Indigo Student Post: Kaia

Last Friday was a celebratory end to our explorations on kites, from making, flying , and testing them to spending time on the finer details of designing them. Our exploration culminated in the hanging of the Ice Dragon Kite, a symbol of Indigo Band that represents each of us in the whole.

Drawing, painting, and finishing the kite took time and practice. We reviewed geometric principles of circles, triangles, angles, and kites. We reviewed how to correctly use a compass and read a protractor accurately. We applied these skills directly in designing geometric patterns to make up the body of the kite and in constructing the panels themselves. We also talked about the waste that was created when making a circle and other methods for being conservative with our materials.

Below is a blog post from Kaia explaining her process of designing and building her section of the dragon kite:


“Last week we went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with my band (Indigo) and our neighboring band Amber, to practice our visual thinking strategies to help us with the following weeks. In the same week, we started exploring kites and experimenting making our own. That Friday, we went to Bernal Hill and tested them out.

Last week, we agreed that we should  make a decorative dragon kite. Each band (Indigo and Amber) would make there own dragon. In order to do so, we reviewed the basics in geometry, on the whiteboard and on Khan Academy. We practiced how to find the area, circumference, radius and diameter of a circle. We learned what formulas to plug your numbers into. For example to find the area of a circle, you square the radius then times it by pi. We will need to know this because the most important part of the dragon kite is its body, which is made up of cardboard circles. It is important to know how to calculate the area so that we know how much material we need and how much is being wasted. That was probably my favorite thing we did so far. I really enjoy getting a concept and being able to practice it without any mistakes, and being able to explain it well enough. It means I’ve learned it.

Back to the dragon kite, we are still in the process of of making the body, which involves making geometric shape design inside the circle that we each have so carefully made. To do this we are using protractors, compass and calculators. Earlier in the week we learned how to use these tools, and how to find the right angles for the shape you want to create. For example, if you wanted to make an nine sided shape (nonagon) you would first draw the radii of the shape, facing towards the top. Then you would divide the number of sides you want by 360, since we are working with a circle. What ever answer you get is the angle you want. You would get 40 in this case.

Next, you take the protractor and line it up with the line you drew at the beginning. Once you find the 40, mark it. Then draw a line from the mark to the middle using a ruler. Do the same thing but every time just line the protractor up with previous line you just made. After you got nine lines, connect them from the edge of the circle. Ta da! Nonagon!

In my design, I have two nonagons, one square and one triangle. I have them overlapping in different ways to make a cool design. Now all I have to do left is to make it pretty. On monday, we read this poem called “I Am From” by George Ella. It’s about where the writer was from, what his house looked like, his family, all starting with, I am from. We all rewrote this poem with our own stories. We are supposed to incorporate this into our dragon kite design, by drawing each thing from our poem in the spaces between the shapes.

One of the parts asked for two family members, and I put my two guinea pigs, Milou and Musli. They’re in the bottom right part of the square. It also asked for a plant that connects with you in some way. I chose a ginkgo tree because it used to be the tree that lived outside my old house. Lastly, it said to describe your house, and I put dark wood, because that’s the first thing you see when you walk in. There are many more but I’m not going to explain them all.

I think the most challenging part of this project was not getting confused with all of the numbers, shapes and angles. We did this exercise to make the ring to support the circle frame. You had to find the area of the circle, the ring, the smaller circle, the square and how much was being thrown away. All doing this by knowing these three numbers, the square was 12 by 12, the radii of the big circle had to be six and had to be one inch thick. This would have been easier IF, I had taken better notes. And didn’t get carried away with writing my peers names in cursive.

That being said, next time I will take my notes in a more orderly fashion and make it easier to read for the sake of my teacher (and me!). I think that will help with my thinking process and help me understand what I am doing, and hopefully help me become an improved learner.”

Following the creation of the panels, we spent the afternoons last week creating a head for the dragon, figured out how to hang it, and finishing up some minor details. It now hangs beautifully in front of our band space! Big thanks to Kaia for authoring a wonderfully detailed post.

Thanks for reading!




Indigo Blast-Off!

This week, Indigo Band has been journaling, developing group agreements on how we treat one another and the space, setting up accounts for the various services we use in the band, completing design challenges around flight, and learning how to prototype in cardboard. The kids set goals for themselves in various areas of their lives and got to know one another better. 

Quite a discussion! The kids’ interpretations of our goals are on the right.

Working with Amber has been great for many of the kids who have friends in different bands and has been an opportunity for those new to Brightworks to interact with a larger community. Megan and I have been working closely to make sure the kids get a chance to spend time as a larger group to foster friendships outside of their bands while still making sure they get Indigo-only time as well.   In the afternoons, Amber and Indigo (henceforth referred to as Ambigo) have been completing design challenges to foster teamwork and collaboration as well as emphasizing the importance of delegating tasks. The kids working in pairs to create a parachute in the wind tunnel that hovered in a given area. They next day they worked in triads experimenting with the structure and capabilities of cardboard.

The girls managed to get their parachute to stay in the target area

Using scoring to create a 3D shape was one of the challenges

We closed out the week playing “Buildtionary” with cardboard, using the skills learned on Thursday to create a creature based on nouns and adjectives pulled out of a hat. It quite impressive what they were able to make in the time we had. They only had a little over an hour from start to finish!

Dash, Oscar, and Kaia showing off their finished product

Owen and Rhone add a stabalizing piece to the back of their Penguin

Next week is Kite Week for the majority of bands at BWX. We will be learning about the history of kites, geometry of kites, making kites from scratch, reading Dragonwings together, going to SFMOMA, visiting a kite store, and flying kites together as a school on Bernal Hill (wind permitting). I have a feeling Kite Week might run long!

What a (topographic) Relief!

Hard at work

As we near the end of the Rock Arc, I realized we have the time to do one more project if we all help out. One of the ideas that came up was to make a relief map from a topographic map of San Francisco. To do this, we had to find a suitable map, pick the right materials, and take turns with each job.

Yesterday, Ally and Lucie spent a good amount of time making a scale model of our large map. They cut out the layers of small map to estimate how much cardboard/wood/foam board we would need. If we had enough, foam board would be the best because it’s light and easy to cut.

Ally and Lucie prepare the model

Ally and Lucie prepare the model

The end result was really cool and got everyone excited. Even the layers of paper looked great. Imagine what a 48″x48″ version would look like!

San Francisco, looking pretty

San Francisco, looking pretty

After we had the pieces, the kids figured out we would only need four 48″x48″ sheets of material, so we could use the foam board that I have. Lucie and Ally finished the model, so they were the first to start tracing the layers for our larger version. Once they finished, Evan and Amelia traced the next layer (101-200 ft in elevation).

The next day, Ally started cutting out her outline of the city while Amelia and Evan finished drawing. This took a little practice because they are using my hot knives to cut out the map. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically an X-acto blade on a soldering iron. The knife cuts the paper and melts the foam which gives you great control and clean cuts. By the end of the say, all the layers have been traced. Hopefully tomorrow we can assemble!

Cassandra and JP cut away

Max Traces

Amelia Cutting

Meanwhile, the rest of the band was working hard adding their research topics to the group timeline. Each student was assigned a topic (sea levels, animals, human ancestors, plants, etc) and had to add 8-10 of these to our timeline. Hopefully we’ll finish this timeline by the end of the arc!

Timeline Progress

Timeline Progress

Geologic Time

For the past couple of weeks, kids in Indigo band have been working on a massive timeline of Earth’s history, to scale. There are no real of examples of this for us to follow as the amount of time we need to show is simply too massive. Most geologic timelines compress the actual length of eons, eras, periods, and epochs into legible lengths, but this doesn’t give students a sense of just how old the earth is. Other more complicated models show a zoomed view of the latter parts of the timeline, which, while accurate, can be confusing.

After introducing the idea and polling the kids about how long they think it should be, responses ranged from “uh, a sheet of paper” to “maybe the length of the board?” and so on. After doing some calculations, the kids quickly realized that a timeline of this scale would be mostly unreadable. After some more discussion, I proposed that the shortest chunk of time, the Holocene Epoch, should be no shorter than a centimeter. Once we had that, we could work backwards to determine the length our timeline needed to be.


Our calculations

After some careful calculations, we determined our timeline should be a whopping 192 pages long. That’s 2,112 inches or 176 feet. Where do you put something that big? After discussing some options, we settled on the walls around the office. If we snaked the timeline around, we could make it fit.


Picking a design, identifying our needs

Since we know our length and our base unit (1cm = about 850 thousand years) we could then start the task of figuring out how long each eon, era, period, and epoch could be in centimeters. We created a massive spreadsheet that held all the information we would need for the project. By filling in the time period start and end dates, the kids found the duration of the period. Once we had that, we could divide it by our unit rate (850 thousand years) and figure out how long it would be, but that was also only partially helpful. Since we were using sheets of paper to build our timeline, we had to convert the duration of each time period into pages. To do that, we needed to know how many millions of years could fit on the length of one sheet (about 23 million years), which left us with a number of pages and an awkward decimal. Since it’s impossible to accurately cut 0.2634 of a sheet of paper, we then had to convert the decimal to centimeters so we could measure out the last bit. Whew.

Amelia and Cassandra made a poster explaining how we got our measurements


To the delight of the kids, we only did this a few times to make sure they got the concept, then I showed them how to make Google Sheets do the magic for us by repeating the same calculations down our chart of data. Next came the tedium of actually building this thing, which I admit was a bigger behemoth than I anticipated. The kids rotated through jobs like a factory. One student would count the number of sheets needed and hand them to the next person, who would label the sheets with the name, type, and length of that time chunk. Next, the stack would go to the cutter, who sliced the sheets down to size, finally, it would go to the tapers who attached the sheets into strips. While this was happening, a group of kids worked on assembling the timeline on the wall.

Lucie counting sheets

Cassandra cuts down the last bits of the eons to the right length

Ally consults the spreadsheet

JP and Lindsay space out the timeline on the cork floor

After a few work sessions, the bulk of the earlier work was done. All that was left was to hang the pieces and creating a display board to explain the timeline. Today, the kids worked in 40 minute shifts in teams of three, hanging or labeling the time chunks on the wall. While they were working on the timeline, the other kids were researching timeline events to put on the wall. The kids are researching landform changes, tracking the drift of the continents, following the evolution of life (plants and animals), tracking sea level changes, and events happening in California throughout geologic time. As I write, we have a COMPLETE timeline on the wall and only need to finish the labels and add the research. I’m so proud of the perseverance my band had shown even though this project has only gotten bigger and bigger throughout the Arc.


Completed timeline! The sticky notes are places we still need to label


Our cute display


Rocking Out

Oops! This is a late post (that I didn’t see was saved as a draft!)

After being out for over a week, Indigo Band was very happy to have me back. I’m happy to be back! I’ve been itching to get into the Earth Science topics I’ve been researching and see what the kids latch onto. There are also some larger-picture goals we still need to set. This week, we’ve been establishing a protocol for how we approach math. Since kids in Indigo are all over the place in skill level, whole-group instruction just won’t work. We can’t all do the same thing at the same time. Yesterday, I showed students the list of prioritized standards for each grade level in math. We broke down how to use this guide as a reference to aid our math exploration and set individual goals. The class requested we work on math for an hour each day, less during Expression, and set a group goal of learning 3 new skills a week, to learn around 100 new skills by the end of the year. From the list of standards, I showed the kids how to find the corresponding skills on Khan Academy so they could be sure they were weren’t wasting time on skills that aren’t as necessary to learn. We’ve only been working for a few days, but everyone is extremely focused and on task. It always amazes me that by framing options and allowing kids to choose, you create internal engagement. The kids are working for themselves, not to please me. A highlight for me came from Max, who after our first day of math, told me that he learned more that day than he did in all of last year. While that’s probably not completely true, it showed me that he’s again excited to learn, and happy to have ownership of that process.

Aside from math, we’ve been learning about the formation of Earth. Using a documentary from National Geographic as a reference, we’ve spent the afternoons watching, taking notes, pausing to discuss, then repeating that process. At the end of the day, the kids take their notes from the film and our discussions home and do some further research on an aspect from they day they found particularly interesting. Last night, everyone researched an animal from the Cambrian Explosion and wrote a blog post about what we believe that animal lived like, when, and why. I love the curiosity of these kids!