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!


more progress

Josh worked on his baking project.



Theo got a working run on his ball clock.


Evan plotted and planned the map for the environment in his and Harry’s time travel role-playing game.

game map

Jay, a robotics expert from MakerBlock, visited and showed the kids the parts of a robot designed to draw an intricate illustration of R2D2 from Star Wars.


robot pieces

Lucy and Aurora planned pieces of their project work.


Sadie, Largo, and Ramses constructed parts of their ping-pong hourglass.



back to projects

We are back refreshed from the holiday break! Members of the Megaband have dived back into project work, taking off from where they left things before break and riding on what they worked on during the holidays for some incredibly productive days focusing on their Clocks are projects.








tortoise vet visit

The Hummingbirds have continued to use their tortoise as fodder for explorations during the Clocks arc, from trying to determine its birthday based on the seasons, to timing the speed it takes to walk from point A to point B. But the tortoise is also an excellent way for the kids to learn responsibility and empathy for another living being in feeding, watering, and caring for a dependent creature . Earlier this week, the Hummingbirds decided on the name for their pet in preparation for the vet visit, which happened on Tuesday. Shawna describes the process of naming and the vet visit:

“So – it turns out that our tortoise is a “He,” not a “She”! When we purchased the tortoise from Petco, Cassie (the store employee who helped us) said she thought it was a girl from looking at the area near the tail. But we took our tortoise to the vet this week and Dr. Alex Herman confirmed that our tortoise is actually a boy!

Luckily, we had chosen a name that can go either way: Asrll, pronounced AZZRUL, is the final name of our tortoise. It was a fun process of narrowing down our options. Since at the time the kids and I thought she was a girl, they had a long list of girl names. They then decided to pick their top four and cross off the others that didn’t make any of their lists.

Aurora collects the name choices in her purse.

I used “veto power” over any name that already belonged to a community member (so Sadie, Largo and Ramses were crossed off the list). From there, we talked about what to do next. The children talked about further narrowing it down, or voting. Largo suggested, “How about we make up a new name using the letters from our names?” Lucy and Aurora loved this idea and I quickly gave them their first letters written on little squares of paper so they could move them around on the table to try different combos. You can see the joy and excitement when they sounded out Asrll.

The children all wrote down their first, second and third choices for a name. It was clear from looking at the data that Asrll was the logical choice; all five Hummingbirds had chosen Asrll as one of their top choices, whereas the other name choices had only received one or two votes.

Our vet visit at All Pets Hospital was so amazing. Dr. Alex Herman’s bedside manner was impressive, with not only Asrll, but all of us as well. She told us that she is a doctor of many reptiles including a 150-year-old tortoise; he’s been around since the Gold Rush. Largo responded, “That was before the earthquake!” She said yes, it was a very long time ago, which is why owning a tortoise is a big responsibility.

I felt really proud of our children because they knew many answers to her questions, confidently telling her the difference between turtles and tortoises, hand washing after touching the tortoise due to salmonella, etc. And they had a lot of questions for her as well. Also, I was proud because Dr. Herman said from what she noticed, Asrll is well taken care of: a strong, hard shell and clear eyes are two things she looks for in tortoises. She explained that it was a good thing that Asrll had pooped too (during the long wait for the doctor to show up after the nurse had weighed Asrll) because she wanted to take a fecal sample to test for parasites (side note: his pooping and anxious movements inside the small bin spurred empathetic talks of times we’ve had to wait uncomfortably on the exam table at the doctor’s office, and times of embarrassment to give samples for testing).”

The Hummingbirds wrote thank-you notes to Dr. Herman following their visit.

poem and photos

We are not here

to fail


we are not here

to succeed


we are here

to discover.


Words by Josh G. after a lesson on cloning woolly mammoths and writing poetry. Photos by Shawna of the Hummingbirds.