Iterate, iterate, iterate…

Each student made a mini zine to collect their feedback.

The Amber Band has been hard at work on their expression projects. Last week our goal was to have a second iteration ready for feedback. Each project built off of its first iteration, incorporating feedback from experts, and utilizing more advanced tools and materials. Students sought out feedback from fresh eyes in the Brightworks community, asking questions like: What do you think the purpose of my project is? What did you learn from my project? What are you still wondering about my project?

Elijah learned that he would need to make some structural readjustments to his ladder to make it safer. He was quick to take apart his second iteration. For iteration three he’ll broaden the base, fix some joint gaps, and add more support on the sides.


Declan was having some trouble getting the soldering metal to stick to his copper piston. He cleaned his copper well, helping the metal to stick, but now the edges were bumpy. To smooth out the joints he used a blowtorch and some welding tools.


Norabelle, Khalia, and Ella got some feedback to clean up the surface of their machine by replacing the tape with hot glue. They’ve already started replacing the tape for iteration three, and continue to add more chain reactions to their Rube Goldberg Machine.


Oscar did some user testing of his RFID tracker, and learned that the BWX LARPing community is eager to use it.


Audrey got some feedback on the variables of her experiment, and learned that she wouldn’t need to make an airlock, just an antechamber.


Felix is working on incorporating more visuals into the third iteration of his infographic to show the many effects of walking meditation.


Rhone’s second iteration is looking ready for the final design, using large PVC pipes as the wheels for his drift trike.

Yellow Band: By Land, Weeks 10 and 11

“Piper, this is so meta.”

Folks, things are really weaving together over here in the Beehive. And it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

The Yellow Band participates in a ‘river crossing’ team building activity AND trail simulation.

As you read last week, we’ve been studying the emmigrant trails of the mid-1800s in North America, and working on building a covered wagon during our afternoon project time. The name of the game this week has been TEAMWORK.

First, we wrote ourselves a definition of teamwork at the beginning of an afternoon project work session.

Oscar and Ronin made a great team working on the prairie schooner. One drilled holes, the other followed to drive in screws. And zoom in to read the whole definition the group came up with!

I love the kids’ definition because it is both proactive and attitudinal; it gives them concrete things they can do to help their team, and it tells them how they should do those things. They should ask, “How can I help?” in order to join a team, and they should listen to the type of help the team needs. A team tries to solve a problem together, and they look out for each other, trying to keep each other feeling safe and secure the whole time. Who could ask for more?!

And we had so many different chances to practice working as a team!

Quinn places magazines onto rolled–not folded–paper circles, while Emilio records data in the table.

Hunting for books at the library!

Working on afternoon projects!

But this is where it got meta. I checked the calendar and noticed that the Yellow Band was signed up to lead Friday circle. We’ve also been playing our way across North America in our Emmigrant Trails board game. Back then, those bridges and tunnels we’ve been studying hadn’t been built yet, so pioneers on the trail to California and fugitives on the Underground Railroad had to figure out a different way to get across rivers and over mountains. So, I decided it was time for us to try a simulation.

Playing our board game means rolling the dice and moving your piece in our Monopoly-style game. You’ll either land on a ‘Chance’ or ‘Opportunity’ space. Land on a ‘Chance,’ and you’ll have to roll the dice to find out the outcome to a challenge emmigrants faced on the trail. Land on ‘Opportunity,’ and learn a cool fact about the trail! Then, make sure to update your trail diary to show the progress you’ve made and record everything that’s happened to you along the way.

Devlin’s journal entry reads, “I got blackberries galore!” Runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad often foraged for food, making blackberries a special treat–watch out for thorns though!

Sakira’s opening entry in her journal let’s everyone know who she is–both her slave name and her real name.

Oh no, Emilio’s wagon broke an axle! It’s a good thing they’re almost to Ft. Laramie!

Oscar has been particularly interested in the outbreaks of cholera on the trail. This disease spread in contaminated water at many of the frequented campsites along the trail, killing thousands of pioneers. So, when he drew the cholera card from the ‘Chance’ pile, he wrote extensively about it in his journal, taking on the voice of an emmigrant.

Simulations are great. They can really help us take the facts we’ve been learning out of the book, and feel some empathy for the historical people who actually experience the things we’re learning about–make our learning real and meaningful. I decided to lead the kiddos through a river crossing simulation by playing a game that is a common team building activity. At the garden for Class Meeting, I explained that the sidewalk would be the river. Our purple wiggle cushions would be our supplies. We would need to use our supplies to get across the river, and we needed all of our supplies to make it to the other side. That meant that we couldn’t let go of them while in the middle of the river. After several false starts. the kiddos started to feel a bit of that frustration and tension of something being both challenging and rewarding. And, they started to figure out a system.

Devlin had an extra challenge: he had to carefully place each purple dot, and then step on it right away so that our supplies wouldn’t float away down the river!

At first, the pioneers tended to hop from one purple dot to the next. The problem with this strategy was that it tended to leave a dot–aka some of our supplies–without a Yellow Bander standing on it. We had to start over so many times because of this initial approach! As I explained to the travelers, weaving in the story of our cross-country journey, we lost our flour, our bacon, and even our grandmother’s cuckoo clock before we got the river crossing right! We were frustrated, but that’s OK. Our frustration pushed us to find a better approach to crossing that river.

Nolan, Oscar and Reyahn look back to make sure Sakira has safely made it from the first dot to the second.

We realized that we had to start looking out for each other, but positively. That meant changing something about our own approach, and helping our fellow travelers along the way. The kiddos realized that they couldn’t just hop from one spot to the next. They needed to walk forward, moving just one foot forward at a time, so that the person behind them had a second to catch up. The Yellow Banders needed to be aware of both the person behind them and the person ahead of them. They needed to move at just the right speed–not too fast, and not too slow–so that the folks behind them could get across, and so that no supplies ahead of them would be left to float away down the river.

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When we made it across, we all agreed: we had an activity to share with the school on Friday at morning circle.

We were able to get the whole school across the river with us!

And that’s how we took one thread, and made it meta.

Time flies when you’re having fun

Welcome back to the Red band blog! Our second arc began with an exploration with movement around our community. The Red band covers quite a bit of land and water each day during their journey to school. Some of us take cars, BART, or our two feet to get to school each day and we all walk up and down our block to spend time in both the Hive and Orchard. In order to track this movement we began our by-land study with mail. We asked how many days it would take to send a letter from 1920 Bryant to 1960 Bryant Street. We measured from our door to the post office and back and the distance between our two doors. Our 20 minute walk took three days by mail. If we are so close, how could it take so long? We mapped our experience then added our homes to the map. Creating a scale with our hands we found who lives closest and furthest to school and everyone in between before we sent ourselves a letter home. Based on our predictions we expected this to take anywhere from two to seven days for our letters to reach us.

Quinn uses his hand to measure the distances from BWX to our homes

Letters home going in with the stamped letters

November also brought National Novel Writing Month to us. I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this but the Red band loves animals and some of our favorites happen to travel by land: banana slugs, foxes, wolves, hedgehogs, zebras, cows, coyotes, and reindeer. Writing a novel is a pretty tall order when you’re learning to write so the band took a new approach, we would write a play starring our motley crew of animals. The kids set out to write a puppet show filled with animal journeys and encounters, then created another new entry for themselves filled with masks, stuffies, and costumes. To help our story building we went to the Cal Academy to visit two reindeer, Velvet and Tinsel, the farthest traveling land animals. These two particular reindeer, we learned, travel via horse trailer to spend some time in San Francisco. While our play transformed into the movement of tiny humans building a kid-sized puppet theater for themselves, complete with gold curtains and a hidden door, we will mark it as a success and continue to unfold the animals’ story.

Khalilah creates a Fennec fox

Sylvester and Dash help sew up their costume and puppet

The movement of mail inspired us to take a closer look at the vehicles that help move people and their things. We started by continuing the mail route via trains. We studied the movement of trains by dissecting their parts. Our attempt to create our own train cart ended with a disassembled engineer box, but led us to the Railway Museum searching for answers on how these are constructed and what powers them. Then a lesson on combustion came with a visit from Rich, a model engine, and a big flame.

Rich explains the necessary elements for firing a combustion engine

We learned about the evolution of street cars in SF and why the 38 is such an important bus line today

The Hive has been buzzing with projects all year; by-land has given us the opportunity to explore simple machines and pulleys, car and bus washes, topographical maps, and fences. Up next we have a covered wagon and Lego-hauling gondola – so stay tuned.

We’ll see you at Expo Night!

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.



Approved and Off Running

It’s celebration time! All the of Teal Band project declarations were approved by the start of this week and they are all off running with their project work. To begin the celebration, here are all their wonderful “school photos” from this year.

Teal Band 2016/2017 – You can’t miss how special and unique they all are.

A few of them quickly found out how important it is to check on shipping times of products. When you want a product at a price that fits your budget, sometimes it’s coming from the other side of the planet and won’t arrive until the week of presentations. This realization was a great eye opener in regards to planning and being proactive in general. Huxley used this challenge as a way to re-evaluate his design in a way that pricier parts could be used, but fewer would be needed. Patrick and Jared continued to check in with their expert, Jack, to look for alternatives and find ways to save money in other places.

When you need to re-evaluate your design, Gever is an excellent expert.

Selina, Aurora, and Nora would be happy to work around the clock on their project if they were allowed to. While their project might be on ancient civilizations, they are certainly learning about a lot more than just that. They are learning to work successfully in a group with good friends, learning to hold one another accountable for her piece of the project, and how to write formulas in Google Sheets to track all their “resources.”

Piper experienced her first Expression Phase moment of “YESSSSS!” this past week while looking at a Google Maps driving route from Slide Ranch to her home. She figured out how she wants to present this portion of her project and it most certainly screams Piper. It’s moments like this that make all the stresses of a project completely worth it.

Sometimes it just takes looking at something in a new way to get your best idea yet.

Just like naturalists working to track down the story of the urban coyote migration to San Francisco and it’s surrounding areas, Freddie is working to track down her experts to get a piece of the story. We talked early on in the Expression Phase as a band about the importance of making initial contact with experts during declaration writing. Freddie did just that, but as is with many “experts,” they are just so busy with their everyday job responsibilities that they take quite some time to respond to the questions of a student. She is learning to adjust her schedule to work with the schedules of others while still being productive. A skill that will benefit her for a lifetime to come.

On top of their “By Land” projects, the Teal Band is still trying to complete their bridge project. This week they finished measuring and cutting the fabric and began the sewing portion. Huxley and Jared got lessons on sewing from Piper and Lindsay while the rest of the band worked to finish cutting the panels.

It takes a team to get all the measurements and cutting taken care of.

Jared gets a lesson on sewing from Lindsay.

And on top of all their hard work, the Teal Band still knows how to make one another laugh and smile….and me as well….with a silly morning welcome 🙂


Declarations & Expression: Project Time is Upon the Orange Band

Throughout the exploration phase of the By-Land Arc, the Orange Band has studied the movement of people and things, notably, but not exclusively, our food. A thread that runs throughout all of our explorations is people’s work to amplify their own efforts for a greater result.

Orange Band students brainstormed the ways that we explored concepts by-land and found a through thread in innovation and advance towards an amplification of human ability

When we wanted to move farther or more than we could carry, we turned to stronger beasts of burden. Later technological advances led us to vehicles of greater and greater advancements in speed, ability, and complexity. 
Even in looking at our food, we are constantly looking to get more from our plates. The ancient porridges of ground wheat and water became, by accident, the starter for the first breads, food of greater nutrition and value.
At this stage in the students’ career at Brightworks, students are presented with a challenge, and constraints, within which students have the room to be creative and innovative in their response to the challenge! We spoke of the counterintuitive phenomenon constraints can actually encourage and breed creativity in a way that no boundaries might not.
The Challenge:
With the idea of amplifying human effort for greater results, Orange Band students were challenged to make a machine that amplifies the work that one turn of a hand-held grain grinder yields by 2, 5, or 10 times.

Kiddos experimented with the grain grinders, testing the strength needed to grind barley, prior to designing machines to meet the challenge.

Such a challenge necessitated an (ongoing) exploration of simple machines, and a greater understanding of gears and gear ratios. The research began in earnest and Orange Band students worked individually and in partnerships to craft articulate, well-thought out declarations for approval.

Phoebe, Charlotte, and Lucy devoted their energies to step-by-step conceptualization of how they would realize their project ideas.


Jeevan consults Huxley for feedback in how to make his ideas clearer for the reader.

In response to the challenge, Orange Band students’ ideas ranged far and wide!

Phoebe and Charlotte took a page from our brainstorm at the beginning of Expression and decided to turn to animal labor as a way to amplify human effort:

We will make a hamster powered energy barley grinder with gears to amplify Cloudy’s (the hamster) efforts on her wheel. Our desired product is a working hamster wheel that will amplify human efforts to make flour.

Charlotte and Phoebe’s project build – the first iteration


Gever and Charlotte discuss their next steps in their attempts to make wooden gears on the band saw for the project.

Roman decided to meet the challenge using a vehicle–a remote-controlled truck, that is!

I would like to see if a remote control truck can power the grain grinder. I will have to make a loop for the car to turn around on, and I will have to connect the car to the crank. I will make the loop 2 1/2 feet in diameter so the car will have room but make a foundation. I will remove the handle and replace it with a bolt I’m going to have the bolt attached to the grinder and not the handle so then the car will move the bolt and not the handle.  I want to be able to compare how much grain is milled after  2, 5, or 10 loops of the remote-controlled truck.

Roman worked through multiple iterations and prototype versions of his project before signing up for an approval meeting.

Justin opted to focus on the power of the grinder itself, exchanging the object to be ground up for a sweeter option:

 In order to meet the challenge [given] I will create the Gearatron-o-matic 90211, a machine that will be able to increase the power of the grain grinder using gears to increase torque or speed depending on how strong the grinder is already. If it is already really strong I might increase the speed, but that decreases torque so I probably won’t do that. On the other hand increasing torque decreases speed so one turn might not do much, but it will mow through almost anything.

Justin created sketches of his project ideas from multiple perspectives – leading up to the green light!



Embodying the mantra that Brightworks embraces (“Everything is interesting!”), Jeevan was inspired to take the idea of amplifying human efforts into a new direction: gardens and irrigation:

I will amplify human effort to water plans, by making a rain machine which will make it a lot easer to water plants  so you just have to  turn on the hose and it will be raining in your garden and all the plants will be watered.


Another idea that the Brightworks disciple adheres to is that we are the school that says, “yes!” to the passions and interests of the students. When the Movement of Things By Land arc began, both Lucy and Amiya felt particularly inspired to explore their deepest interests: animals and cars, respectively. Being a place of learning that encourages such self-identified pursuits, Lucy and Amiya set off on very different paths than the rest of the band.

Amiya’s sketch belies the complexity inherent in making a working manual transmission!


My desired product is a working manual transmission made out of Lego bricks. To meet the challenge, I will research manual transmissions and how they work. To address the challenge, I will make a working manual transmission out of Lego. I want to do this project because I want to learn how a manual transmission works, and I would like to put it in a big Lego car after this arc is over.

Part of the declaration process is seeking out and identifying potential experts to consult during Project Time.


Wolf – Pygmy Rabbit – White Tailed Deer – Polar Bear


The challenge that I have to adress is to make a board game about animals that walk on land. The game will also be a little bit educational. The players might learn about the four animals involved in the game.  I will meet the challenge by making a board game about animals walking  on land. In my board game there will be cards that have setbacks and advantages depending on your animal. Each player will be a different animal ether a polar bear, a wolf, a pygmy rabbit or a whitetail deer. Each player starts at a different place on the board depending on where that type of animal lives, but all the animals are trying to get to one place. I chose this project because I like animals and board games.

Clearly, we have been nothing short of a whirlwind in the Orange Band, with these declarations and projects up front and center!

But our time this arc phase has not only been in the realm of declarations and projects. Our mornings have been filled with explorations in opportunities for math in the day-to-day contexts of the most unlikely of places: pet food stores!

Using the context of price comparison, students have been developing an understanding of ratios, how ratio tables work, and the ways that fractions are added and subtracted in real-life situations. Working within carefully crafted scenarios, kiddos have been exploring with visual math and manipulatives to build and further their conceptual understanding of big ideas using models.

The “landscape of learning” that students move through and within during our current explorations of fractions, decimals, and percents. The rectangles represent landmark strategies students use; the ovals show the big ideas; and triangles illustrate the models students use along the way.


Lucy and Phoebe use visual representations of fixed ratios of dog food ingredients (linking cubes of different colors) to keep fractional proportions accurate.

Charlotte takes the time to write and draw out her understandings. Careful note-taking and representation of the concepts become resources to return to as the explorations continue.

Amiya uses multiple ways to represent his work throughout the context exploration.

As the weeks continue, students will navigate the landscape for learning, moving from one model or strategy to the next as the big ideas become more and more clear!

Yellow Band: By Land, Weeks 8 & 9

Welcome back! It’s only been 9 days since getting back from winter break, but it feels like we’ve already done so much interesting work. We’ve started our expression phase group projects, and started some Yellow Band specific exploration that connects to one of those big building projects.


As the whole school embarks on expression this time around, the focus is on the details. Throughout the rest of the school, kids are working on declarations, meeting with the admin team, and making plans for the rest of by land. Over in the Beehive, we reminded the Red and Yellow bands that we make declarations for each project that we work on together! On the first day of any project we make designs together and talk through a plan for how we’ll accomplish our goals. And this time around, we explained, we’ll also need to think about any special materials we might need and present our project idea to the administration as well. In other words, we had our work cut out for us! Nathan announced that he’d be working on a gondola, and I announced that I’d be working on a covered wagon, and we got to work.

Reyahn tinkers with gondola mechanics.

Reyahn and Sakira work on initial covered wagon designs.

Sylvester and Ronin work together on making some 10′ long pieces to make the length of the wagon. One of our goals is to make the wagon a historically accurate size!

Oh, and, the Yellow Band is going to hit the trail! Following our study of fractions, I asked the kiddos to make themselves some spinners–one with 50/50 chances, one with 25/25/25/25 chances, and one that’s weighted to guarantee an outcome. Then, I told them that we’d soon be embarking on a cross-country adventure. And they’d get to choose which adventure they’d like to go on! Would they like to prospect for gold in California? Become a lumberjack in Oregon? Claim some cheap land and start a farm near Santa Fe? Or, would they like to escape to freedom in the north on the Underground Railroad? Each Yellow Bander made their choices, then tested out their weighted spinner, to see if it would work in their favor.

Sakira wanted to travel to New York on the Underground Railroad. So, she gave this choice about 1/2 the space on her weighted spinner.

We also bound little booklets to use as travel journals!

The gang, illustrating covers for their trail journals.

Morning choices have been jam-packed with fun activities as well. I started to delve deeper into the book Bridges and Tunnels by Donna Latham. We checked this book out from the library at the very beginning of the arc, and I just took a closer look this week–bad choice! This book is amazing! Not only does it talk about the history of engineering, but it’s packed with fun and simple experiments for us to do together. We read a bit, then chose an experiment to test what we think about the strength of different shapes.

First, we made lots of paper triangles. Then, we stacked National Geographic magazines on top of the triangles. We chose the magazines because each one very close to the same size.

The next day, we tested folded paper squares. Based on our work in the shop, all of the kids expected the triangles to be stronger, but this wasn’t necessarily true of the paper shapes.

And, we recorded all our data in a table. The next shape we’ll test will be a circle–no folds!

Oh my goodness–and this is barely half of everything we did this week! There was work forming letters, reading our book club books, exercising across the our bodies’ midline, and a trip to the community garden for Class Meeting. We’ve got so many good things going.