friday magic

Today was another blast of a community Friday! We celebrated Harry’s birthday and had amazing tacos provided by Oscar and Lukas’s parents – yum!


The playwrights – Quinn, Josh, Audrey, Lucy, Theo, Frances, and Largo – met again with Lili and Phillip today to discuss costumes and establish the storylines for their play. It’s the story of a ship exploring the coast of California during the 1600s that runs into a deadly group of sirens. Quinn questioned the historical accuracy of such a scenario, but the group decided that it was more of a fantasy. They agreed that one of the tenants of creating this play is that they will all commit to acting and participating every Community Friday to get results!



Isaac and Max worked together in the quiet room to record a song that Isaac has been composing for the last three days. They were incredibly, crazily excited about the fact that it was actual music with real instruments, not just synthesizers and sounds from Garage Band.


Anthony and I (Justine) held the inaugural meeting of a pieshop idea that Gever and I thought of this summer: Pieworks! The idea is to bake mini pies in Mason jars and sell them in the community as a fundraiser. We were thrilled to see so many kids excited about the project this morning: Madison, Rhone, Alicia, Aurora, Bruno, and Natasha. Anthony and I discussed a couple of the things we have to figure out: the types of pies we’ll make, the number we can bake, and where we’ll sell them. Next week, we plan to do a test run of apple.



Ellen bought and borrowed typewriters for an improv poetry and creative writing project in the dining room. The click-clacking and note writing filled the space! Lola composed stream-of-consciousness “hipster” poetry and did performance art. Norabelle and Aurora pretended to be secretaries and wrote memos. Bruno composed requests for newspaper articles, Alicia and Natasha used stamps to write their names and notices for others, and Madison fiddled around to make the non-working typewriters function better.





Christie, Nicky, Rhone, and Ian explored the extraterrestrial and the scale of the universe, both the large and the small, and wondered where aliens exist in the grand system.

Knife Throwing Club went off without a hitch again today, with reminders of the safety rules (no entering throwing zone, audio cues for readiness, silence while throwing happens) and more practice with wood blocks. So far, no one has made it to the big blade throw, but all are concentrating and working hard to get there. “I got up to untaped blades,” Ben told Mackenzie. “I must have a lot of earwax.” “Earwax?” Mackenzie asked. He said, “Because you make more earwax when you are afraid.”




In the art studio, Lukas, Oscar, and Jacob were busy making a games. Jacob was working on a role playing game where you choose your clan and the Dunes attack. Characters can take a portal from Jacob’s game board to perhaps a more safe environment on Lukas’s board.



Sadie and Ramses made a hummingbird sign with Shawna. “My hands are awesome, my chocolate hands are awesome!” Ramses said when he had paint on his hands. Sadie wondered how many colors you can make with three paints you already have.



Thanks so much to our picture taker, note maker, documentarian for the day: Mackenzie!

let’s throw knives: an open letter

In the promotion for his class “Dangerous Done Well,” Josh, one of our Tinkering School crossover staff members, writes: “In a manufactured world of rounded corners and bubble wrap, a child will never learn the complex, empowering and ultimately life-saving process of assessing and managing risk. An 18-year-old who has only ever used a butter knife won’t understand the obvious and apparent danger present when handed a utility knife to open boxes.”

Thus the reasoning behind learning to throw knives during the afterschool classes.

Because we’re Brightworks, though, the cool stuff abounds, and Josh has led sessions of Knife Throwing Club for the past two Fridays during the school day. Lest you think this was just a decision made because of the “cool” factor, we have Josh as guest blogger promoting and legitimizing Friday knife-throwing club:

Dear Parents,

I want your kids to come throw knives. Every Friday morning for the foreseeable future, Brightworks is hosting Knife Throwing Club (KTC) in the workshop.

How It Works

First we’ve set up stringent standards of safety. We make clear to everyone where we throw and why we throw in that location: no risk to others, minimal risk to property, long enough distances to avoid ricochet. The first 20 minutes of the first day of KTC was dedicated to this decision alone. Then we set up safe throwing procedure (as specific as the exact and acceptable responses to a “ready?” call). Our procedures are clear and our students already care for them so much that two students, Evan and Sadie, were reminding other students before I could. The students help each other remember the importance of making sure – not just assuming – that all eyes are on the blade and everyone is focused.

Then, with all this in mind, we throw blocks of wood. What we are modeling here is care, safety, and appropriate escalation. Only once you can throw a wood block safely and accurately 9 times in a row do you get to throw a taped up knife. Only once you can safely (remembering procedure, doing ready calls, etc) and accurately (hitting the pink target sure and steady) throw taped knives do you move on to knives with exposed blades. From there, once you can throw and intentionally blade-stick (knife landing with the blade sticking into the target) the small knives 9 times in a row, you can throw the professional throwing knife. It is important to note that no one, including myself, is yet qualified to throw the professional knife. Any error at all along the way, you don’t move up. Any serious error along the way and in fact you move back down.

Why We Throw Knives

The goals of knife throwing club are many-fold. One is patience. It’s really hard to hit a target that is 20 feet away 9 times in a row. Some 8-year-olds have passed the test while an 11-year-old is still working on it. One is that everyone has different skill levels (see 11-year-old struggling). One is safety, and adherence to procedure (myself and other students do not let error in procedure pass without comment and rest). One is ownership of responsibility (students call out other students because no one wants to be around an irresponsible thrower with a knife).

The most important aspects, however, are the cultivation of a growth mindset (video summary and article overview) and an understanding of the benefits of deliberate practice. The objective nature of knife throwing is dramatic, powerful, and motivating. You are either hitting the target, or you are not. You are either sticking the knife, or not. You are either sticking the knife in the part of the target you are aiming for, or not. There is no wiggle room and no fuzzy edges. No need for adult or peer critique. The action is the feedback. The growth that comes with repeated attempts is obvious and measurable.

The excitement around the idea is palpable. Sure, just tossing a knife is kind of cool, but everything changed once a kid stuck the first knife in the target on a throw. It sat there, blade first in the foamcore target, while the crowd sat silent, stunned even. Everyone wanted to stick the knife. Everyone started trying harder. Then, today, Evan stuck three in a row. If he sticks 9 in a row, it will demonstrate the control needed to throw the professional knife. His hand got sweaty with nervousness. The goal was obvious, the stakes where real, and I didn’t have to say a thing. He didn’t make it. He missed 2 of the 3 next throws. But soon, he won’t miss them. He knows the only thing between him and success is genuine effort, and that knowledge means everything.

All my best,
Joshua Rothhaas
Advising Faculty to Knife Throwing Club


Iteration is at the core of every project – starting with an idea, taking notes, putting out a draft, revising, looking for edits, incorporating new ideas, creating another version. It’s a process at the heart of Brightworks’ project-based learning, but has so far been a difficult process to exemplify and make clear to our students. An iteration of exploring a project’s process is Mackenzie’s latest contribution to making learning visible for her Hawks.


She writes, “When we talk about the Brightworks graduate, we imagine a person who approaches problems with curiosity, vigor and thoughtfulness. But how do we impart these qualities and values?


“To create more self awareness and intention around project work, I think a standard language for the steps of project work is important so that the kids can reflect on what they have done and perhaps anticipate what steps they may need to take in the future… To impart this idea that the stages of project work aren’t linear but can be identified Josh made some beautiful cards!


“In the past weeks the kids have been working side by side on a common project: build chairs for our classroom. My not-so-secret-agenda in doing this as a group is to give them the tools of project work they will need later in the year.


The story of this chair project is unfolding along the outside wall of our band space. [Yesterday] we took some time to reflect on the different stages of project work. Then we set [the kids] loose on the documentation walls with their project cards in hand to identify as many stages as possible.”


The Hawks discovered that their “simple” task of creating chairs isn’t so simple at all! They were excited to find that it’s filled with careful considerations and thoughtful next steps – and plenty of drafts and edits. Next week they will learn some new skills and draft yet another iteration of their chairs – something that Mackenzie knows will astonish them with their own abilities and help reinforce that the steps that creating something takes are important and ultimately worth doing.


Last week, Christie and Phillip took their band to the Golden Gate Bridge and to the design firm AutoDesk last week to explore bridges and become familiar with terminology, styles of bridges, materials they’re made of, and forces that act upon them and make them stay up.

At the bridge, they used what they had learned about measuring a city block to measure the entire length of the Golden Gate.




Phillip writes, “Wednesday, we spent the morning recalculating out measurements we took on the bridge. Students had to count their tally marks and multiply by 25ft. We created a table of actual distance vs. measured distance and calculated our percentage of error. Zada took the prize by coming within SIX FEET of getting the actual length of the bridge WOWZA!! The whole group won the challenge of having their averages come under 10% of the actual distance.”


They got a tour of AutoDesk from one of our parents’ friends and took a look at their models:



This week, they dove into designing their own bridge that will lead from the top of their bandspace to the mezzanine. In groups, they’ve used what they’ve learned to make rough inaccurate sketches and turn them into more formal drawings, which involve learning about proportions and scale drawings. They practiced by drawing their bandspace to scale on graph paper.



Some have started converting their drawings onto Sketchup and building more accurate and stable models.



Phillip continues, “Today, students broke out into their groups with a goal of presenting a successful “pitch” to us and other Brightworks staff as clients for their bridges. In teams, tasks were delegated by the Project Manager into model building (physical or in SketchUp), presenting, or researching. We watched a video of Walt Disney’s pitch for the original EPCOT concept, noting important characteristics of an impressive pitch. Students spent they day working on their individual tasks, which involved a lot of Sean-questions.”




Their presentations are at 1:00 tomorrow in a formal board room mezzanine with their clients, who will vote on the most promising design.

problem solving

Another question Brightworks students face is a distinction between spaces. With the space set up unlike most schools we’re all familiar with, it’s a question worth pursuing with kids young and old.

Shawna’s band and the Hawks have recently begun meeting about the walkway between their two spaces. Since their bandspaces are pushed together, there is a small corridor that leads from the dining room through the Hawk bandspace and into Shawna’s band’s space. Recently, this passageway has been a topic of discussion as both groups navigate communication and differing needs.


Shawna writes that “this is exactly the kind of thing that provides the necessary discourse for building community: this is an opportunity to learn about how to share perspectives and how to receive another’s request. Certainly my group doesn’t want to be seen as disruptors, yet the Hawks are feeling a need to have ownership and agency of their space, certainly a strong Brightworks ethic that we are happy to nurture.

This is an opportunity to have an authentic exchange about respect, intentions, and how to be separate-yet-connected communities whose spaces share a corridor. This is actually a perfect opportunity to work together on a project and create a sense of “ours” in the liminal space between bands: the Hawks plan to put up a curtain to help communicate with us when it is not okay to go through, and they will open it when it is okay (when they are not in their space).”


It’s great to watch the ways in which the collaborators let the kids guide the conversation, with a little help, so that they are able to practice making compromises and working together to create a better Brightworks community.


One of the trickiest questions our collaborators face when doing the Brightworks arc is knowing when explicit skill building needs to happen to help the kids’ explorations make more sense and become more meaningful.

Last week, Mackenzie’s band faced such a conundrum when they tried to measure the distance from Brightworks to the park using multiplication for estimation:

Mackenzie writes, “The most interesting problem of the week was inspired by the meridional definition: the meter is 1 ten millionth of the distance from the equator to the north pole. I gave our group a similar challenge to the one faced by the mathematicians who had to figure out the actual distance from the north pole to the equator.


I asked our group to figure out the distance from BWX to the park without leaving our city block. There were two main approaches to this problem. Half of the group walked heel to toe from one corner of the block to the other keeping count all the way, while the others measured a single paving square then counted how many paving squares in a block. Gathering the information from the city block had several challenges; however, the part that was most difficult for the group was the long addition and multiplication needed to estimate the distance beyond our city block. We had come to an impasse because the group didn’t have enough practice in the tools they needed to solve this problem.

This led me to grapple with one of the questions we face as we develop a BWX math program: How do we provide for the repetition and explicit instruction needed in building math skills while keeping in the spirit of exploration?


This week I decided that our group would take a detour into some explicit skill building with base-10 blocks. We spent three days this week using ‘base 10 blocks’ to build their understanding of place value in long addition and create arrays to help symbolize multiplication problems.”


This week, they are picking the exploration part of the problem back up and collaborating with Lili’s band to make estimations from here to the park and here to Dolores Park.




friday experiences

Today – another great Community Friday:

Lili and a group of actors rehearsed a scene and made a plan for creating a play about sirens. They’re planning to write a script, make costumes and a set, and rehearse for several weeks to create a real show!



Sean and Ian are working on a Chromebook way-station so we can all keep track of the pesky laptops that get checked out from the office and never seem to make it back…


Shawna set up clay in the dining room and brought several books in to impart inspiration.



Harry brought his 3D printer to school and asked Phillip to help him get it working again.


The Exploratorium does a Tinkering Social Club every month and invited artist Jesse Genet to do light painting with them. Luckily, we have Gever, an expert in finding expert creative people out in the world and inviting them to school. Jesse visited for the morning and guided groups of kids through the process of making their own clothes using ink and the sun to print pictures on their shirts, using Inkodye to do so. (Check out the website here!)




Josh hosted the first day of Knife Throwing Club, where he will be teaching the kids how to, extremely safely and with widely-known and accepted rules, throw knives. Today they practiced with wood, one at a time, and went over and over what it means to be safe in this club.



Sadie tried to teach Ramses her own version of chess.


Edwin, Bruno and Natasha’s dad, came in to make hot lunch! He made grilled cheese sandwiches of various varieties and food tolerances and tomato soup, and had lots of kid helpers during the morning.