Passion Podcast Project, producing radio bios of inspiring people

The project idea was straightforward: we wanted students to interview people that followed their passions, took the unconventional path, or decided to work in service of the greater good of an SF-based community. Audio recordings of these interviews would then get transformed into radio story profiles of our interviewees. The resulting podcast stories were just as important as students finding a well-matched interviewee: someone who does that thing the students personally care about, as a way to connect with their own passions and learn from their example.

We started by asking students “what are you passionate about?” or if not passion, “what are you curious about?”

We then asked them to seek out non-profits, companies, or professionals who do these things in their day-to-day lives, to reach out to them, and find someone specific to interview.

Mackenzie dissects her radio story with Magenta.

Mackenzie dissects her radio story with Magenta.

This project stretched out over six weeks and every workshop started with listening to a radio story. We dissect them; pulling apart what was the best parts and the hidden structures of the start or ending to the story.

Each workshop built specific skills and provided tools for students to use in the completion of the work due at the start of the proceeding workshop.

Our Final Podcasts:

Our students interviewed so many fascinating people: a local artist/advocate, the Chief Medical Examiner of SF, an experimental musician, a suicide prevention counselor,  a professional treehouse builder, and more. Then through lessons, peer and collaborator critique, and hours of effort, the students produced the following series of radio stories.

We’ve collected them here as the Passion Podcast Project. Listen below or Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes!

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Magenta is back to school!

It’s September and the Magenta Band (high school group) of Brightworks started the year off with a bang!

The first arc is a short five-week adventure and we are exploring Heart and the symbol – ♡ -we use to represent it. As always, we are approaching this topic from many different viewpoints.

The three Magenta collaborators – Jules, Jay and Molly – chose three questions as the lenses through which we will explore ♡ Heart.

Jules chose the question: What makes your heart tick? For literacy, everyone is going to read Letters to a Young Poet, which is a set of heartfelt letters from Rainer Maria Rilke to a young student asking questions about art and love and finding one’s passion. This is a launching point for each Magenta student to explore their own Passion Project – students will seek out people who have dedicated their lives to their passions in a way that serves the greater good and will interview these role models in short podcast format.

Jay chose the question: What is at the heart of well-being and happiness. Using the Keys to Well-being identified by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, we will be exploring what keeps our metaphorical hearts full and joyful. Jay will lead us on a number of expeditions of the heart, both outdoors and indoors – expect fun, team building, bonding, and exercise!

Molly chose the question: How can we know our own hearts? Through these workshops we will connect our STEM learning to the keys to well-being in our Greater Good Center workshops. We will explore the heart as a physical organ in our body, how it works, how we came to know what we know about it and what we still don’t know. We will examine our own hearts as closely as we can, both physically and emotionally. We will draw connections between the heart as the center of our circulatory system, and its connection to the endocrine system and our hormones, and the heart as the metaphorical source of our love and emotions. We will dive into statistics and graphing as our mathematical connection to ♡ Heart as well.

This first week we introduced these explorations and started to gel as a group. Students created their group agreements for how they want to work together this year. We started reading Letters to a Young Poet, and discussing our passions. We created first and second iterations of our own stethoscopes in order to use our sense that is the easiest way to explore the hearts hidden in our chests. We also started to explore happiness and humor as we dive into the keys to well-being from the Greater Good Center. It’s been a lot for just the first four days and more fun is still to come!

Stay tuned to this blog and to our Instagram account to keep up with our fun adventures in ♡ Heart these next few weeks!

Magenta Starts BWX’s “Museum of Everyday,” Inspired by Icelandic Museum

From the earliest brainstorming sessions for the Cloth Arc, we’ve found that cloth is inextricably tied to metaphor and story — we cannot help but think of the many ways which cloth (and fabric, threads, and more) carries meaning in our conversations. The “moral fabric of our nation,” “weaving of a story or spinning a tale,” finding a “common thread” and more. To deepen our exploration of this connection, we started to discuss creating stories of meaning and how the things we wear carry meaning.

Paired Storytelling

Story of Our Clothes — Storytelling Workshop

First, we had 60 seconds to share a story about an article of clothing with a partner. After each partner had shared within their pair, we joined pairs into groups of four. In these double pairs, we shared what we remembered of our partner’s story (partially a challenge in memory and listening and partially an opportunity to hear your story told back to you). We then had a whole-band discussion about what makes a good short story and what our challenges we had in telling our stories.

Best parts of stories:

  • Unique Experiences
  • Specific Details
  • Make people laugh
  • Stories with emotions, sentimental value, meaning or nostalgia
  • Context to action (set the stage)

Problems with our stories:

  • Need to create meaning
  • Rambling
  • No context
  • Lies
  • Keeping forward motion to the story (linear action)
  • Time management and flow

Sharing stories

Museum of Everyday, Ísafjörður

Ísafjörður, Iceland and the Museum of Everyday

Ísafjörður is the largest city in the Westfjord region of Iceland, but in many ways, it is a very small town (it doesn’t even have any stop lights!). It is surrounded by steep mountains and the cold North Atlantic and it is so close to the North Pole that during summer the sun is visible 24-hours a day and in the winter it is dark all day long.

Many residents of Ísafjörður used to be fishermen, traders or farmers from nearby villages. In recent decades and after the 2008 economic collapse, both the farming and fishing industries faced many challenges and many Icelanders moved to the cities to look for other work. One innovative and new industry for Ísafjörður is using fish skins to produce medical bandages for burn victims.

Jay, a high school collaborator, traveled to Ísafjörður and was inspired by a museum he found there. In the Museum of Everyday, he found a wall of shoes with headphones for people to listen to stories shared by the owner of the shoes. The shoes and stories were collected from people living in Ísafjörður to allow tourist to learn about life in current day Iceland. We were given permission to share these stories with our students and to make our own museum inspired by their collection.

Creating our Brightworks Museum

After our storytelling workshop, we scripted our stories, edited our work with peer feedback, and then read them into our podcast kit, creating an audio file. We combined our audio files with photos of our clothes to create videos and posted it all to @bwxmuseum on Instagram.

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


Magenta Visit to the Hiller Aviation Museum

Field Trip Blog, Part II

Last Thursday, in the afternoon, the Magenta Band went to visit the Hiller Aviation Museum. We saw all of the museum exhibits and also completed an hour-long flight simulation program. Below are pictures from this part of the field trip and students’ descriptions of their afternoon experiences.

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From Max Mercier: Walking into the Hiller Aviation Museum, if you love planes, is like walking through the gates of heaven. There are full-size planes and scale models everywhere, and it’s suffocating in the best way possible. Helicopters, jetpacks, parts of airliners, stunt planes, drones, they have it all. But by far my favorite thing about the Hiller Aviation Museum are the simulators. Aside from their main educational simulator, they have a Boeing 777 simulator, which you use to attempt a landing at SFO. I sat down in the comfortable leather chair, put my hand on the throttle and grabbed the yoke. Immediately I noticed just how sensitive the 777-300 really is. Even touching the yoke too forcefully caused a noticeable change in heading. I rose up to a higher altitude, flew over downtown Millbrae, and got myself lined up for final approach. At this point, I had three people gathered around me, saying things like “You’re not gonna make it!” and “You’re too far left!” But I kept my going. I pulled back the throttle, brought the plane to an airspeed of 170 knots, lowered my flaps down to 30 degrees, and held it steady as the runway got closer and closer. I finally brought the throttle all the way down, lifted the nose up, and set my back wheels on the runway perfectly. It was at this point where I questioned if music is what I should be focusing on right now—that landing was not too shabby.

From Ian: It was a cloudy day, and we were rushed up the stairs onto the cold metal bleachers. The instructor waved his model airplane frantically about, describing the dangers of flight. He described his stories of past pilots who had crashed flying inverted and sharing the controls with friends. Abruptly he stopped the discussion to explain how you “can’t fly like James Bond.” Gripping the controls with both hands, he gave a demonstration wagging them back and forth with a smug look on his face. Then, gripping them with one hand and another hand over the throttle and mixture controls, he proclaimed: “This is the correct way to fly!” With this, the conversation was over, and we were instructed to grab “flying buddies.” I grabbed my comrade Aidan, and we were hustled over to the cockpits. Starting the flight, Aidan flew gracefully in the air but, lacking the speedy decision making of a real pilot, he handed the controls over to me. After a short time, we immediately descended into a dive with me at the controls. We flew inverted after a short time. We heard a rattle from the engine, and we were stalling. Drifting towards the ground, I pulled back and recovered gracefully.
The instructor then grounded the aircraft, exclaiming that he would “never fly with us at the wheel.” Aidan got out of his seat in a sluggish fashion, clearly angry about my flying technique. “Back to the bleachers!” the instructor yelled about how the plane had to be “one inch from the runway and the dashboard of the plane,” and no more than “70 knots.” Then we went back into the air. Now at a course to land at the runway, Aidan was not listening to the instructor and disobeying the 1-inch command. At a course faster than 70 knots, he started his landing not center on the line. He touched down, skipping the white line and careened toward the side of the runway. We changed seats, and I was instructed to land at the runway. With graceful maneuvers, I moved from side to side to meet the white line. As I touched down on the line and turned off the engine, my task was complete.
sFor a final time we met at the bleachers, the instructor describing what he called a “bonus ride.” This ride went past the Bay Bridge and over Alcatraz and then under the Golden Gate. The flight was short, and back on the ground, he giddily pronounced us real pilots.

From Max Mayman: As Cory stared out the cockpit, a single drop of sweat fell from his chin onto the yoke. The rumble of the Cessna 172 was loud in his ear along with the radio he held next to him. As I watched Cory, I became the commentator: “We now see Cory approaching the landing strip… We have seen a very overly aggressive approach to the previous landing strips in other tournaments, but, this being the finals, we have to see if he will still make this mistake.” In his head, he repeated “70-1,” “70-1.” This was the line that Cory’s instructor had told him before the flight. “You must stay at 70 mph at all times when approaching the landing strip, and you see one inch under the runway in order to land safely.” His instructor’s words echoed in his brain as he closed his eyes. Pushing the yoke down, Cory started to descend. The rumble of the plane shook the insides of the plane around. Cory lowered his speed as the Cessna’s wheels touched the ground. He did it! In celebrations, Cory put on the throttle and started doing doughnuts. This was a monumental day for Cory.

From Cassandra: At the Hiller Aviation Museum, there are models of some of the Wright Brothers’ planes. One of these planes, built of white cloth and wood like the original, sits directly above the entrance hall. Inside there are mostly younger planes, along with a few old gliders. But next to a model flown by a motorcycle racer just a few years after the Wright Brothers, there’s an alcove with three televisions and an airplane simulator. There are no modern controllers, just two sticks attached to a black box. It was, after all, the world’s first airplane. The plane started out in the air over an unrecognizable city, farther up than the real version ever went. As I flew over skyscrapers and CGI landscapes, a few things were obvious about this early airplane. Seeing something in the distance, to my left, I tried to turn the plane towards it. To my surprise, the plane barely moved. On my second try, the plane moved far enough for the plane to be on my right, and almost tipped over. I S-curved over to the tower, failingly attempting to get towards it. I missed by over a mile, but right in front of me I saw something blue. I did not know what it was, and I still do not. The blue building, low and flat just over the hill, seemed far more interesting than the bland buildings behind me. It was only then that I realized that I was falling. At first, I had been high over the tops of the buildings, but when I skirted past the tower I was half way down. There simply wasn’t enough altitude to get over that hill, and see whatever CGI creation waited in that blue building. I attempted to pull up, before releasing the final failure of the world’s first airplane. It could not fly up. I crashed into a tree, and the simulation reset.

From Josh: After exploring the Hiller Aviation Museum, as a group we were led into the Restoration Shop part of the building. Imagine a workshop with pieces of wood and metal, some in the shape of airplane wings and tails, and some just in long sheets; saws of all sorts standing around in parts of the large, but cramped space; filing cabinets with small metal nuts, bolts, screws and nails along with others that I have yet to know the name of. Milling around or a few 50-60-year-old guys, conversing about planes and enjoying themselves to their heart’s content while rebuilding and restoring planes.

From Justin: This Thursday we went to the Hiller Aviation Museum. At the Hiller Aviation Museum, we got to experience a flight simulator. We went through an introduction to flying planes, then got to fly them ourselves. My partner Ally challenged me to do flips in the plane. I accepted the challenge and pushed the right rudder and moved the wheel to the right and started the spin. The plane started to spiral downwards; then, as I got close to the water, I stepped off the rudder. I skimmed across the water and straightened the plane out. Ally attempted to spin twice and crashed both times. This was the best part of the Hiller Aviation Museum for me.

From Malia: Ever wanted to run around in a plane without being handcuffed by the flight attendants? Ever wanted to see what the cockpit of an airplane was like in the 70s? When walking into the Boeing 747-100, I saw empty seats with out of date blue red and white stripes. The seats were much bigger with more cushioning than the slim ones there are now. There were only four seats per row, unlike the packed planes trying to fit as many seats in one row as possible. The exhibit is only the front of the plane, so this could be due to first class. The personal screens on every seat back were nonexistent.

From Cory: Yesterday we went on a field trip. I love obvious sentences. The field trip was really fun. Did I mention that I love obvious sentences? All memes aside, it really was a quite enjoyable and educational experience. The part that made the biggest impression on me was when we arrived at the Hiller Aviation Museum. The museum had all sorts of really awesome exhibits, and we even did a really cool flight simulation program, so I’m pretty much an expert pilot at this point. Feel free to hire me. The coolest thing at the museum in my opinion was a huge screen that had Google Earth showing on it. It had the whole Earth globe, and you could use this controller to fly around and zoom in on places. I found the United States on the world globe, and zoomed in until I found San Francisco. From there I was able to find Redwood City, where I live, and I was able to spot Sequoia High School by looking for their sports field. I pass by that school on my bike route every morning, so I was able to trace the roads back to my house. It was really amazing, being able to zoom in and see my house, and my backyard, and my patio and chicken coop, and know that I got there just by zooming in from space. So this means that if I was flying around in space, I could find my house without too much trouble. I think that’s pretty crazy. Not just pretty crazy. That’s amazing! The whole trip was really awesome, and I learned a lot from the wind tunnel and Hiller as well.

Next field trip: Ropes Course next Monday!

Magenta Visit to the NASA Ames Wind Tunnel

Field Trip Blog, Part I

On Thursday, Magenta Band went to visit the NASA wind tunnel. We were lucky to have a connection there, and Chris Hartley, an engineer at the tunnel, gave us a tour of the Wind Tunnel. Below are pictures from our field trip as well as some student reactions.

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From Evan: The wind tunnel was one of the largest enclosed spaces I had ever seen. A football field on its side is about how large the air intake is. So naturally I had to get a picture. So I ran into the corner of the wind tunnel to give a sense of scale. But when I ran over there, I remembered that our tour guide said that I had sound/vibration dampening built in the tunnel. I thought that since it’s so large and made out of hard materials, it must echo. So, to test it, I clapped. Now I did hear an echo but it didn’t sound like a clap. It sounded like a cartoon laser gun. When Cory and I heard it (us being 5-year-olds) we had to have a finger gun laser fight in the largest wind tunnel in the world.

From Jack: This last Thursday, the Magenta band went on an awesome field trip to the NASA Ames Research Center, where we got a tour of the largest wind tunnel in the world, the 80 by 120 foot wind tunnel. It was amazing. The wind tunnel is absolutely huge, You walk into the test chamber (which is just a small part of the whole wind tunnel) and are just shocked by the sheer size of the room. Adjacent to the side where you enter, there is a huge set of doors that open to allow a 75-ton crane on rollers to bring the model in. If you look to your left while facing the huge doors, you will see the tunnel will widen on all sides, including the floor. This looks extremely surreal; the floor changes from solid grating to a softer material. Because they didn’t want people walking on the softer material, there was a very narrow piece of steel that you had to walk on. The slope was so steep that if you were at the top you couldn’t see the people at the bottom. The facility in all was awesome.

From Harry: Yesterday, our class went to the NASA Ames Research Center to see the world’s largest wind tunnel. I don’t think anyone knew what we were expecting, so it was all the more shocking how colossal it was. From the outside, it looked big enough, but somehow it seemed even bigger from the inside. It was kind of humbling how massive it was, and made me think about humanity’s will to create. Seeing that places so monumental can be made by man was astonishing. It was also amazing how much goes into each test of anything. For example, the minimum prep time for anything is 8 weeks, and every test runs for about 4 months.

From Zoe: When going on a field trip you never know what to expect. I don’t think I ever could’ve predicted some of the amazing things I saw. One memory that truly sticks out was walking into the wind tunnel. When we walked in, my mouth flew wide open. I remember looking around in amazement at the sheer size of the place. I felt like a grain of sand at the beach. It is hard to find the right words to describe the feeling you get when you are in that wind tunnel. I felt like a spec of dust compared to the structure surrounding me. As we walked on the metal flooring, towards the other side of the wind tunnel, it looked as if we were at the edge of the world. It seemed as if we were about to walk off the edge into the abyss. I don’t remember speaking much, just silently taking in my surroundings. But it wasn’t just the size that was impressive; the power that the wind tunnel had was hard to comprehend. When the machine is turned on, the output of wind is so strong that they have to divert planes so none will crash. I never thought air could be so powerful. It puts everything into perspective when you see the amount of energy the wind tunnel uses. The power the propellers use is the same amount of energy as the town of Mountain View. The size and power of this machine was the thing that really stuck with me the most. Seeing the world’s largest wind tunnel made everything else seem so much smaller.

From Aidan:

Aidan asked many great questions during our tour. Here is his memory about some of those:

Aidan: Can you give an example of an aircraft that you have helped test in the large wind tunnel?
Chris: Yes, We recently tested an experimental helicopter not yet in production. It had a new technology on it that was supposed to help dampen vibrations from the rotors.
Aidan: What was that new technology?
Chris: The helicopter had carbon fiber blades and a thing that blew air back into the rotors.

Chris: We recently tested the placement of a radar pod on a production sub-hunter aircraft for the navy.
Aidan: What was the aircraft?
Chris: It was a P-8 Poseidon.

Aidan: Are the engines in the wind tunnel brushed or brushless?
Chris: They are large brushless motors.

Aidan: Does the shape of an aerofoil or does the angle of attack generally create more lift?
Chris: An aerofoil will generally create more lift in the long term, but adjusting the angle of attack will create more lift faster. A fast airplane will have a very thin aerofoil and rely more on angle of attack, and a slow plane will have a very thick aerofoil.

Aidan: Does the V-22 Osprey use its variable pitch props to adjust throttle when in fixed wing mode?
Chris: The pilot often uses both the pitch and the fuel valves to control thrust.

We are grateful to Chris Hartley for this opportunity to visit the Wind Tunnel during our By Air Arc!

In the afternoon of the same day, we went to the Hiller Aviation Museum, and Part II of our blog will be posted shortly about the museum and the flight simulation we did, as well as a much smaller wind tunnel that we saw.

Magenta Launch!

In this first week, the Magenta Band focused on getting to know each other and coming together as a cohesive and enthusiastic group. We also began to explore some topics from our first Arc, “By Air.” We shared stories about ourselves, experimented with balloons and paper airplanes, and made mobiles.


One of our opening activities was answering this question: “Would you rather fly or be invisible?” This is inspired by a great This American Life episode called “Superpowers,” which you can listen to online.

Then, to make the Magenta Bandspace our own and to make sure every student contributes to decorating our space, students decorated the stairs and other wooden beams with large nametags that revealed their passions and interests.

One of the initial small group tasks was the Balloon Challenge. Students divided into pairs, and each pair got a helium balloon, some string, and an uninflated balloon. The task was to conduct an experiment that leads to a discovery to be shared with the whole group.



As a follow-up, we wrote a collective poem called “Seventeen Ways of Looking at a Balloon.” This writing exercise is inspired by a poem by Wallace Stevens called “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Another challenge was to make a paper airplane that stays in the air the longest and flies the farthest. Extra points were given for cool designs and paper airplanes that can do tricks.



On Thursday, we visited SF MOMA to see and write about Alexander Calder’s mobile exhibit. We also explored the museum as a whole and wrote about exhibits that elicited strong reactions from us, explaining why that was the case.

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When we got back to Brightworks, students made their own kinetic sculptures, aiming for creative and elegant designs as well as personal expression.


I am looking forward to our second week of school with this awesome group of students!