gears and projects

As the Clocks arc moves right along, we see different rhythms emerge in each band – some continue exploration of gears and timers while others move into project phase with experts and declarations. A quick overview on this Friday evening:

The Megaband has started to write declarations for Clocks projects and get them approved by Gever, who has a brand new stamp for the official ‘OK!’. Sean helps Jack with a piece of his declaration.


Josh hosted baker Jasmine as an expert for his baking project.


A glimpse of Alexander of the Long Now Foundation during his presentation last week:


Mackenzie started exploring gear ratios with the Hawks this week and was able to incorporate learning about least common factors and multiplication families through a provocation that asked how many revolutions that gears with different numbers of teeth would need to make to return to the starting position.




The Hawks and the Elephants also continued their explorations of water clocks. The Hawks returned to the previous week’s discoveries to make new iterations of their water clocks. (More information on their results soon!)





Isaac, Max, and Madison created a gear chain under Sean’s tutelage that reduces every 3600 revolutions of the input gear to one revolution of the output gear. It’s same ratio of seconds to hours, which is the same relationship as a second hand to the hour hand. They had to plan out how to combine the different gears and assemble the whole thing themselves.



The Hummingbirds have been working with 15-second timers this week – Shawna wrote an amazing piece about their process, which I will write about next week – and used 15 as a provocation for exploring sets of five.



And bonus: we had a visit from Santa and his crew today. It was unfortunate that Clementine, Lola, Aurora, and Natasha had to miss it.




toy drive

Earlier this week, all the bands went down to Fire Station 9 to help sort toys and make cards for the San Francisco Fire Department Holiday Toy Drive. This moment of service provides the kids with an opportunity to see outside themselves and seek ways to help their community. Thanks to Bryan for helping set this up!








november novels

National Novel Writing Month at Brightworks was a major success! About 75% of our writers completed their word count goals, which varied from 800 words to 20,000 words, and changed often depending on the writer’s pace – mostly to writing more words! The writers found more inspiration and perseverance in themselves and their work than I was anticipating, and it was thrilling to see so much progress and dedication to their stories, even despite writer’s block, Thanksgiving holidays, distracting other commitments, and scary inner editors that needed to be fought off with sharpened pencils.

Last week during morning circle I acknowledged the hard work that the kids had done and announced that as a group we had written almost 145,000 words during the month of November. The writers responded with some wonderful feedback about the process. Clementine said, “I really loved hearing other people’s stories. I got my ideas that way.” Josh said what helped him was finding inspiration from his real life. Quinn said, “For me it helped not to stagger it, but take some time to get into a flow.” Tab, who did not write, said that he appreciated the people who had the guts to do it, and Rhone closed by saying, “I hope for the whole school that everybody try it, because it’s really fun. At first I didn’t think I could do it, but when I started it was fun and easy.”

2013 Winner Facebook Cover

Among the novels written this November are titles like Oscar’s The Iron Wolf, Norabelle’s Harry the Hamburger, Quinn’s Kindernauts, Josh’s The End of Nothing, Lukas’s Against Me, Audrey’s The Siren Test, Harry’s The Wanderer and Frances’s Adele’s Ice Castle.

But the writing adventure isn’t over for these new authors – we’re headed into the next step in the writing process: editing and revision. NaNoWriMo calls it:


As I expressed to the everyone this week, writing a novel is just like doing an Expression project at school with all its various iterations. The Hawks compared it to building their chairs – though they joked that they would have to start all over, since they had to start from scratch with each chair iteration – in that they have a first draft that could use improvements. Editing and revision are an essential step of any piece of creative work, and one of the parts of writing that I both love and dread each time it comes around. How many plot holes do I have to fill? Where are the lost subplots that I left in the dust that need to be cleaned up? How can I add more detail to this somewhat flat character? How can I rethink the ending so it has more pizazz?

Revision an extremely rewarding process that lets the story shine in a way that it may not in the first draft. Starting after the holiday break, we will be working together on the editing process, treating each other’s work with care and love with the intent of making it the best piece of work it can be. We’re also planning an evening reading night, hard copies of the kids’ novels with illustrated covers and maybe illustrations inside, and an anthology of their work.


Last week, Mackenzie presented the Hawks with a water timer challenge when she realized there was a piece missing from their understanding of how flow rates of water in a container make it impossible to have regular marked intervals on a water timer. She grouped the band into research pairs and they explored how changing one variable affects the whole system when the other variables are held constant. Bruno and Clementine experimented with the height of the cup, Ben and Natasha experimented with the volume of water, and Lola and Quinn experimented with the size of the container.



They presented their discoveries to the group after a morning of giggling and playing with water in the trough sink in the art studio.


Natasha and Ben took their work to the next level after showing each other how volume effects water pressure by drilling a larger hole into one of the bottles. Mackenzie says that they “were figuring out what the water levels of each bottle would need to be for them to drain out in the same time” and that “Ben’s excitement really ignited Natasha and Natasha helped keep Ben focused and on task.”


Clementine and Bruno tried to figure out how elevation affected water pressure.  Clementine had the idea of attaching containers to a post and Bruno decided that all of the containers had to be the same size. They were able to discuss and collaborate on sources of error in their design, and had a successful run through, but Mackenzie says, “Unfortunately their experiment kept confirming their theory that elevation affects flow rate! Since their experimental design was so spot on I didn’t correct their assumption, but the following day I made a demonstration that called their conclusions into question and explained that gravity exerts the same force on everything no matter the height.” This next discovery still puzzles and astonishes the group – and some of the adults!


Lola and Quinn took on the idea the shape of the water container affecting flow rates and water pressure, and were able to create a demonstration showing just that after sitting down with Mackenzie to learn just exactly what the point is of variables and constants. She says, “Lola was so stoked by this discover that she spent her library time writing three pages of notes discussing her theory on why water pressure is higher in a tall skinny container than a fat wide one.”


Mackenzie says, “So where are we planning on going from here? Every clock needs to have a constant flow of energy. The crux of a water clock is figuring out how to keep the water pressure constant. Equipped with their new understanding of fluid dynamics the Hawks are going to try and build water clocks capable of keeping regular intervals of time!” She says that they will be moving into making mechanical clocks soon as well.


the long now

After lunch on Friday, we all gathered in the dining room to listen to a presentation from Alexander, a guest expert from an incredible organization called the Long Now Foundation. They are currently in the process of designing and building a clock that will keep track of time for the next 10,000 years – what better way to explore the concept of time and clocks! Quinn, one of the students from the Megaband, contacted the Long Now a couple weeks ago looking for an expert speaker for the band and was met with Alexander’s enthusiasm and interest in coming in to speak. Alexander ended up doing a slideshow presentation for the whole school for more than thirty minutes about the 10,000 year clock – and his young audience was captivated!

He talked about different monuments that have stood the test of time and the reasons they continue to exist in human consciousness, and how the Long Now has thought about keeping the 10,000 year clock in future civilization’s minds. How will the clock stay preserved? How will it stay powered? How can we imagine 10,000 years in the future, and how can we communicate what the clock is to a future that might have lost track of what we know now? What does 10,000 years actually look like? The staff was all extremely proud of the Brightworks kids as they listened with great respect and asked very thoughtful questions throughout.

A big thank you to Alexander from the Long Now for coming in and brightening our minds, and thanks to Quinn for reaching out and making this happen!

clock tower

The week before our Thanksgiving break, the Hummingbirds took a field trip to the Ferry Building to make observations of the clock tower there and listen for the chimes. To prepare for their trip, Shawna showed them a timeline of the history of clocks and they discussed why it was built where it was and what purpose it served.


She writes, “We talked briefly about the mechanics inside the clock tower, connecting to the little plastic gear and pendulum clocks they had made with Cynthia and Ellen a few weeks ago when I was out. I explained that we wouldn’t get to go inside that day, but we could be detectives and try to find clues inside the building as to how it works, or its history. For those of us who have seen the clock tower a lot, it would be extra challenging to find something new that we hadn’t ever noticed before.”



During their trip, they made observations about the mechanics that made the clock work, its immense height, and what it might look like inside, though they were unable to see it for themselves.


This week, they’ve returned to the clock tower and have started to design clock towers of their own. Shawna writes, “The children studied images of different clock towers from around the world as inspiration for their designs. Some of the children drew more than one design. Lucy commented that Sadie’s reminded her of a birthday cake.”


They took the clock tower idea even further and decided to build their own models! Shawna said, “After gathering some design ideas, we picked out cardboard from the Shop and got to work drawing lines and using box cutters to cut out our shapes. Aurora decided that her clock tower would be modeled after Big Ben. Largo first made a window, then changed his mind and made a big circle around it, deciding instead to make the clock itself. He announced, “Mine is going to be so big!” Lucy announced that she was going to make a clock tower that was a little like the Eiffel Tower but more like a giraffe.”




The Hummingbirds will be pursuing the idea of building a clock tower and Shawna says she’s excited to explore building a tall, stable structure with the kids and see if they can make clock hands work on the towers they build themselves in studying gears and how they work with Sean in the workshop.

siphon, go extinct, timeline

As the Megaband moves into writing declarations for their projects this week, I wanted to go back in time to the explorations they were working on before break and the things they have learned since. Each student is writing his or her own blog, so instead of reporting on their weeks myself, I’ll let them do the talking:

“We were also working on water timers, or Clepsydras (which means water thief), where water flows out of the bottom of a jar or bottle into another jar or bottle and acts as a timer,” Harry writes. “The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians used it for things such as debates and trials. One problem with this invention is that when it got closer to the bottom, it would lose pressure and not be consistent with how fast it was going out earlier.”

“This week I learned that if you take a plastic tube and put it in one bucket of water and put the other end in the other bucket you make something called a siphon. Practical!” Tab said.


“We have been breaking into two groups lately to learn about history and math!” says Zada. “We have been reading A Little History of the World, and we are using things we learn from that to make a timeline from 3100 B.C.~2013 C.E. We had just been planning our time line until this week when we started making it! We took thin strips of paper and marked them with black, red, and yellow marks to show time periods. We tried to laminate them by putting clear tape on them, but we didn’t do it successfully and we had to redo the whole thing (great lesson demonstrating that quality beats quantity every time)!”


Alicia writes, “We are making a timeline that goes all the back to 3000 BC. That was a long time a go…That’s was over 5,000 years ago. In this timeline every 10 inches is 50 years so every inch is 5 years. So the timeline would be about 3,500 inches, that’s long!”

“Next our band got to see a developing game called go extinct,” Ian says. “The game is a game that shows you the relation of animals and how they are related to certain animals. Our band got to try playing the game I found it fun and so did many other fellow students.”


Quinn explained in more detail: “We had game designer, Ariel, come into our school as an expert. She shared with us the evolution centered game she is creating. She explained the goal and rules of the game and we broke up into groups to play it. I was put with Josh. G and Theo. B. The game is called Go Extinct and resembles Go Fish except instead of numbers it’s animals on the cards. The goal of the game is to collect the most clades, which means a group of species that are decedents from a common ancestor. clades can be very big or very small. All mammals are a clade because they share a common ancestor. You can get small and more specific though. For instance, monotremes are another clade but only consist of several animals. Monotremes are a clade within a clade. To help enforce and amplify these rules Ariel created a evolutionary family tree for the animals in the game. You could use this to see all of the animals you need to collect for each of the clades.”


“It is a game based on go fish but it is about the relationships between different animals and which animals have a common ancestor!” Evan says. “Then we were tasked with making an expansion pack. So it was really fun doing a beta test of the game!”


“The last big thing we did was watch some of a documenting on Stephen Hawking,” Josh writes. “He is the planets smartest scientist. And he can only use his eyes and brain! He had to do all the calculations in his head. No paper.”


Jack writes, in reference to looking for experts to talk to, “When I started my expert emails, I didn’t know what I wanted to learn about. Then I researched about our internal clock biology. I found this biologist’s page about our internal clocks and learned that if we damaged it, we might get insomnia, cancer or depression. Phillip said that the source that I had found would be better after some basic lessons in the topic so I continued my research. I have now identified a new resource that I hope to have approved so that I can write an expert inquiry.”