out in the field

A core principle at Brightworks is to get kids out in the world almost as much as they are in school – the world has so much to show and teach us, and we greatly benefit from being in an accessible city with so many resources within our reach. Last week, there was a band missing every day as they found arc-related experiences all over town.

On Monday the Megaband visited the California Academy of Science to see a couple of planetarium shows about the earliest light from the creation of the universe, dark matter, and antimatter. The students’ curiosities were sparked after listening to the third segment of RadioLab’s show on symmetry and mirrors, called “Nothing’s the Antimatter.”

On Tuesday, the Elephants ventured out to the Exploratorium to check out the mirror exhibits there.





Wednesday found the Hummingbirds in Glen Canyon Park, their usual weekly field trip to explore the nearby wild in the city.



On Thursday, the Banditos went with the Hummingbirds to the Mirror Maze at Fisherman’s Wharf.



The Banditos then met the Hawks at the Exploratorium for their own scavenger hunt around the museum.







angles of reflection

To begin their study of angles of incidence and reflection, the Hawks asked, “Does a ball bounce off of a wall the same way light bounces off of a mirror?”

They made a couple hypotheses and came up with an experiment to test them using a ball dipped in paint that would trace its path. They compared the path of a laser pointer with the orange paint ball paths.


As Mackenzie writes, “The group started to see some patterns emerging between the path of the ball and the path of the laser beam. They also began to be able to predict where the ball would bounce to. A new question emerged: ‘What is the relationship between the angle at which light hits the mirror and the angle at which it leaves?’ To answer this we traced the path that a laser beam travels as it enters and leaves a mirror then measured these angles.”

After they measured several angles, the Hawks began to see that the angle of light entering a mirror is the same as the angle at which it leaves!


With this knowledge, the Hawks were given a laser game provocation where they had to orient mirrors precisely enough to hit a fixed target. They had to use what they’d learned about angles of incidence and reflection being equal, and used a protractor to be as precise as possible.




Despite the fact that a traditional trajectory of math doesn’t introduce such skills until the seventh grade, the eight-year-old Hawks used pre-algebra skills to solve the angle challenges in the game, since they only knew the value of one angle. They turned to angle challenges in the abstract – on paper! – and loved wrestling with these problems.


To connect these ideas to a real-world situation, the Hawks visited the Billiards Palacade. Mackenzie writes, “In small teams the Hawks solved problems involving bank shots that put their understanding of angles of reflection to the test.” They used protractors, rulers, and ball launchers to experiment with distances and angles of reflection that would get a ball to bounce right into a pocket







They had some help with queues from a local pool shark!


Their experiments continued with further provocations back at school. Mackenzie writes, “The Hawks were put in pairs each with a covered mirror and a designated spot. Each team had to figure out where their partner had to stand in order to see each other in the mirror.”


They also took inspiration from the Ancient Egyptian pyramid builders who used polished metal to light the tomb walls for painting their murals. Mackenzie placed targets throughout the school and challenged the kids to use mirrors to hit the targets with sunlight, which they traced on blueprints of the school.

The Hawks have been so impressive in their understanding of these concepts and their ability to translate what they’re learning to new situations!

mirror maze

Today, the Elephants, the Kleineband, and Velocity headed out of the building on an excursion to the Mirror Maze at the wharfs. On the way, they made stops at the Musee Mechanique to explore old arcade games and fun-house mirrors and for some sketching of the submarine parked at the docks.






mirrormaze green


submarine sketch


Meanwhile, back at school, the Hawks and the Hummingbirds looked at pictures of the first year of Brightworks when we realized that two bands’ worth of kids plus a handful of adults is more kids than we had on the first day of school in the first year. How far we’ve come!


mirror blogs

The members of the Megaband have resumed their blog writing this arc. Matylda and Quinn wrote great posts about the first two weeks of the new Mirrors arc. Here are some excerpts and thoughts from the two of them:

From Matylda:

On Tuesday my band had classes about mirrors. We were experimenting with mirror-writing.

First, our teacher showed us interesting article about Leonardo Da Vinci (http://www.inventorpat.com/leonardo.htm). Leonardo didn’t write normal. He wrote using mirrors. People couldn’t read his notes. We don’t know why did he write like this but probably it was kind of secret code. This article shows other explanation of it. Enjoy reading :)

Leonardo da Vinci’s notes

We wrote in mirror too. It was really funny and really difficult. I tried mirror drawing – it was more difficult than writing!

From Quinn:

Throughout the next week, we studied art with Phillip. He taught us about the six elements of art: 1. Lines 2. Shapes 3. Form 4. Color 5. Texture 6. Space. After he taught us about those, he taught us about all the different kinds of symmetry. We picked three different kinds of the symmetry related categories and made collages with paper cut outs of the shapes. We also talked about how you can relate mirrors to art.


One day with Christie, Velocity read an article all about mirrors and if they lie or tell the truth. We also wrote our own entries about whether we thought that mirrors lied or not and why.

triangle pattern

Over the course of a couple days the band managed to listen to a full length radio lab podcast about mirrors. There were three sections and the first section talked about people mirroring other people. The second section was about the difference between what you see yourself like in the mirror and how other people see you from their perspective. The third section was about anti-particles that are basically mirrored normal particles. We all wrote down something that interested us that they mentioned in the podcast. We then all researched that thing and wrote a paragraph about it. I was interested in cloud chambers which they mentioned in the third section. Here’s my entry:

I was wondering about cloud chambers and how they worked. I found out that you can use them to figure out if a room consists of filtered, dust free air or if it consists of dust. For cloud chambers to work there needs to be dust in the room. You drop water molecules (they would be so tiny that you wouldn’t be able to see them with a naked eye) and if there isn’t dust, they would just fall to the ground and they wouldn’t make a cloud or interact with other water droplets. But if there is dust, you would get a quite interesting result. The dust would collect the water molecules and create bigger droplets. As the water molecules attach to the dust particles the water droplets would become visible and they would make clouds. Cloud chambers and this method are most commonly used to detect ionizing radiation which is deadly. This radiation is made up of particles that travel with enough force and speed to launch an electron from an atom or molecule. This radiation can be generated by nuclear reaction, very high temperature or due to acceleration of charged particles. I found this all quite intriguing.



The Hummingbirds have been exploring symmetry in nature and taking their discoveries back to school for more in-depth conversation and experiments.








Today’s dress-up theme was monochrome – wear the same of one color. Phillip took this awesome panoramic of our color wheel at circle this morning!