It’s Declaration Week at Brightworks, and while students started brainstorming ideas for their expression projects, we sought out inspiration on surfboards!

Ambigo after an epic day of surfing!

Fortunately for us, Brightworks is just a 20 minute drive to Linda Mar Beach, a perfect spot for any newbie surfer to feel the power of the waves. Most of the group had never been swimming in the Pacific Ocean before, and for many this was their first time surfing. We worked with experienced surfers to learn the basics: protect your head, keep your eyes on the waves, and fall flat.

We lucked out with some pretty perfect conditions, and everyone was able to catch a wave or two. Most of us boogied in, and a few even managed to pop up on their boards.

Everyone found a way to move with the water—on surf boards, boogie boards, and simply body surfing.

Khalia was ready to catch some waves after a one-on-one lesson with Sean.

Owen and Rhone are all smiles after spending the day on the water.

Elijah rolling in with the waves.

Anthony and Amparo grilling up tasty treats.

After a long day of surfing it was great to grill out!

How did we move with the water, and why? Back at school the group took some time to reflect on the time we spent surfing. Many realized how important it was to work with the water, rather than to fight against it. We also discussed the salinity of our blood, and compared that to the salinity of the ocean. We noticed how easy it was to float in our wetsuits, and some talked about regulating their buoyancy with their breath (like the submarines we designed a few weeks ago). The trip was a great way for us to reconnect with the sea before submitting declarations for approval, and diving into our expression projects!

MagAmberGo Overnight on the USS Pampanito

Magenta, Amber, and Indigo (MagAmberGo) spent 17 hours on a World War II Balao class Fleet submarine, the USS Pampanito, to get up close to WWII submarine technology. We built batteries, practiced active sonar listening, simulated buoyancy, made periscopes, and deciphered patrol orders to plot our course.  After our tasks, we had dinner as a crew, and took turns on night watch. The next morning, the group reflected on their stay to consider if they could make it the full 75 days that most submariners would have been asked to do.

If you were asked to stay on the USS Pampanito for 75 days, would you?

“Yeah. I mean, because it’s a submarine, and it’s awesome. I’d rather go jump out of an airplane in the airborne, but I could do it. If it was a more modern submarine I could do it.”—Declan

“I would jump off. Sleep would be the hardest part, especially if there’s snoring.”—Khalia

“I would not because it is so hard to sleep. The beds are super uncomfortable, like plastic.”—Norabelle

“Absolutely not. I hate being on the water for more than five days. The beds were super uncomfortable.”—Elijah

“No. Because they don’t shower, it’s really small, we all have to sleep together in the same room, really cramped together. If I were the captain maybe I would be able to do it.”—Ella


“No, I wouldn’t want to be cut off from the world for 75 days at a time. If I were on the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, that would be cool. There’s a library and a museum! Nemo’s got a whole room to himself on the Nautilus.”—Audrey

“No way. I felt seasick the whole time.”—Felix

“If it was out, attached to ropes, and there were other people out there with me, then I would do it. I would not want to be submerged though.”—Rhone

“I think it would be fun. No war, but I could do it for a long time. I really like confined spaces.”—Oscar

“Well, I don’t know, it depends on if we were going to be at war with a lot of other ships or if we were just going to be patrolling another area to observe another enemy. I don’t think I would want to be engaged in combat because we could potentially die. If we were just there observing the area, or just defending our area then, yeah, I think I would in that situation.”—Morgan

“I wouldn’t do it on an old submarine. I would want a new one that is less sketchy, and probably work better. The Pampanito doesn’t work anymore. I hate airplanes, but for some reason it doesn’t scare me to go under water.”—Dash

“No. I almost didn’t do this trip because I have a big fear of submarines. Well, I kind of just wanted to see how I felt on a submarine because I had never been on one, but just whenever I think about them it kind of freaks me out. During the audio tour I was kind of feeling claustrophobic. Then once we got our bunks I was really freaking out because I was on the floor, but I was able to trade it up to a higher bunk. I don’t ever want to see a submarine again.” —Clem

“I wouuuld, but it would depend on how much I got paid. I would probably do it, as long as the crew didn’t snore. I would do it if I got paid a reasonable wage, and I could sleep.”—Kaia

“Nope, I feel like I would be extremely stressed. This is a really unfamiliar space, and I don’t have a good time with that.”—Corin

“If I were 18, during the Great Depression, then yes. Because money. It’s the Great Depression, and I’m 18. There aren’t a lot of jobs. Lack of space and sunlight would be difficult.”—Aidan

“I don’t think any amount of money could convince me to spend a prolonged period of time on there. I think just lack of sunlight, being in a confined space, all of that would be so draining emotionally, I don’t think it would be worth it.”—Zoe

“I feel like possibly if I was, let’s say, in college, and I had nowhere to live. Having free rent would be nice. Especially since Pampanito, or a ship similar size to that, is much larger than most apartments people have in California.”—Max Mayman

“I would not stay on any boat for 75 days. Maybe a kayak, and if I was able to get off to go camping. I would not be on a boat for 75 days straight.”—Liem


“You’re pretty much in a black box. The lives on board are either resting in your hands or someone else’s hands. We have a ¼ chance of dying out here. That’s awful! That’s something I don’t want to risk.”—Josh

“I probably wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t be a nightmare. Of course, that’s assuming that there’s no chance of death, no war.”—Cory

“Yes, I made my mind up a long time ago that I was going to do some stint in the armed services. Once Trump got elected I also said to myself that I’m not going to enlist until he’s out of office because I don’t want to fight a war that we have no business fighting. Under the right leadership I would. Also, there is a part of me that is drawn to small confined spaces on long voyages. We took a lot of long car trips in a very small car as a family. I think it partially originates from that. I’ve always had thoughts about building a small boat and sailing it around the world.”—Jack


Indigo Blast-Off!

This week, Indigo Band has been journaling, developing group agreements on how we treat one another and the space, setting up accounts for the various services we use in the band, completing design challenges around flight, and learning how to prototype in cardboard. The kids set goals for themselves in various areas of their lives and got to know one another better. 

Quite a discussion! The kids’ interpretations of our goals are on the right.

Working with Amber has been great for many of the kids who have friends in different bands and has been an opportunity for those new to Brightworks to interact with a larger community. Megan and I have been working closely to make sure the kids get a chance to spend time as a larger group to foster friendships outside of their bands while still making sure they get Indigo-only time as well.   In the afternoons, Amber and Indigo (henceforth referred to as Ambigo) have been completing design challenges to foster teamwork and collaboration as well as emphasizing the importance of delegating tasks. The kids working in pairs to create a parachute in the wind tunnel that hovered in a given area. They next day they worked in triads experimenting with the structure and capabilities of cardboard.

The girls managed to get their parachute to stay in the target area

Using scoring to create a 3D shape was one of the challenges

We closed out the week playing “Buildtionary” with cardboard, using the skills learned on Thursday to create a creature based on nouns and adjectives pulled out of a hat. It quite impressive what they were able to make in the time we had. They only had a little over an hour from start to finish!

Dash, Oscar, and Kaia showing off their finished product

Owen and Rhone add a stabalizing piece to the back of their Penguin

Next week is Kite Week for the majority of bands at BWX. We will be learning about the history of kites, geometry of kites, making kites from scratch, reading Dragonwings together, going to SFMOMA, visiting a kite store, and flying kites together as a school on Bernal Hill (wind permitting). I have a feeling Kite Week might run long!

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.

Band Swap – Psychology

The past month, the middle school and high school bands have been rotating between collaborators. Each member of the Upper School team wanted their kids to have access to certain similar elements of “human” – early civilizations, body systems and maintenance, civil rights, and psychology. These four subjects were decided on because, well, they’re important (duh!) but also because the kids have explicitly expressed interest in these areas over the course of the year.

Instead of the traditional single-collaborator dive into each one of these, it made more sense for each teacher to specialize in an area and have the kids cycle through.

We designed a week-long crashcourse in each area, with a small culminating project at the end of each session. The notes, reflections, work, and projects would be physically entered into a portfolio due after the entire wheel. As it’s Spring Break currently, the students are wrapping up each of their projects and getting them ready to submit.

Once submitted, each project earns an individual button!

Check out my button for psychology:

The course questions for psychology were amended for each particular age group, of course, but went as follows:

  • what is psychology? why is it hard to study or learn about?
  • what are “knowns” about psychology? what are trends enough they’re truths? (focused on cognitive development and stages in developmental psychology!)
  • how do we learn these “truths”? is there anything we disagree with about them? what are the ethics of studying them?
  • how do we behave? what do we want to know? can we design a psychological study to figure it out?
The culminating project for the psychology course was to design an independent social study to answer a research question of interest to the student. Ideally, if one of the kids wants to turn it into an arc project, they now have the time to perform their study and analyze the data. But, if not, at least they have practice thinking critically about the ethics and development of a psychological study.
And, because the Exploratorium has an exhibit all about social studies (specifically, not the curricular arena) and sharing right now, we were even able to go and play out several of these experiments!
The other projects were: to create a full-scale ancient civilization with all the key components; to research and then write a civil rights bill that would impact groups of people today; to write a love letter to a system of the body and explain why it’s so remarkable.
We get back to school on Monday! I can’t wait to see their work.
Oh, and then we jump into sex ed. ~~

Blue+Indigo: Upper School Band Swap Week 3


Oh Hey, Indigo Band!

It was week 3 of Upper School Band Swap, I had a great week hanging out with you. We talked about so many unexpected things and in such deep and productive ways. In fact, Wednesday was the best day ever. For realz. No joke. Seriously.


Let me tell you why Wednesday was the best day ever.

During the Band Swap, on every Wednesday (#hellagayday) I have been doing a 90 minute crash course in same sex marriage history. Starting in 1962 with the first state to legalize homosexual acts in private, I try to demonstrate how state laws effect federal laws, how federal laws blockade progress and how state in turn find ways around the blockades. Using the lens of same sex marriage is just a tactic to help explain all of these other really complicated  inner workings of the US government and legal system. This content is just a way for us to talk about how laws shape humanity, and how humanity sometimes fights back.

This past #hellagayday started much like the others. I drew my timeline on the board, we watched a video, and chatted. And then something unexpected and magical happened — all of these simple historical provocations sparked all of these other things for the Band. And suddenly, we went from talking about Gavin Newsom’s political stunt in 2004 to talking about polygamy, to talking about trans rights, to talking about gender as a spectrum, to talking about sex as a spectrum, to talking about what happens if a baby is born with both sets of genitals.

Indigo, you had serious, thoughtful, complicated, and beautiful questions about what it means to be human in 2016. We had in depth, critical, and respectful conversation about all of these things (and more). This is what it means to be an educator at this school: having the freedom to productively tangent, explore ideas, be flexible and excited, and above everything, be genuinely interested.

I could have continued this conversation for an additional 90 minutes. I could have been sitting in a college classroom. I could have been chatting with a group of friends on a Saturday night.

So, heartemojis to you, Indigo!


Meanwhile, the rest of the week was an interesting lesson (for me!) in what it means to be a teen human in 2016:

Did you know that pretty advanced technology is just a simple part of every life for these humans?
No big deal. It’s totally normal to video conference an assessment meeting, or to record yourself doing your homework assignment, upload it to YouTube, and then embed it into a Google Slides presentation for when you’re absent.


Also, safety has been an interesting topic of conversation this week.

I spent the week wearing safety goggles because in a fit of excitement, a pencil was thrown in during the morning check in. This has sparked all sorts of conversation, including what it means to “consent” to something, how tools can be used inappropriately as weapons, and also the difference between play and fighting and what can happen when the lines are blurred.


And this happened:


Also, as uncool as they sometimes might pretend it is, our penpals are on our minds.

Blue is having some pretty interesting conversations with their mystery East Bay friends. Some folks are writing under pseudonyms and presenting them fictional stories, while others are asking some intriguing questions. It’s rumored that our friends in Oakland are interested in having a picnic with Blue, and we are working out the details.


With that, here’s to another week!

Band Swap rotates me back with Blue this week, so it’ll be interesting to close out this curriculum with some familiar faces.

What a (topographic) Relief!

Hard at work

As we near the end of the Rock Arc, I realized we have the time to do one more project if we all help out. One of the ideas that came up was to make a relief map from a topographic map of San Francisco. To do this, we had to find a suitable map, pick the right materials, and take turns with each job.

Yesterday, Ally and Lucie spent a good amount of time making a scale model of our large map. They cut out the layers of small map to estimate how much cardboard/wood/foam board we would need. If we had enough, foam board would be the best because it’s light and easy to cut.

Ally and Lucie prepare the model

Ally and Lucie prepare the model

The end result was really cool and got everyone excited. Even the layers of paper looked great. Imagine what a 48″x48″ version would look like!

San Francisco, looking pretty

San Francisco, looking pretty

After we had the pieces, the kids figured out we would only need four 48″x48″ sheets of material, so we could use the foam board that I have. Lucie and Ally finished the model, so they were the first to start tracing the layers for our larger version. Once they finished, Evan and Amelia traced the next layer (101-200 ft in elevation).

The next day, Ally started cutting out her outline of the city while Amelia and Evan finished drawing. This took a little practice because they are using my hot knives to cut out the map. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically an X-acto blade on a soldering iron. The knife cuts the paper and melts the foam which gives you great control and clean cuts. By the end of the say, all the layers have been traced. Hopefully tomorrow we can assemble!

Cassandra and JP cut away

Max Traces

Amelia Cutting

Meanwhile, the rest of the band was working hard adding their research topics to the group timeline. Each student was assigned a topic (sea levels, animals, human ancestors, plants, etc) and had to add 8-10 of these to our timeline. Hopefully we’ll finish this timeline by the end of the arc!

Timeline Progress

Timeline Progress