ambigo in the final two weeks of the By Air Arc. Students worked on teams to design and build a habitat that was a third the size it would need to be to keep all of us alive on Mars. We set our constraints based on the recent announcement from Elon Musk’s plans for getting to Mars in 80 days. Each team had their own research to do and piece of the habitat to build. Teams covered hydrology, climate, human resources, site facilities, and communications.


Norabelle and Felix troubleshooting the airlock.


Rhone soldering the radio for the communications team.


Khalia radioing her teammates about the storage containers that helped make up our atmosphere in the HAB.

Students wrote reflections on the process of tackling such a big project in our final week of the By Air Arc. Here’s an excerpt from Audrey’s reflection:

We wanted to make the HAB as realistic as possible. A lot of research and math went into that and I think we did a pretty good job. I also thought it was cool that when using the HAB we tried to make sure that the two airlock doors were never open at the same time because if it was a real HAB, and both airlock doors were open at the same time, all the air would rush out and everyone would die. I think my favorite part of the project was the very last day when we had to connect everything together and finish everything in one day (it was also pretty stressful). It was really cool to see everything we had worked on for the last week suddenly come together. Some of my favorite moments in that day were cutting the plastic between the cardboard rings and seeing the newly connected room on the other side.  I think I learned a lot from this project. I learned for one thing that I need to get better at planning out a whole project rather than just planning the first couple days. I also learned that some tasks that seem so big will turn out to be not as hard as you think. We made a HAB in ONE week. That still sounds a little impossible to me. I’m really happy with what came out of this and I can’t wait to see what we do next.


The HAB all light up for Expo night!

This week we’re kicking off the By Land Arc by looking at traditions. After spending a week  in Mendocino, a beautiful Brightworks tradition, we’re considering what traditions we want to carry over from Arc 1 into Arc 2. We’ll also be taking a field trip to the Oakland Museum of California to look at some rich Bay Area traditions. We’re still thinking of ways we may continue to explore the movement of things by land on the Red Planet, and how we will keep up traditions new and old throughout the second Arc.


Rhone spotted a deer on our last morning in Mendocino.


Tom Sachs Exhibit

The Ambigo Band has been curious about space travel, and so we took a trip to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to see Tom Sachs’ Space Program: Europa. We noticed how Tom Sachs combines seemingly unrelated objects in his work, and considered ways we might blend science and art in our own Mars habitat here at Brightworks. To share more about our project, and this inspiring trip, Oscar has volunteered to be our guest blogger for the week. Here’s what Oscar saw, and some connections he made to what we’ve been working on at Brightworks.


Today was pretty fun (not actually today, by today I mean October 4th), Amber Band went to YBCA to see the Tom Sachs’ exhibit. When we got there Megan told us to find one piece of art that we really liked, and write how the artist (Tom Sachs) combined science with “silliness”.


This is a picture of the art piece I wrote about. It is called Mission Control and it was made in 2007, here is the link to the site that I found this picture on. It is a picture of a panel of screens, all showing live feed from cameras in different places in the museum. I don’t really know why Tom Sachs made this, but I think that it’s really cool to see what people are doing regularly, and then what they do when they know that they are on camera. A lot of the art that Tom Sachs made was very strange and weird, so on the cameras you got to see how people reacted to the art. At Brightworks we are making a HAB (Habitat) kind of like the one in The Martian. One of the things Megan told us to write about was how the art we chose might have inspired us on a approach to building the HAB. I think that our mission control should look a bit like this, with a bunch of cameras showing live feed on what is happening in the HAB.

Making Kite Connections

Last week began with some kite reflection.


Writing out our kite reflections in our visual journal.

It was awesome to see how many opportunities for iteration everyone had leading up to our big test flight on Bernal Hill.


Felix was determined to make a rounded box kite. His first kite iteration was made out of whole bamboo poles that made the kite too heavy to fly.


Felix’s second kite iteration made for a better bucket than a kite, and so he turned it into a pulley system for our upstairs Band space.


Felix’s third and final iteration for the kite was made out of split bamboo and a nylon material. This combination made the kite much lighter, and it was easily picked up by the wind on Bernal Hill during our test flight.

We decided to build on our kite math to create two dueling dragon kites—one fire dragon for Amber Band and a water dragon for Indigo Band! We talked about the importance of having a failure positive attitude to help us iterate on our designs, while also being conservative with our materials so we didn’t produce too much waste. Understanding how to calculate surface area really helped us cut down on the amount of waste we produced in building our kite.


Norabelle’s plans for cutting out a 12″ ring.


Elijah, Ella, and Norabelle working hard to make the most with the least for cutting out their dragon kite panels.


Everyone in Ambigo designed a panel on our dragon kite using symbols to tell their personal story.


Rhone’s sketch using geometric patterns and personal symbols to tell the story of his past, present, and future on his panel for the dragon kite.

Last week we also started reading Laurence Yep’s historical novel Dragonwings. The book is inspired by the stories of a Chinese immigrant who made a flying machine in 1909, and portrays the rich traditions of the San Francisco Chinatown community that formed during this difficult time. As we read the book we’re practicing how to record important details, analyze the big idea of each chapter, and highlighting any new words. Students recreated tableaus from each chapter on Friday to act out important scenes from each chapter so far.


Declan plays the role of Moon Shadow traveling by boat to the Land of Golden Mountain in chapter one.


Moon Shadow, as played by Norabelle, receiving the knife from Black Dog in chapter two.


Felix plays the part of Windrider telling the story of how he got his name in chapter three.

Next week we’ll continue to build on our math skills by working with geometric solids. Will we design air-chairs for our upstairs band space? Will we make a hot air balloon to transport precious cargo? Will we build an air-supported geodesic dome? Anything is possible!

We’ll also continue to read Dragonwings, and to help learn more about Chinese culture while we do, we’ll get the chance to interview students in Hong Kong. Because of the 15 hour time difference, we’ll be doing our interview through a few back and forth video messages for now. We’ve also talked about possibly having a late-night Skype session at Brightworks to be able to talk to the students in Hong Kong when it’s daytime for them.

I’m looking forward to seeing all the ways we continue to explore the movement of things by air in these last few weeks of the first Arc!