clocks exposition

This week was an incredibly busy one, from putting final touches on actual projects, to writing reflections and taking last bits of feedback for papers, practicing presentations, and setting up the space, all for Exposition night when the kids have the opportunity to show off their work done during the project phase of Clocks. There is more to say about each of their presentations and our reflections on Thursday night’s event, but for now, here are some glimpses into Exposition night:







Max’s film The Horologist








Yesterday, Friday, was a lovely, calm day – everyone was tired and happy, wearing red to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We spent the day making cards, watching a bird documentary, eating a fabulous Greek community lunch, having a dance party on the cork floor in the afternoon, and sitting together to say thanks when we opened each other’s Valentine’s cards. School is out for the week while staff plans for the next arc and reflects on Clocks. In the meantime – hooray to the Brightworks students on their first Exposition night of the year!

getting ready

Exposition night is coming up on Thursday! There has been intense energy around the school as everyone puts the final touches on their projects and works on the presentations that they will give on Thursday night.







We’re trying a new format for the Clocks Exposition by having presentations going on in two corners of the school, while science-fair-esque display boards are set up in the central spaces of the school. Some pretty amazing work has been done during this arc – the kids are thrilled and nervous to show off their progress!


The Hawks have made incredible strides and progress on their projects! Here’s what’s been happening:

Clementine and Lola began project phase with the goal of creating a one-minute ball run on an incline plane. They had been frustrated with the difficulty of this task until Sean suggested a more interesting and challenging provocation of creating a ball run that focuses less on time period and more on precision and regularity. They worked together on assembly and learned to set up jigs to be able to mass-produce components of their ball run with the drill press.


The girls have learned new strategies for working through conflicts that arise and have often been able to take initiative on next steps without any prompting! Clementine has been making great strides this week despite Lola being out sick.


Bruno’s project has also evolved from a garden-style sundial with a flat face and a movable gnomon after he discovered that the spacing of numbers on the garden sundial need to be different at each latitude. He devised a plan to create a portable equatorial sundial on hinges to allow the gnomon to change angles depending on his location.


Mackenzie says, “He has found the perfect hinges so that the face can lay flat when closed, in case he ever finds himself using his sundial at the north pole. He has also figured out a clever way to arrange the wood so it can’t open any further than 90 degrees, perfect for a trip to the equator. He is going to embed a compass and levels into the sundial for maximum accuracy.”


Ben and Quinn, as of this afternoon, have successfully completed their working clock! It is accurate to 5 seconds, which is an incredible accomplishment. They realized the fussiness of a precise clock during this project phase, and this final iteration is the last in about six different versions of their clock.


During this process they have learned the merits of hard, focused work and cooperation, and made good decisions about finding a quieter work space, like in the Blue Room, so that they could keep on task.


Natasha has been busy consulting experts for her research project, including a research manager for Nashville tourism and circadian rhythm scientist Carrie Partch. She worked on four versions of her sleeping and eating survey and came up with ways to entice students into filling them out.


Natasha started organizing her data into graphs last week, starting by looking at her hypothesis and choosing two pieces of data to compare in a scatter plot. Mackenzie reported that she was thrilled to discover that her scatter plot had proved true that late bed times lead to less sleep. “What struck me wasn’t her findings,” Mackenzie writes, “but the excitement she had at having found a discernible pattern in the mass of data she had gathered.”


cookie test

Josh’s project has been a complex study of one of his favorite pastimes: baking. For the last four weeks, he has been in the kitchen every day with chocolate chip cookie dough, a heating oven, a pair of oven mitts, and a tally chart, testing the same cookie dough recipe at different temperatures in the oven, on regular and convection bake, in the microwave, and in the toaster oven. His process is pretty basic, but filled with the nuances of a researcher: using consistent testers and a bracket scoresheet, he asks, “Which cookie is better?”


The competition has been intense and the smell of baking cookies even more so.

Yesterday was the last day of this competition. With a small group of cookie testers, he presented two different cookies that had stood the test of many tastes: one baked in a regular oven at 360 degrees for 15 minutes, and one baked in a convection oven at 360 degrees for 15 minutes.


We had an in-depth conversation about the qualities of both cookies – their texture, color, taste. It was astonishing how different they were, even baked at the same temperature!


The testers chose between A (the convection-baked) and B (the regular baked). Support for cookie A was overwhelmingly 5 to 1. Josh was thrilled by the feedback he got on his cookies and couldn’t wait to add his discoveries to the research paper he’s working on.


an expression week

This week has been crazy busy with projects and progress happening all over the school. We’re juggling tasks and doing five things at once as the kids ramp up on their project work. Here’s a glimpse at the week, ending with today’s Disco/Future dress-up day, explorations into programming, and a dance party that kept us all light-footed all morning.

The Hawks continue to knock it out of the park with their attention to detail:





The Elephants have been loving Book Club, which they do in the down time between project work.



The Hummingbirds went to Ocean Beach for a day of exploration on the only rainy day of the week.



Max and his assistants filmed for his Clocks film project, doing incredibly diligent dedicated work, including this shot with multiple extras.



And today’s Community Friday dance party, exploring relativity with computer cameras, and an amazing community lunch.









project progress

Deep in project mode, some updates from Expression phase:

Carrie from Partch Labs in Santa Cruz visited the school today to speak to the kids. She’s an expert in clock proteins and clock genes inside the body that regulate circadian rhythms and was discovered through Jack’s project research.


Max has been working on a camera dolly to help him during his film-making project.


The Hummingbirds continue to experiment with ball runs and ping-pong ball timers using ramps and angles.


Josh, Frances, Rhone, and Jane initiated a petition to ask the city of San Francisco to repeal the tree-climbing ban. You can sign their petition and get more information here!


Clementine and Lola created the second iteration of their ball run timer.


Sean and Quinn discussed the finer points of clock escapements.


Audrey and Frances made great progress on their orrery by building another draft and adding their first object in space: the sun!


sharing discovery

Ramses is in the middle of figuring out that flat boards, set slightly off-parallel, make a ball roll. Ben and Quinn, though they have seen this rule of the universe in action, take a moment to appreciate how rad it is.


Moments of genuine discovery and student-to-student sharing – impossible to plan and beautiful to watch happen.


Thanks to Sean for passing along this lovely moment!

hands-on research

Important research happens through books and written resources, but it’s just as important for kids to experience things for themselves to find out what it all really means. The Brightworks kids are becoming adept researchers no matter where they are by asking questions, taking notes, and reflecting on how what they just discovered connects to what they’re trying to learn or what they didn’t know they didn’t know. The Expression phase lends itself to hands-on research that focuses the kids’ minds on the ideas that closely relate to their projects.

The Hawks and the Hummingbirds visited the Exploratorium yesterday to do targeted research of ball runs and chain reactions, and the sun and seasons. As always, they had a great time!





Rhone takes notes on the next steps in his project with Norabelle. They are working on creating a game where players earn clock parts every time they answer a clock-related question correctly.


Frances and Audrey successfully prototype an orrery. They had become slightly discouraged at the complexity of this project when they watched this youtube video, but as they thought more about it and watched the video over and over to see the component parts working together, they were able – with Sean’s help – to create an arm on an axle that swung in a large circle. The solar system isn’t far away!



Bruno learns how to clean up his welds with the angle grinder on a practice piece before he starts on his metal sundial.


hawk projects

The Hawks worked on their Clocks project declarations all of last week, and were duly rewarded by approvals on each one! Mackenzie reports that the iteration practice that they got with their chairs during the Rulers arc has led the Hawks to imagining several different drafts of the projects they’ll be working on for the next few weeks. They also closely linked their projects to the concepts that they explored during the Exploration phase.


Today they got to work! Mackenzie wrote about each of her students’ projects on her blog last week, which I will duplicate here:


“Natasha will be using surveys and meticulous self-reporting to research how diet and eating habits affect sleep. During our study of body clocks, Natasha really loved the process of sorting and graphing large amounts of information. She will be finding the mean, median, and mode of her collected data and use different graphing tools to help her better understand the relationship between her two variables. Her first hand research will be supported by more research into circadian rhythms!”

Today she made a survey booklet on the computer to track her bandmates’ sleeping and eating patters.


“Bruno will be creating a metal garden sundial. This project has two main challenges: how to join pieces of metal and how to space the numbers around the face of the dial so it tells time accurately. Bruno will continue working one on one with either Sean or Josh as he masters welding! The far more difficult challenge will be to figure out the spacing of numbers on the clock dial. This will require a better understanding of the movement of the earth around the sun and seasonality. I suspect it will require some pretty complicated math as well.”

Today, Bruno and the rest of the Hawks got their first lesson in welding!


“Lola and Clementine will be working together on a ball run clock. The essence of any time-telling device is to take the continuous flow of energy and slow it/translate it into increments. Lola and Clementine will be translating the continuous force that gravity exerts on a ball into a clock. Each of them will work on different sections of the ball run – first trying to make a minute-long ball run, then a five-minute-long ball run. Their goal is to eventually create an hour-long ball run by connecting their separate ball run structures.”

Today the girls worked on their first version of their ball run. Clementine reports that it was 10 seconds long.



“Ben and Quinn will be making weight powered mechanical clock from laser cut pieces. They will be working closely with Sean to learn how to use the laser cutter and, if they express interest, how to make their own gears on Adobe Illustrator. In creating their own clock they have the opportunity to get to know mechanical clocks intimately. They will learn about escapements, gear trains and gear ratios. They already have their first gear and escapement cut and will be assembling it next week!”

Today the boys worked diligently to accomplish this goal.



project friday

Talking electronics.

talking about programming

Play rehearsal.

play practice

Clock part assembly.

assembling clock parts

Advice on building a chest of drawers.

examining drawers

Art studio magic.

art studio

More origami practice.

origami how-to's

Evolution expert.

expert visit

Project work.

project work

Lunchtime announcements.

lunch announcement

Declaration approval!