high school projects

Although I don’t have pictures of them, I wanted to give an update on the work that the six Brightworks high school students have been doing this arc. Last week, they went with Ellen to see the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, about the recent discovery of a prolific photographer who took thousands of photographs throughout the 1940s to 60s while working as a nanny. In writing and philosophy classes they have been exploring what it means to have a self and the ways in which people express that self, the role of the artist in art, and the art of self portraiture, so exploring Maier’s mysterious past and ephemera made the perfect connection.

They have all chosen various arts-related projects for this Expression phase.

Grace is making a video montage in the spirit of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour movie The Clock, but her version will be a compilation of clips from movies of characters looking in mirrors.

Tytus has been planning an epic origin of a superhero comic, with a fight scene interlaced with exposition.

Isaac is composing a new album for the Mirrors arc and just learned how to play a saw, which sounds like a scratchy recording on a record player.

Ben is making a detailed spray painted self portrait, made of the puzzle pieces of his front and back.

Max is planning a new short film based on the psychological impacts of sitting in front of a mirror – this time in the form of a character who has to sit in a blank room for months with only a mirror for company.

Madison has been working on portraying her face in different styles and with several media in preparation for a series of self-portraits based on the work of Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol.

It’s been great to see these older kids take the reins on their projects and watch them make progress independently, with little guidance and directions from their collaborators! We’re excited to see where their ideas take them and what they create by the end of the Expression phase of Mirrors.

solar concentrators

The Hawks have started working on their group Expression project for Mirrors: making solar marshmallow roasters. Inspired by their work from before spring break, each Hawk is taking a different approach to the solar concentrator challenge. Mackenzie reports that she and the Hawks are determined not to make the Expression project a competition between each student, but rather an opportunity to share ideas openly, credit each other’s work, and build on each other’s successes and failures. Already they have started forming partnerships and alliances between themselves as their ideas and strategies begin to line up!

Aurora and Natasha were inspired by the Archimedes Death Ray episode of Mythbusters and spun Plaster of Paris to make a parabolic shape for their solar concentrator.


They learned that a parabola is a slice of a cone that goes on into infinity, which makes it good for gathering light! After learning that very little sticks to Plaster of Paris, they settled on covering their parabola with reflective tape and created a clear focal point.


Now they have to figure out if their parabola is big enough to generate enough heat to roast a marshmallow.


Bruno also made a parabolic Plaster of Paris mold, but covered his with mirror tiles instead of reflective tape.


He was inspired by the disco ball hanging above the cork floor and resolved to make an inside-out disco ball for his solar concentrator.


Mackenzie writes, “If you look into Bruno’s parabola and align your eye with the focal point, you will see a dozen of your own eyes looking back. This is how you know that all the mirrors are correctly placed to reflect light to the focal point.”


Quinn experimented with several different conical reflective surfaces as well as the ideas of several of the other Hawks.


He found an old satellite dish at home and covered it in reflective tape, then added mirror tiles to give it a boost in reflecting light and creating heat.


Ben made several small iterations where he experimented with creating stronger and stronger focal points. He tried a light fixture lined with foil and a piece of U-shaped bucket lined with reflective tape. But none of the of the focal points were strong enough.


Ultimately, he decided on a hanging piece of reflective material in a frame to create a large hanging parabola.


Lola and Lucy would like to bake a pie in their solar concentrator. They found a Styrofoam container in storage and painted the outside black so that it will absorb more heat.


They lined the box with foil and put a plexiglass cover on the open end. When they tested it the first time, it already reached 250 degrees!


On Friday they took their first iterations outside to test them and found the hot spots for each. They will continue with next iterations this week!

back in the swing of things

What a week! We can hardly believe it was spring break last week – everyone was busily working on project declarations, more mirror experiments and explorations, and getting back into the swing of things. Today was one of the better Community Fridays – everyone gathered in the dining room and art studio areas and there was a happy buzz of thinking interesting thoughts, doing cool things, and being together.

The art studio hummed with monochromatic paintings and castle decoration.





The Hummingbirds hosted a foot soak and relaxation station.



Some of the boys played nearby.



Ariel, our favorite game designer, hosted a game test with several students for a fellow game designer. Apparently the game is a combination of Monopoly and Settlers of Cataan.


Many students continued work on their declarations and research papers, like Aidan, and some even were approved by Ellen and Gever in meetings this morning!


We’re looking forward to a brief restful weekend, and then back at it on Monday!

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.