Blue: Mathing and Memorizing


This week was a strange week for Blue. We ended up doing a few things that, at their core, struck me as antithetical to Brightworks — but we ended up doing them in some pretty Brightworksy ways.

We’ve been doing math in the mornings. All the students are at different levels in math (which admittedly makes it sometimes difficult to teach group lessons), so we’ve mostly been using an online module to assist with lesson instruction. I get them all going at the same time, and they work independently on lessons. I float from student to student and assist. The lessons vary from fractions to inordinate mapping to surface area calculation to logic problems. It’s pretty “real school” like sometimes, and sometimes Blue hates that, and sometimes it’s okay. This week it’s been okay. And then something magical happened.

“Amanda! Can you explain Pythagorean Theorem?” I got asked. “I understand how to figure out the equation, but I don’t really get how it works or why.”

(Yes. Duh. Totally. We’re gonna get off the computer to do this. Meet me in the shop after lunch.)


This simple question turned into an afternoon of math exploration. I set up a series of problems for Clem and Kaia in the shop so they could practice using the Pythagorean Theorem. I cut a length of paracord, used screws as three points on a triangle, and kept moving the points around. For each math problem, I asked them to calculate the length of cord needed to wrap around the triangle. They each solved the problem on paper, and then we tested their answers.


This was all well and good, but why? Why does this work?

“I actually can’t remember,” I told them, and we consulted the internet.

Thank you, Vi Hart, for explaining it so well! We spent the rest of the afternoon testing out triangles and watching more math videos.


In a similar vein, Clem’s project has begun to bloom into a meditation on the intersections of rote memorization and figure drawing. She is testing out the hypothesis that learning about the structures of anatomy will make her a better illustrator of humans. She began by doing a drawing of arms and hands, and is now taking the time to study the bones and muscles that make up the body parts found in her drawing. Then at the end of the study, she will draw the same composition again and compare the two.

We usually don’t explicitly memorize things for the sake of memorizing things, so when Clem came to me one morning this week and asked me to witness her testing herself, it felt a little strange.


Nonetheless, we sat in the dining room and went through the names and correct spelling of the bones that make up the wrist. With this simple activity came a whole discussion about memorization tactics, strategies for spelling words that you don’t have any idea how to pronounce, and also about the structural intricacies of wrist bones. This conversation quickly shifted into a discussion about short-term and long-term memory, and after Clem asked if I would re-test her right then, I then told her to give it a rest and move on to something else.

“I think our brains work the same,” I told her. “Go draw for a bit and come back to this.”

She said no, that she had started making the quiz for the next part of the hand and since earlier in the week I taught her how to use the photocopier, she wanted to prep her testing materials.


(Well, imagine that — excitement about testing!)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Blue: Declare Your Project


During one of our closing circles last week, one of the Blue Banders raised his hand to share an appreciation with the school. “I want to appreciate Amanda for turning our Declaration writing into a game! It’s helped us all make better Declarations!”

Without further adieu, I present: The Declaration Flowchart.


The Declaration Flowchart has been up in the Bandspace for the past two weeks. It accounted for every step of the process from brainstorming to drafting to revision to project starting, and it helped do two things:

  1. The Flowchart both tracked and displayed the student’s progress to me and the rest of the Band.
  2. The Flowchart also helped the students remain independent and self-motivated as they drafted and refined their ideas.


Additionally, the Chart incorporated several opportunities for direct feedback from me and other people in the BWX Community. It allowed an audience to ask questions and challenge the student’s ideas, and thus built INTO the process places for Blue to respond directly to holes in their logic and practice re-explaining and re-pitching their ideas before going to the Administration for approval.


The other really great part about the Declaration Flowchart was the day that we all sat down and created avatars to track our progress. I even drew myself and asked Blue to catch up to me on the Flowchart. Creating a visual that the kids had to look at everyday (as it took up A WHOLE WALL of the Bandspace) generated an external representation of a process that is usually largely done in abstract and nonrepresentational ways.

After all, who really sees how many times you delete a sentence when drafting a letter?
Who knows if you’ve gotten feedback from other people?
Who is really going to know if you’re revising writing?

…especially if we’re editing something in Google Docs. And everyone is independently working on their computer. And everyone in the Band is too anxious and focused on their own work to look up and realize that everyone else is struggling with the same thing they are.


Who really knows what we’re working on if we can’t all see it?

To further cement the awesome progress that everyone made last week, on Friday, Blue did 2 minute / 8 slide pitches of their project to the Band. We got to see some more visuals and got to hear what people were thinking. In a lot of ways, this presentation was also a litmus test for understanding — we all agreed, if you can’t talk about your project to other people, you probably don’t actually know what your project is.

And with that, this week on Friday, we are doing a take two. Everyone can definitely pitch their project better, and we’re gonna try it again.


Declarations aside, we also had some fun this week!




Fake Animal Ears!


Library Elevator Selfies!


Orange Band: Human, Week 8

Our hands post figure drawing with MB! What a great workshop, more details below.

Our hands post figure drawing with MB! What a great workshop, more details below.

This week was all about declarations, and wow was it great to build on the foundation of our work during the Seed Arc. This time around, each kiddo wrote their own declaration, using a form that we designed together and will meet with a member of the administration to get their project plan approved–yay!

We hit the ground running (as per usual) Monday morning with declaration form design. We remembered the things we needed to include in our project plans: the What, the How and the Why. What do we want to make/experiment with/research? What tools, materials and resources will we use? How will we complete this project, what is our plan? And, why do we want to do this project? How does it connect to what we learned during exploration?

With some building blocks in the back of my mind, I prompted kiddos to describe to me what a declaration should include and look like, and the order they thought the information should be presented in the form. And this is what we came up with!

The declaration form we designed together.

The declaration form we designed together.

I find that taking the time to create resources like this with learners pays off exponentially in the future. During the Seed Arc, we established together everything that should be included in a declaration. So, when we got around to writing our Human Arc declarations, so many kiddos remembered exactly what we needed in a declaration writing form. We were able to have this design session using an established vocabulary that everyone could understand.

I was worried that thinking ahead to make a goal for their project work each week would be a bit too challenging; kids this age are deeply rooted in the present, it is very hard for them to plan. We framed the weeks this way: Week 1 is ‘Write declarations’ for everyone, and Week 5 is ‘Get ready to present for everyone.’ What will you need to do in the 3 weeks in the middle? Then, I decided to take it one step further: for the remaining Monday mornings of the Human Arc, everyone will make themselves a checklist of what they need to get done during that week–just like Elsa, Be Thorough! We talked about how our declaration represents the big picture of our larger goal and project. And, in order to complete our projects, we’ll need to break them down into accomplishable tasks. We filled out our Week 1 checklist together, because, again, everyone’s would be almost the same: Write declaration, meet with an administrator, revise and get approved, and RESEARCH.

Emilio and Justine look over Emilio's declaration, making recommendations for how he can make improvements.

Emilio and Justine look over Emilio’s declaration, making recommendations for how he can make improvements.

Huge shoutout to Sadie’s mom, MB for the workshop she came in and led Friday morning! We talked earlier this arc about doing some figure drawing  with the Orange Band, and we finally worked it into our schedule.  MB is a talented artist, and has a great understanding of both art history and how to present these topics to young kids. She started out with a quick rundown of some of the different ways the human form has been represented throughout history, from the simple, to more detailed and realistic, to impressionist and expressionist and abstract. It was really important to me to show many different ways that humans have drawn and painted to humans. Then, we used different types of charcoal to draw at different speeds. Using a harder charcoal pencil, we drew one of our bandmates who held a pose for several moments. After that, we used a softer charcoal to quickly draw another bandmate who changed her pose about every 30 seconds. Wham bam thank you ma’am! MB did an awesome job of emphasizing that these drawings were not meant to be perfect. Our job was to think about the shapes we saw, the movement of the model’s body, and putting charcoal to paper.

MB shows us how to use our pencil to measure what we see and keep our model's (Gita!) body proportional.

MB shows us how to use our pencil to measure what we see and keep our model’s (Gita!) body proportional.

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You’re doing it right if you’re laughing and smiling with your friends!

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Isaac shows Tesla the way he drew the shapes of her arms after she modeled for us with rapid fire poses.

And, what are our expression projects you might ask? We’re making a human body together, of course! We’ll be filling up one of our tape sculpture bodies with body parts! Ask your kiddo which body part they plan to contribute!

Being Human

Over the past few weeks the Red Band dove into a study of the human body. We started with the largest organ, your skin, and continued our organ study with the help of some guts:

To aid our study of anatomy we read about different systems in the body: skeletal, muscular, vascular, and digestive in Head to Toe, What’s Inside?, and Who Has What?


We continued to explore the weird and amazing things a body could do while exercising our senses. This study allowed us to imagine a world where our senses could be superhuman, aside from the obvious ability to have all superhuman powers, of course. Superheroes and powers take many forms as we learned from Molly Lou Melon. The Red Band also focused on disability awareness: What would you do if you could not speak, see, or hear? What if you could not walk or write? We were also hosted at Creativity Explored where we toured the studio, spoke with the featured artist, and created an original Red Band mural.


Prior to our visit to Creativity Explored the kids held a thoughtful and considerate conversation about judging other people. We set the standard, No Judgements, for our visit. By continuing this study I hope to continue this idea with the kids and help them incorporate it into their daily lives and interactions with one another.

March ended with a trip to the Exploratorium with Orange where we experimented with sight and sound, social behavior and feelings, and organisms and ecosystems.




Upper School Sex Ed

Last week, the upper school spent the entire week on a comprehensive sex ed curriculum. We made up the curriculum, of course, but it hit the following key points:

– what happens to bodies?

– what is sex?

– what is gender?

– what is consent?

– what goes on in puberty and after? why?

– how to be healthy and safe


The first couple of days, we split the kids into unique groups. Phillip and Simons worked with half of them on understanding sex, gender, sexuality, and components of those things regarding mental and emotional levels. Willow and I took the kids and talked about biological changes and expectations in bodies and health regarding these changes.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we broke up into girls and boys Q&A sessions. On Wednesday, the girls got together with the female collaborators and boys with boys. On Thursday, we switched! So girls went with the male collaborators and boys with the females.

The questions were so thoughtful and helpful. It was a really wonderful week.

If interested, you can check out the sex q&a document for the upper school here. 

It was one of my favorite weeks teaching, to be sure.

Violet Band: Robotics Update

The Violet Band has been deep in their robotics courses. We’re studying how robots are ways to think and learn more about humans and human brains.

We started by understanding the difference between fearful and aggressive motions – or when sensors are programmed to move away from light or to move toward light. Having slight differences in the programming changes the way a baby bot moves dramatically.

We advanced to learning about how our brain connects with nerves and sensors in our own bodies, and how to use that information to create signals and responses in robots.

On Thursday last week, they started creating their own baby bots.

Some of the kids are choosing to do robotics projects for their choice projects! Stay tuned…

Blue (+Upper School): Let’s Talk About Sex



This week was pretty uncomfortable. But in that discomfort, some amazing things happened.


Similar to the Upper School Band Swap, during this week, the Upper School mixed things up in order to teach Sex Ed.

On Monday and Tuesday, the students got a crash course in physical anatomy+body changes and in the mental+emotional aspects of sex and relationships. The Bands were paired up (Teal+Blue, and Indigo+Violet) and they spent the mornings hanging out with co-teachers. Rich and Oberski teamed up to talk biology, and me and Phillip co-taught sex/gender/sexuality and consent. 


While I can’t personally speak for Rich+Oberski’s sessions, some wonderfully rich conversation happened with the kids, Phillip, and me. We established group norms, talked about how uncomfortable our discussions might be, and also created a safe space for the students to ask candid and honest questions without fear of being judged or of their privacy being violated. In a school that’s constantly being documented and observed, this was sometimes a tall order. (…And it also meant that I didn’t take many photos this week, and I didn’t post to Instagram much.)

Creating a safe and non-judgemental space for the kids to learn comfortably about a delicate (and usually stigmatized) topic also meant that the Collaborators had to be open and welcoming in their answers. We carefully, considerately, and honestly answered sometimes very personal questions about our own private relationships.

And on Wednesday and Thursday, we did just that in formal sessions.

For this second half of the week, Oberski+Lindsay+Me teamed up to host a 90-minute panel discussion, and Rich+Phillip did the same. All week, we had encouraged the kids to anonymously (or not) submit questions that they had related to sex and relationships. We compiled all the questions, discussed our answered to them in a staff meeting, and then hosted an open Q&A with the students. On Wednesday, the girls hung out with the girl panel and boys with boys, and then on Thursday we swapped (adult boys+student girls, adult girls+student boys).*

*Also, point of clarity on all of this: we chatted a long time about the division of boys/girls for the Q&A sessions and the way that division problematizes some of the binary thinking that we had been dismantling in our conversations all week. By and large, we acknowledged that it caused problems to split the kids like that, but also ultimately decided on the division based on shared anatomical experience of body changes and puberty.


We talked about a lot things and answered a lot of questions this week. We addressed things like body changes, masturbation, virginity, consent, sexuality, gender identity, feminism, body image, sexual health (physical+emotional), porn, and also where to go for answers to questions as they arise, and whatever point in your lifetime they arise.

Without digging too deep, I think that’s really the takeaway from this week: where to go for answers to questions as they arise.

By thoughtfully and explicitly creating a safe space for kids to ask honest questions without judgement, we learned a lot about ourselves, the capabilities of this school, and about the students. They are deeply and critically thinking, curious people. And they have lots of questions.

The one thing that I kept thinking about and trying to emphasize with Blue and with everyone, all week, was that sex is a topic that we as an American culture have been taught not to talk about. If we’ve been taught not to talk about it, and have a question about it, sometimes it’s confusing where or how we can safely find an answer. The last thing that I would want for any of these students (or for anyone) is to go searching for the answer in the wrong place or to find the wrong answer. This week was about creating a space where it was okay to ask, and where we weren’t going to lead them down a wrong path.

In fact, we also demonstrated that sometimes the answers to certain questions are different for different people. And that’s okay too. We don’t all look the same. We don’t all think the same. And in relationships, that’s tricky. Half the battle is recognizing those differences, and the other half is making sure that you’re taking care of yourself while considering the safety and feelings of others.

And with that, I think that Upper School did a great job at teaching sex ed.