Brightworks 2.0

Is it possible to see a mind at work? The Fairness arc suggests that it is.

For the last two weeks we’ve been interviewing each of the students about his or her perceptions of fairness, and the depth and seriousness of their answers—and of their efforts to arrive at answers—come across on the video rather vividly. After the tangible certainties of Salt, Fairness is proving more elusive.

You can see in their faces and hear in their careful choice of words the complexities these very young ethicists and philosophers are navigating en route to an opinion. And where they end up is often surprisingly thoughtful and nuanced.

Natasha, for example, links fairness with equality and makes a conceptual leap to the injustice of homelessness that sounds remarkably like the awakening of a political consciousness.

Quinn also associates fairness with equality but makes a distinction between equal opportunity and equal outcomes—makes it fresh right in front of our eyes:

Max gives us a tour of his own evolving thoughts on fairness and his evolving feelings about this challenging arc:

As the kids move into their Declarations this week we’re looking forward to seeing how these subtleties and moral complexities emerge in actual projects—in short, how young minds-at-work turn abstract thoughts and values into action.

Outside the Box

The renovation at Brightworks this month led to some changes – our video booth has been deconstructed and pieces from it are now holding up the students’ work spaces.  It’s an illustration of how we like to take things apart and put them back together in new ways.  It’s also an opportunity to move our recording operation out of the box.

Because the students are talking about their projects it’s helpful to catch them in their studios and study areas where they can express themselves naturally and have room to demonstrate what they are planning.

Justine mentioned in an earlier post that this round of proposals is Brightworks’ best yet. Judging from what the kids describe, we would add: and the most ambitious!

Max, for example, is planning with Henry to open a restaurant!

Natasha and Audrey and Mason are going to perform a dance showing how salt is made. Natasha describes to us how they plan to choreograph their dance:

Connor is making fireworks — one ingredient of which is salt:

Connor will be sharing a studio space with Coke, who is also making fireworks. Both pyro-technicians are looking to mix up a brew that will make a big bang!  Here Coke explains how it’s done:

These creative teams — whether culinary, choreographic or concussive—have one thing in common (besides salt). All of them are producing projects we can’t wait to see!

Lights! Camera! Salt! Action!

Last month when documentary filmmaker Keith Wilson dropped by to show his film The Shrimp he took questions from the students about how non-fiction movies are made. Wilson’s 15-minute film follows the short life, swift capture and eventual transformation into yummy seafood of a single shrimp in Savannah, Georgia. It ends with the “hero” being eaten and returning via the city’s sewer system to the waters from which it came.


We wondered if the kids would see a connection to their salt investigations, so we posed the question: “What kind of movie would you make about salt?”

Coke clearly picked up on the back-to-the-river theme.

Kaia imagined a more extensive documentary.

Mason and Logan didn’t exactly answer the question, choosing instead to… well, make a movie: a slapstick comedy in which “Old Man Logan” barks orders at his zany sidekick Mason. They’re prepping for Hollywood!

As we move into the Expression phase of the Salt arc we’re excited to see how the previous weeks of exploration are turned into each student’s personal project. Beginning next week the Video Booth will shift focus from questions about salt to weekly updates on what the kids are doing on their projects. On this particular Brightworks movie the time has come for…


what is salt used for?

It’s neat to see how many of the students, when addressing the question “What is salt used for?”, didn’t focus on the obvious: to make food taste better.

Clementine talked about how “in olden days” a “litre or two of salt” was all it took to get a king to hand over his daughter in marriage.

Mason gives us an explanation of salt’s impact on brain function.

Ben mentioned food, but only as one of a series of uses that included, among other things, medieval taxation.

Count this variety of answers a victory for the Salt learning arc, which has clearly liberated the kids’ understanding from a kitchen-only context. One important feature of the arc concept is the interconnectivity of knowledge—the way in which a single, simple theme (such as salt) radiates outward through different branches of our culture: science, history, art… and okay, cooking!

where does salt come from?

It’s always neat to see how kids make use of a new tool. Many of the Brightworks kids have taken to the Video Booth like ducks to water. That’s Alessandro and Clementine splashing comfortably in the photo.


The kids have quickly adapted to this new form of expression and the videos that they’re making show depth of understanding and strong creativity, as you’ll see in the clips below when the students answer the question:

“Where does salt come from?”

Lola tells us it’s from salt water, but the specks are too small to see:

Connor breaks it down for us further:

And Max makes us ponder even deeper—do we really know where salt came from?

We got responses in a variety of styles, but almost all of the kids made mention of salt water, a few got into the molecular chemistry of it and at least two were prompted to bring up the Big Bang Theory. A common thread here is that all of these answers are abstract. We can’t see the specks in salt water; we definitely can’t see hydrogen; and no one has ever seen the Big Bang. All of this is beyond the human eye, yet students as young as 6 years old are explaining these ideas to us in ways that are clear and scientifically sound. That’s phenomenal!

Sometimes the kids go beyond the question and share with us what they’ve just learned. Zada, for example, prepared a full-scale presentation–complete with illustrations–on atoms and then delivered it as coolly as a scientist on NOVA! So sit tight, take notes and get ready to learn everything you need to know about the molecular composition of salt!

video booth launch

Hi everyone! I’m Uyen and I’m working with the kids at Brightworks to help them document their learning. Two weeks ago Gever and I built a new structure in the corner of the cork floor, a cozy, private, one-person retreat with a laptop inside. It’s our Video Booth! This is where the kids and collaborators (and parents and visitors — really, everyone is welcome) will be dropping in week after week to say what’s on their minds. Here’s how it works. You step into the booth alone, you face the laptop’s welcoming eye, you push the red button… you speak!

A lot of what the kids will be talking about is salt. Each week a new question will go up in the booth, the idea being that if you’re going to talk to a computer it’s only fair that the computer start the conversation. The first set of questions were “What is salt?” and “Is salt good for you or bad for you?” The kids weighed in on this topic, and their answers were inventive, thoughtful, insightful and often quite funny. We’ll be blogging excerpts weekly from now on and we hope once comfort levels are established, kids will feel free to express themselves on non-salty subjects: what they’re excited about, what they’re stuck on, etc. The goal is to build a record of this Arc in the voices of those who created it.

So here we go! Video Booth Round One: What is salt?

The “twins” tell us what salt is made of and what it’s good for:

Henry gives us an action-packed molecular account of how salt is made:

Video Booth Round Two: Is salt good for you or bad for you?

Evan thinks this is a trick question:

Frances believes eating the right amount of salt is good for you:

Isaac describes how salt can be good for you and bad for you in large quantities:

Well, we didn’t intend it as a trick question, but Evan’s observation points out a common theme among our first group of Video Boothers: that salt is good and bad, that it’s possible for two contradictory ideas both to be true, that degrees and amounts matter when judging whether something is or isn’t. Useful concepts to keep in mind when thinking about salt—and lots of other things!