students watching selma

Last week, the Green, Blue, and Indigo bands took advantage of #SelmaforStudents, which encouraged students in middle and high school to head to the movie theater to see Ava DuVernay’s film about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They got free tickets to see the new civil rights movie Selma, which fit perfectly around the MLK holiday.


Each collaborator led one-on-one discussions with their band – Indigo, Blue, and Green all had different prompts with which to engage. From “What is sacrifice? Has anyone sacrificed for you? How do you sacrifice for others?” and “What was so important about MLK and his progression in Selma?” to “Do you think the current Black Lives Matter protests influenced the making or message in this film?”, each band was equipped with a selection of questions, thoughts, ideas to share.

And share they did. The day after the film, each band split up and spread across the dining room. Rich, Phillip, and Amanda curated their teams so that one member of each band joined together to form groups of three. Each group had copies of all the questions, and they delved into a deeply honest Q&A session. The Indigo band recorded their discussions.

Quinn and Josh and Lucie considered whether or not the president – Lyndon B. Johnson – was a “bad guy’” in the film. Lucie said, “His opinions were influenced by both sides, so he had trouble making a decision.”


When Grace, Aidan, and Frances were talking about the copyright issue in the movie (since no quotes from Dr. King were used), Aidan said, “Wouldn’t it make a better impression on the racism and white supremacy of the time? There’s still a lot of racism in the U.S….” “– and sexism!” Frances interjected. “And sexism,” Aidan admitted.

Harry, Evan, Kaia, and Khalia talked about how to make the world a better place by treating everyone equally and removing hate from the world. They also discussed what they would sacrifice or even die for. As Kaia put it, “It was hard to say what I would die for. It’s a big thing, dying.”

Zada, Jack, and Audrey extended their civil rights talk to today’s atmosphere, agreeing that the movie was made to “remind us that even though MLK helped with racism, it’s still an issue today. Even though blacks technically have the same rights, we [our society] still don’t treat them right.”


Isaac, Julian, and Amelia talked very deeply about the social exchange of sacrifice, and how even when someone “gives” something, they usually gain something in return. And so began our deep discussion on altruism – what does it mean? why did it happen, evolutionarily? how does it affect the human race?

Ian, Ally, and JP talked about who, if anyone, they would sacrifice or die for. Their answers included members of their family, people about whom they care deeply. Ally said that before she saw the movie, she didn’t really think of sacrificing. But it was important. And real.

Rich and Phillip and Amanda wrapped up the discussion with a whole group sharing – how do these things affect your life, or affect the future?


During the whole group discussion, the Brightworks students focused less on the issue of racism and Dr. King, and more on the issues of sacrifice.  A few students shared that they felt that there was no such thing as sacrifice and altruism, and that all humans do for others so that others will do for them.  Isaac followed with the concept of self-fulfillment, and that many people sacrifice in order to attain self fulfillment.  Not all agreed, and thus an interesting discussion erupted about why one would do for others. As the end of the day rushed towards us, we ended the conversation with thoughts on kindness, sacrifice, and doing for others.  Is it all about us?  Or do we do for others, just for the sake of bettering the world?

Whatever the reason, we all had time to reflect on the notion of standing up and working for what one believes is right.  We all hope that our Brightworks students will apply some of the tenacity and perseverance that Dr. King had, and use it to better themselves and the whole human family.

A couple of thoughtful, deep afternoons.

book arc projects

We’ve been back from winter break for a week and projects are really starting to pick up steam! At Brightworks, we have become more deliberate about project time and have set out several parameters that students must meet in order to be able to work on their own, completely independent project for the arc.

Students working on independent projects…
– Take initiative.
– Seek challenges outside your comfort zone.
– Embrace assigned work, even if you’re not initially excited by it.
– Finish tasks.
– Remember responsibilities without being reminded. Come prepared.
– Choose to bring work home.
– Seek and incorporate feedback.
– Show resilience in the face of failure.
– Treat others with love, respect and consideration.

Many students reach this point and, with the help and guidance of their collaborator, plan their independent project work for the arc. Most of the students in the Indigo Band are at this point, working on screenplay adaptations of books, short story collections, or memoirs. The Green Band is also dividing into smaller independent projects that are direct offshoots of the experts and experiences from the exploration phase of the Book arc.

But during expression for the Book arc, many students are choosing to work with their band on a group project, a single idea or goal that each student finds an individual pathway to. These group projects are independent projects in disguise, but provide collaborators with a greater ability to manage eight complex pathways and give students the best opportunity to succeed as they work through both the project itself and project management skills that they may not have perfected yet.


For example, the Orange Band as a whole is working on a creating a computer game based on the story arc and using the coding that they have been learning from Gever, and each student is taking a route to that end goal with a different approach – text adventure or choose-your-own-adventure story – and their own plotlines.


The project for the Blue Band is a book of the school year, based on all eight students’ blog posts since the beginning of the last arc. They have divided up the various events and experiences since September – the Mendocino trip, the Rosetta comet landing sleepover, various building projects, NaNoWriMo, etc – and are using the grammar and writing lessons that Phillip has been giving them to write a narrative of their band in third person.


The Yellow Band is doing a group project but each writing their own version of a zine with original writing and illustration from their arc. They are experimenting with making paper out of different materials for their covers and have been composing fiction and drawings for their pages.


Students in the Red Band are collaborating to create a coauthored book about love and friendship. They are brainstorming together and splitting up the responsibilities of writing and illustrating a book, taking inspiration from their author study on Mo Willems. The book, they hope, will become a guidebook for incoming students next year and years after, and are playing with the idea of including ideas about love and friendship from older students at Brightworks.

We are excited to watch these projects develop and unfold, as well as continue to foster project management skills in our students as they iterate, create, explore, and do.

printing press

In the study of Book, we’ve had a lot of room to explore the process of printing and the printing press itself. Before the Thanksgiving break, each student was assigned a letter – upper or lower case – to design for a one-of-a-kind Brightworks font! The results were pretty unique!


The Green Band has been digitally tracing each letter so that our laser printer can make cutouts out of wood material to ink onto paper.




The Orange Band has been taking a look at several different kinds of printing presses and took a trip to the Aesthetic Union, a printmaking studio just around the corner from the school.






The Red Band visited Charles Chocolates to see another kind of print making – with chocolate!








printing, power, privilege

I had to snag this incredible blog post from Amanda, who describes a conversation from today that she had with her Green band, who range from ten to thirteen years old. I’m reposting with her permission:

Last night, kiddos researched the parts and pieces of a Gutenberg printing press. Since they’re going to be the experts on our engineering project, they spent time researching how it works, why it works, its different iterations, and – perhaps the most fun – the evolution of fonts. (They all know what “san serif” means now.)


And then, in one of those nonchalantly brilliant quirks that happen often at Brightworks, we got into the why. What did the printing press do? became Why was it important? and How did it change the world? We drew up maps of the crusades; we revisited the power of sharing – spreading – ideas; we imagined civilizations without words, versus ones with. Can a civilization survive if their only means of communication is a “giant game of telephone”? Spot on, kiddos. You’d need a vessel to disperse your thoughts, far and wide and fast. And voila! The printing press. Massive expansion of words, books, ideas, people. Today, even, the countries in power (listed by the kids: USA, parts of Europe, Russia, China) are predominately derived from that spread of ideas, from that spark of survival, from that zenith of innovation. How the printing press changed the world.

And isn’t that funny? Some places have more power than others.

Like, hey, I heard about this thing. Can we talk about Ferguson?

I heard that this happened. I heard that that happened. And do you know another black boy was shot recently? Not even in Ferguson, but somewhere else. It’s happening a lot of places. The problem is, would it be happening if any of those kids were white? No!

And you know what I think? I don’t think the specific details of the one case in Missouri matter. Why?

Because it’s happening a lot. Black kids are dying –

Black people are dying!

And it’s wrong. They shouldn’t be shot, a lot of times they’re innocent. Honestly, even if they had stolen something, you shouldn’t be shot. Why are they getting shot?

I think we should call them People of Color – it’s not just black people, it’s all shades of brown that are being oppressed like this. Why?

I think privilege is when I walk to school or to the store, I don’t have to be worried. I’m not afraid. I know I’m safe. But what if I was afraid? What if I never felt safe, just doing those things?

When I walk my dog at night and it’s dark, I am always worried that my white neighbors will get nervous when I cross the street. Sometimes I ask my grandma to come with me, just so they won’t be afraid of me. But like, I’m not going to do anything! They don’t have to be afraid of me!

Why does America have all these problems? Did you know, in the past, only white men could vote. Only rich white men! Not people of color, not women. What a mess. Things are still a mess.

It’s not fair that white people grab their bags when they pass a person of color, or zig zag around the street. IF that person of color is walking nervously, looks nervous or “suspicious”, then it’s because they’ve been trained to do that. They’re used to being thought of as bad guys.

I could go out and wear a hoodie, but a person of color out wearing the SAME hoodie would be considered suspicious. What are they supposed to wear? It’s cold outside!

Change is really hard. It’s always hard. Because when someone’s in charge, it feels really good. They probably don’t want to change. Like, if your life is perfect, why would you want anything different? But it’s wrong. What’s happening is wrong.

This reminds me of something we talked about earlier – superheroes. Superheroes are powerful, but they have to make sacrifices. They choose to make those sacrifices; it’s important to them to do the right thing. They’re responsible. If you have power, you need to be responsible. Power has responsibility.

You’re right, kiddos. If you have power, and you do, and I do. We do. We can walk to the store without being afraid, and wear hoodies on the bus without getting pegged as a criminal. And we go to a great school, and have access to a strong education, and get our fresh tomatoes weekly at the farmer’s market. So what are we going to do? What can we do?

I think if you have those things – if you have privilege, if you have power – it’s your job to make the world a better place.

For everyone.


In the tradition of the school that says yes, when Brightworks heard about the Rosetta space mission coming to an end a couple weeks ago with the lander Philae being launched into space to land on a comet, we figured the best way to celebrate and witness this moment in history was to have a sleepover at the school. Of course!

We went to see the new movie Interstellar in the theater, then returned to the school to talk over oreos and milk about physics, plot and character, the representation of women in the movie, reproductive sciences, and fifth-dimensional beings. Even though it was fiction, the movie really helped contextualize the space of space – and gave us a better idea of the importance of the ten-year Rosetta mission to land on a comet.

photo 2

photo 1

Then it was to the cork floor as the Rosetta released the Philae lander! We got in our pajamas and curled up in a heap with pillows, sleeping bags, and blankets, and watched excited European scientists see another milestone in their mission come to success. We fell asleep with fingers crossed that the lander would make it.



In the morning – 6am in the morning, to be precise – we woke up to breakfast and a successful landing, despite the harpoons not firing successfully to the comet, and we cheered along with the scientists as witnesses to a moment of excitement and new discoveries about the universe.

photo 4


nanowrimo 2014

Every November is National Novel Writing Month – 30 days of nonstop writing during which writers old and new challenge themselves with an often outlandish goal to write a certain number of words of a novel… and then write, write, write! November just happens to coincide with the beginning of the Book arc (who knew!) and so as a part of the exploration of Book, students have committed to writing a piece of their own, original novel every day. We have dedicated the hour after lunch as official quiet time, giving the students time to write during the day – even though many of them choose to write at home, too!

Each band has approached the writing process from a different angle – many using plot diagrams, character dissections, or other brainstorming tools – map out their ideas and develop their characters. It starts with an idea – a character, a place, a scene – and billows out from there into new worlds and new people that the kids have gotten to know very well over the last few weeks. Every day, they come in bubbling with news about how many words they wrote, what happened in their story that they didn’t expect, or a new character that tragically died or had something surprising happen to.

My favorite parts are the conversations about character, things like: “What do I do with this character? There are too many already and I feel like I can’t handle that many.” And the response: “Just kill them off, it’s fine.” The intricacies of where characters are in the world, on the page, in the writer’s heads become more complicated and apparent when you sit down to write. How do you move the action along? How do you get the clan of cats into the wild? How do you get your plucky crew of astronauts out of the storage room they’re hiding in? How does it make sense to take this character back in time, and where do they meet up with their present? It’s been amazing to see the kids fighting through writer’s block and becoming jazzed again by their characters and their plots.

NaNoWriMo unfortunately ends while we’re on Thanksgiving break, but everyone has gone off to a week of rest with a plan and motivation to hit their word goal or get to that elusive piece of a story – much harder to come by than beginnings or middles – the end.

pajama day and halloween

I’m behind on the blog. So much has been happening at Brightworks. Oldest to newest – ready, go!

The day after the Book Ban was lifted, we had an all-day reading party in pajamas. Cozy, lovely, sleepy kind of day:






Then Halloween happened, with great creativity of costume and activity: