Yellow Band Tells the stories of rocks

Four more days into the school year and we are moving full steam ahead, as a band and as geologists.

Roots ripping apart rocks. #slickenside #coronaheights #yellowband #greenband #rock #sfbrightworks

The Yellow Band began the week by making a very hot trek up to Corona Heights along with their fellow geologists in the Green Band. Taking the long way down to the park gave us the chance to explore the vast amounts of chert that make up the hill. The questions began almost immediately. “Why is it rust colored?” “How was it made?” “How old is it?” “What are the stripes?” “How are the stripes different than the layers?” Success!!! They were interested in rocks. We took some quiet time to sit with our rocks, observe them, sketch them, and record our observations and questions.

Sketching rocks. #slickenslide #coronaheights #yellowband #greenband #rock #sfbrightworks

#slickenslide #coronaheights #yellowband #greenband #rock #sfbrightworks#slickenside #coronaheights #yellowband #greenband #rock #sfbrightworks

As they sketched, they sat in the shadow of something very special, one of the world’s largest occurrences of slickenside (a polished and striated rock surface that results from friction along a fault or bedding plane.) “It looks like China!” “How far into the ground does it go?” “How did that happen?” We certainly had a lot of questions to go back to school and research.

Researching the chert and slickenside we observed on yesterday's field trip. #yellowband #sfbrightworks

Wednesday was filled with researching our questions. We discovered that the chert we found is a sedimentary rock rich in silica, formed from the tiny silica shells of marine plankton called Radiolaria. Its rust color reflects that there was a great amount of oxygen oxidizing small amounts of iron in the sediment as it became rock.  

Introducing the Arc of Rock #sfbrightworks #rock @gevertulley

Gever’s introduction to the arc during Thursday’s morning circle with the story of his rock couldn’t have come at a better time. That was the day that the Yellow Band learneded that they would have Pet Rocks. Each of us brought in a rock that held some sort of importance to us. We are going to have some fun with this mini project. We’ll create manuals and write stories or comics, telling the story of our rock, both scientifically and fictionally (come on, don’t all rocks love living in a striped sock?)

Friday Tea and Talk #yellowband #brightworks

We wrapped up our week with what will become a weekly occurrence, our Friday Tea and Talk. This is a time we can share our feelings from the week, ask for support and suggestions on dealing with challenges or conflicts, and simply become a stronger band.

Next week we’ll continue to explore the rock landscape of San Francisco, research our rocks, and grow even more as a band.

Violet Band – Group Class

One of the things a lot of the Violet Band said when listing their goals for the year was experience teaching and mentoring. Brightworks is a good space for that – it’s filled with curious, interesting minds of all ages. And we’ll work on being community members and mentors for the younger bands.

What’s even harder, though, is leading a class with your peers.

And so the Violet Band Group Class was created. Every day after lunch, we’ll spend a half an hour on a student-selected and student-led study. Each “class” will last two weeks, and we’ll shuffle to the next one.

To start, my two weeks of “Sample Group Class” – a nonfiction literary study on information consumption and critical understanding. And while I led today’s class, I created a guideline and template for how to lead future classes, and we discussed ways in which they can lead their own sessions.

And then I passed the other chapters off to the group.

The book is Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. And our schedule is as follows:

To help prepare for full group class, each session leader of our sample class gets to create their own lesson – introduction, meat, practice, closing – and lead the discussion around the chapter.

I really love this book, and as the BWXian high schoolers work to become quicker observers and more intentional writers, I feel like the book unlocks a lot of mysteries and deeper meaning in content. It is exciting.

Brightworks is always full of excitement, though. In addition to group class, today we got first-hand favorite Rock thoughts from a geologist, explored independent learning pathways, had SketchArt session one, and designed iteration two of the (standard, regular, but with a kid-attached motor) motorized wheelchair.

Check it out:



Orange Band: GO!

Wowee, what a first week! We hit the ground running here in the Orange Band (though we try really hard to walk inside), and touched on a little bit of everything the past few days.

On Wednesday, we got started by introducing ourselves and sharing skills–things we really like to do, or that we’ve been practicing and would feel comfortable teaching to another person. Here in the Orange Band, we have pianists, dancers, story tellers, zoologists, readers, mathematicians; we took these talents, and created a chain to show our skills and talents will connect us together throughout the year. Then, we all took a few minutes to explore the bandspace, noticing the tools and materials we have in our space, the types of workspaces, and thought about what our bandspace might be missing (more on this later!).

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On Thursday morning, we got quite a treat–we got to spend the morning in the shop with Sean! Sean, our resident zen master/carpenter, talked to us about teamwork, and what it looks like to help one another. First, a helper must observe. Then, they should ask, “What are you working on?” in order to discern if the helpee does, in fact, need help. Next, a helper can ask, “What can I do to help?” or offer suggestions if they think they know what the problem is. It is SUPER important to listen! Then, it’s the helper’s chance to help. Make sure to give the helpee the chance to learn from their mistake!

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Then, we returned to our list of tools, materials, and attributes of our space–this time, thinking about what our space is missing.  Answer: STORAGE! In our bandspace, we don’t have a cubby system or hooks (yet!) to store our backpacks, jackets, journals and other supplies. We spent a few minutes thinking about what we would like in a storage unit, then spent the rest of the time until park visiting the other bands to see how they are storing their personal and shared belongings.

In the afternoon, we broke out our sketchbooks and went for a walk to check out some serpentine poking out at the corner of Mariposa and San Bruno. We feel so lucky to have such great rocks to look at so close to Brightworks! Kiddos took a seat, and drew what they saw, noticing layers in the rock, and big protruding boulders haphazardly stacked.

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Friday morning, we returned to our discussion of storage. We took a look at some notes we took about the storage in other bandspaces, and pointed out things that many or most other bands have in common and that we think are important. Then, each kiddo made a drawing of a storage unit for our space. After snack time, we carefully examined these drawings, and made a list of what we all had included in our drawings:

  • Shelves for books, journals
  • Hooks for backpacks or jackets
  • Nametags and individual spots
  • Cubby-style shelves for bigger items like backpacks

On Thursday and Friday, we had a couple of lively discussions about group agreements: making suggestions, noticing similarities between some of our suggested agreements, discussing the purpose of spending time on group agreements, and thinking about what a learning environment could be like without group agreements. In moments like these, I find it so helpful to have a building full of dedicated and thoughtful teachers and learners. We paid a visit to the Indigo Band to learn about some agreements they made with each other and why they chose these agreements. The older kids explained that they wanted to prevent future conflict, value each other’s contributions, and wanted to guarantee a safe space where everyone would feel comfortable to contribute.


Week one kicked off with a bang! Introductions were exchanged, agreements made, summer stories told, laughs and hugs were shared. Then the sounds of chopping, cutting, drilling, and troubleshooting filled our ears. TEAL band’s first major group project was to finish creating their band space. Students paired up, and each team tackled a different project.

Khalia and Harper hopped to making an aquarium and plant stand for our window. Apart from getting to know each other, each got to know proper and effective hand drill and chop saw use. Declan and Oscar became familiar with safe and effective table saw use, as they cut shelves for multiple projects. They were also reminded of the importance of precise and accurate measurements, and the difference between ‘measure twice and cut once’, and ‘measure once, cut so many times that even a beaver would get sick of it’ (shout out to the ‘Measurement’ Arcs of 2013-14!). Sutchat and Rhone handled ‘large scale’ builds, they enlisted the aid of their band mates as they relocated the whiteboard, cut and installed a large wall panel, and trouble shot where the band scooters might be stored. Norabelle and Jacob prototyped a ‘tea mug tree’ and had their hand at advanced band saw use when they created a circular tea table.

All this was done with a harkening to our community agreements and the Brightworks approach. We took frequent ‘get to know you’ breaks, and so the sound of construction was interrupted by hilarity, merriment, and at least one; “you guys are gonna be my best friends”.

Next week we continue to explore ‘how to succeed at Brightworks’, and dive into the story of ROCK, with hands-on, and abstract explorations into its properties, origins, and uses. We look forward to exploring our city and meeting the men and women that call themselves; geologist, jewelry maker, sculpture and builder.
Watch out ROCK, here we come!







Teal band


Green Band: Back to School and Better Than Ever

What a wonderful group of kids!  What an exhilarating start to the year!

This first week was a deep centering breath before we dive into this new year.  We took time to get to know each other as the quirky wonderful creatures we are and create a thoughtful list of group agreements.


To give us something to chew on as we formulated these agreements, the group played a game that required them them to work as a team to solve a problem.  They had to listen to each other to negotiate strategies.  Our debrief of this game fed our brainstorm on how we want to treat each other.



Here are the five group agreements that we distilled from dozens of postit notes and much insightful conversation:


It’s one thing to talk about group agreements and another thing to really embody them.  I left some things in our band space unfinished so that the group could have a mini project in which they could practice problem solving and good communication.


This started in the shop with a lesson from Sean on how to ask for and offer help.  His nugget of wisdom was to take a moment to ask what a person is doing and if they would like help before jumping in with your suggestion.  


The kids practiced asking for and offering help in a mini challenge.  This challenge required them to become familiar with the shop and some of the tools they will encounte there.


The band also read an article from a wonderful book, “Problem Solving 101” by Ken Watanabe that described different approaches to problem solving.  The kids reflected on how they approach problems and what makes a good problem solver.



As the group worked together to make our band space more functional and beautiful there were opportunities to learn from each other, practice resilience in the face of setbacks and think through some challenging logistics.


I am so excited about this group of kids and the new year we have in front of us! 

Trudy teaching the boys how to sew!


Yellow Band’s First Three Days

Build new friendships. Strengthen old ones. Become a team.

It was amazing in just the first three days of school to watch the Yellow Band, in which 50% of us are new to Brightworks, come together so naturally.

We've enjoyed day 1! #Yellowband #sfbrightworks

Beginning on day one, our focus of the week was getting to know one another and how we will work together and interact with our environment. We learned about each other’s hopes and dreams, strengths and challenges, and senses of humor. We worked together to create our band agreements: take care of other’s feelings, let everyone learn, respect our environment, have safe bodies, and respect other’s belongings. We talked about how our agreements reach far beyond the walls of our band space, into the rest of the school and out of its doors. 

On top of all of our bonding, it is incredible how much we did in three days. We drew portraits of one another. We worked on asking and offering help in the shop. We brainstormed ideas of how to see rocks from multiple angles. We sorted rocks. We looked for rocks around the neighborhood.We visited the library. We had our first community lunch. We closed out each day with a relaxing read aloud. We are ready and excited to leap, full of questions, forward into the Rock Arc.  

Hoping and dreaming. #Yellowband #sfbrightworks
Day 1. #Yellowband #sfbrightworksJustin's creative portraits of the #Yellowband #sfbrightworks
Rock brainstorm. #rock #Yellowband #sfbrightworksRock sort #rock #Yellowband #sfbrightworks
Today we sorted rocks and categorized them. We tried to figure out how they were made. (Huxley) #rocks #Yellowband #sfbrightworksThe #Yellowband is going graphic. #sfbrightworks #reading

Blue: New Band, New Rules, New Skills


We are a team.
We get knowledge.
We give knowledge.

This was the anthem for Blue Band this week, and as a result, we ended up doing a lot of intellectually rigorous things. We defined some rules for interacting with each other, with our space, and for when we are trying to pay attention to other people in the classroom. We wrote and mind mapped a lot. We had a guest speaker. We had a shop training. We set up a blog, and researched in the library. We got to build some stuff, and also talk about what we all want out of the Rock Arc. For only three days together, this is a lot.

This is a lot for an adult. This is a lot for a middle schooler.

On Friday morning, we added another routine to the mix: morning check-in. During check-in, anything goes — tell us how you’re feeling, tell us how your yesterday went, tell us if you’re having a rough day. Check-in is a good time for us to understand if someone needs extra attention or special consideration during the day, or if someone is feeling bad or tired or even really excited about something.

During this new thing, an interesting sentiment emerged: “I feel upset that all of the other bands are up and around doing things, and we are in here doing nothing.”

All of the abstract work we did in just 3 days together translated to “nothing.”

In the same vein — on our first day, when we brainstormed where knowledge comes from, everyone was a little startled by the depth and breadth of the final list. The internet, books, experts, and studying were of course listed by everyone; but then, when things like “failure,” “doing stuff,” or “texting,” came up, the classroom erupted in laughter. But why? I asked them. Don’t you learn things by failing, moving your body, or sending messages to friends? Of course we learn from those things. But, sometimes it’s really hard to quantify, or even qualify, abstract work.

This is hard for adults. This is hard for middle schoolers.

We did a lot of hard things this week.




IMG_4323#rock #mindmap

The tiniest wood slice during shop training! #woodshop #bwxblue