turtle project

The Rulers arc has been structured much differently than the other arcs we will have this year, both because of its short length and its goals of building community and building awareness of what Brightworks is as a school and how it works. This doesn’t mean, however, that projects aren’t at the heart of the experience during Rulers – each band is taking their own approach to a shortened Expression phase with big group projects guided by their collaborators.

The Hummingbirds’ project has moved in the direction of figuring out the best way to bring a band pet into the school. Because they had planted a woolly pocket garden on the wall along the window, they were excited about the idea of an animal at school (a bunny was the first idea) while being conscious of allergies that make furry creatures not an option. They decided that a turtle would be the best kind of pet to add to their bandspace and have since embarked on a journey to figure out how to make that happen. With Shawna’s guiding hand, the Hummingbirds have asked questions, done research in the field, talked to experts, and thought about the responsibilities of having a class pet, as well as incorporated their explorations of turtles in arc-related animal pursuits with measurement, science, math, and art.


Shawna explains it best in her incredible documentation of their process and experiences. She writes, “With the idea of a pet reptile in our classroom, the children listed many things we needed to know and to do before getting the pet, such as learn what it likes to eat, what it needs in its home, how to handle it, if anyone is allergic to it, and the children even went so far as to decide how to introduce their new pet to their school community: they want to host a school “tea party” with refreshments (some from our garden, of course) and a puppet show!


“I was inspired by their sense of industry as well as how fast their minds were thinking ahead: one possible proposal was that we get six small turtles to solve the potential conflict inherent in only having one pet to name (who gets to decide its name?).


I suggested that we first needed to look into cost and space requirements, as well as how much responsibility we’d take on for feeding and cleaning, before we get attached to the idea of multiple pets!”


They visited Petco and learned about the different kinds of turtles available and looked at pricing for all the materials they need. Having worked through many of these questions, the Hummingbirds are ready to begin the declaration process to propose adding a turtle to their band.


Last week Lili and her band worked with Sean to explore how the size of fish fins impacts their speed. She writes, “We thought about how to analyze data in order to understand the relationship between the surface area of different fins and a fish’s capacity for drive, lift, and stability.”






They experimented with their own ability to create the same type of drive, lift, and stability as in the fish by creating fish fin darts and launching them off the mezzanine to see how their choices affected their flight.




They went to the California Academy of Sciences to look at the fish in the aquarium and took notes and made diagrams of the fish that displayed the best of all three characteristics.







Documenter Anthony took notes on the projects continuing for today’s Community Friday:

Max and Isaac spent their morning layering vocals and mastering the levels for their song they’ve been composing. They chopped and fitted a new piano part to the existing track – Anthony reports that it sounds amazing.


Lili and her acting gang discussed the fine points of casting and debating ideas for plot turns.



Shawna and a group in the art studio took inspiration from animal pictures in magazines and books to create pictures of lions, bats, and banana slugs with water colors and sharpies. Shawna reported that the group also developed a common language for developing cultural relationships in the art studio, where artists are supportive of each other’s efforts, they consult each other for feedback, stay committed to their process, and keep the art studio clean and ready for use.



Mackenzie and Rhone spent the morning studying the various bird wings and feathers in the science lab, and discussing wing how wing shape relates to birds’ abilities in flight. They went on a short bird watching excursion as well.


The Pieworks team and I (Justine) did a first round of pie baking today. The kids chopped apples, figured out ways to roll out pie crust and line the mason jars – harder than they expected, but they handled it better than I expected them to! – and did a taste test at the end of the day.



Christie and Ellen led an embroidery and collage making workshop, working on postcards, sewn letters, and mountains of cool pictures for inspiration.



Sean, Jack, and Ian continued work on the bridge project for their band, after realizing that they couldn’t continue making the steps for the bridge until they figured out how long the platform needed to be and where the anchoring points would be. It was a beautiful morning of drilling, chopsawing, and figuring out where to best secure the walkway to allow for maximum weight bearing.



Thank you to Anthony for great notes and pictures from today!

bridge building

The bridge presentations last week from Christie and Phillip’s band were fascinating to listen to. Designs were presented on powerpoint presentations with SketchUp drawings or 3D models, and included hooks, supports, railings, clubhouses, stairs, and cubbyholes, and it was wonderful to hear the kids both answer questions with confidence and admit to when they might not have thought about the answer to a tricky question. There was no one idea that solved all the questions about how to get from the bandspace to the mezzanine, so the clients (Ellen, Josh, Sean, and myself) called for a cull of the best parts of a couple of the strongest ideas.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the band began bridge construction based on a combination of several of the design ideas.



They did a physics lesson with Gever and used their body weight to test the physical strength of different widths of wood.




Phillip writes, “After park, we broke the band into groups responsible for key components of the bridge. Each group elected a project manager to facilitate collecting measurements and drawing plans.



“This morning, after a little scolding about messes left out, kids got together and measured wood, made cuts, and asked experts (Sean and Gever) best practices for construction. [Other] kids helped prepare the site for the bridge. We ended the day with a near-complete mount for the mezzanine wall and the basic rectangle for the bridge’s main beam.”




Construction work and adjustments to the plan have continued all week, and they are definitely on track to finishing the bridge by the end of the Rulers arc. Updates to be added as they happen!


Today, the youngest band presented their new identity: the Hummingbirds! They made costumes and told us a few interesting facts about these quick little birds, as well as why they had chosen the name – an inspiration from the dead hummingbird they’d found in their bandspace on the first day of school.

The Hummingbirds have been doing a lot of explorations of measurement through looking at animals in the last few weeks. Last Wednesday, they took a trip to the California Academy of Sciences to learn more about orca whales, turtles and tortoises, and hummingbirds and other pollinators.


During their day at the Academy, Shawna encouraged the kids to document their experience and take notes on what they saw. Some took to the task, like Sadie, who found that the length of an orca whale is 18 feet and dutifully wrote the number on her paper, but others needed encouragement. She writes, “I became a more obvious note-taker myself, “thinking out loud” about what I was doing and what questions I had, and modeling what it looks like to become engrossed with an observation and sketch. For example, I slowly and deliberately sketched the whale’s skull and wondered aloud if a bone I had just drawn was the collar bone. My modeling effectively prompted the children’s documentations.”


“Lucy found a unique note-taking approach: since she was interested in listening to the audio of orca sounds, she visually represented the squeaks and calls she was hearing, bouncing her pencil on her page with short, quick, squiggly strokes.


For our turtle information, we launched a full turtle hunt of the Academy, visiting areas the children chose (the rainforest, aquarium, alligator swamp) and adding the evolution/Galapagos exhibit and Naturalist Center to our list as well.


Almost everyone took a guess (or prediction) as to how many turtles we’d see. For the rest of our adventure, finding a turtle elicited the excitement of discovered treasure!


Ramses chose to continue recording tails, which he started at the orca station. He drew the alligator’s tail on his observation sheet. When I reminded him of our turtle goal, he explained that alligators and turtles are the same. I replied that indeed, both animals are reptiles and have a lot in common. He continued his tail recording throughout our researches.


Aurora used pictures, words and numbers to record details of her research. While I was keeping a tally of each turtle we found, she was writing down the count on her notepad as well. She and I were curious to figure out how many ladybugs were on display in an array. She made an estimate of 5,000, then she helped me count the outer column and row of one box, then watched me as I used the calculator to multiply the two quantities. We then multiplied the product of one box by four and were astounded to find that a total of 7,144 ladybugs of one species were displayed, and no two were alike!”


The Hummingbirds visited the Naturalist Center to learn more about the differences between species of turtles, and ventured to the roof to hear a presentation about pollinators, including their namesake, and got to see the presenter’s bee specimens.


Earlier this week, the Hummingbirds used their knowledge gained at the Academy to discover that two orca whales can fit on a smaller MUNI trolley bus, and that three can fit on the longer trolley bus. This comparison of the familiar to the unfamiliar always makes things more comprehensible, especially when both big things are so big!

presenting distance

Lili and Mackenzie teamed up last week with their bands to continue their exploration of estimating the distance from Brightworks to Dolores Park with a measurement unit of their choice. After some multiplication skill practice, the kids returned to the provocation to do some more math-y exploration, culminating in a presentation on Wednesday. Lili writes all about it below:


Each group used a map of the mission to count the number of long and short blocks between Brightworks and Dolores Park. Using the block the school is on as a sample block, students estimated how many of their units would make up a short block and how many would make up a long block. Some groups, looking for increased precision, used pieces of paper as makeshift “rulers” to decide that short blocks were ½ or ⅓ the length of long blocks, etc.


Each group employed different strategies to work out the math. Some added the number of units per block as they went along–creating long strings of complex addition problems. One group started by thinking about averages–estimating the average number of units in a given block and then doing the multiplication to get a rough answer before diving in with more specific numbers. Another group created an equation and learned how to cross-multiply. We made use of the base 10 manipulables to make long addition and multiplication more concrete for some groups who were struggling to visualize the arithmetic they were working out.


On Wednesday, when most groups had already worked out a lot of the math, we gave the students about an hour to create presentations for each other to describe the process they went through to arrive at an estimate. We emphasized the fact that the numerical answers would be different for each group because everyone started with a different unit. Especially without any define-able correct answer, our presentations would be the only way for us to understand each others’ methodology and eventual answer. It was lovely to remove the absolute from the mathematical process in this way. Everyone got a different answer based on the conditions they set up for themselves at the beginning of the project.


Clementine, Quinn, Ben, and Jacob solved the problem two different ways: they averaged the number of smaller and longer blocks, and counted the number of smaller and longer blocks and added the totals.


Bruno, Audrey, and Lukas measured the distance in sheets of paper – ten sheets of paper could fit in 3 paving stones, so they counted how many paving stones are in a city block, then used that number to figure out the total.


Natasha and Norabelle were thrilled about the chance to present their findings, and both handwrote and typed their spell-checked speech to make a confident presentation. They used Natasha’s cubit (tip of finger to bottom of elbow) to determine the length of a copper pole, then used the copper pole to measure the block, and then added and added and added.


Oscar and Nicky used a long stick to measure and used multiplication and division to do their math work, measuring from the front door to the corner of the block. When prepping for their presentation, they found that they didn’t show enough work during their figuring and needed to fill in the blanks before presenting. They learned that they actually do need to show their process in their work!


The presentations created further opportunities for a multi-modal approach to the project. Visual thinkers made diagrams and spent time designing and decorating their presentation boards. Tactile learners built structures with the base 10 blocks. Auditory learners talked through the steps of the project with peers and collaborators and got to shine during the actual speech-giving part of the process. Mathematical minds could attempt more precise estimations, making the project more challenging for those who were ready. Because the projects and presentations were so multifaceted, all different kinds of learners left feeling both accomplished and challenged by the work they had done.