Proposing Community Friday activities has become so popular that there may soon be more provocations than kids available to do them! It’s a generally successful day overall, but today was especially lovely with all the kid-proposed activities that were actually better attended than the ones that the adults were leading.




One of the projects that appealed to kids of all ages today was Max and Isaac’s video making challenge. During the last school year Max directed, filmed, and edited a short video (called “How We Reacted”) all in a single day and showed it at the end of school. He was going to do another during the same year, but was devastated by a lost film accident that put him off the idea for a while. Today, however, he and Isaac reinvigorated that project and invited kids to come up to the mezzanine to make a plan and do some acting.


They trooped down to the garage to film, of course respecting the vehicles parked down there as they worked.


Shawna, who accompanied them, said she heard the kids getting inspired by the angles, the brightness of a white wall, a spider they found, Ramses and Sadie’s movements and expressions, the exit sign, and the storage units.


She also said there were great dynamics between all the kids, as well as between Max and Isaac who were co-directors and co-filmmakers.


After Community Lunch, they showed the movie in the quiet room to the whole school. All editing had been done in the morning and early afternoon, and Max and Isaac also composed the music. We were all impressed! Max explained that the idea was about kids trapped by their lack of school supplies or curiosity, perhaps, and that when Sadie and Ramses ran through the scenes, they were re-inspiring the other kids to come alive again. The filmmakers and actors were on hand to answer questions and we watched it one more time. Well done, everyone! I’ll put up a link to it once it’s been posted.


We’re off for Thanksgiving break next week. Happy Thanksgiving and happy Hanukah!

on a clock face

The Hummingbirds have been exploring the fundamentals of clocks using counting, number lines, and physical representations of clock hands, faces, and numbers. Shawna presented the group with several tools in the last week so that they can begin their exploration of clocks: circles with lines around the edges that they immediately identified as a clock face, and strips of paper as number lines that they used to plot the number of seconds it took them to complete a designated task.


Shawna also reports, “We have been playing ‘What Time is it Mr. Fox’ – the children take big steps for hours, tiny steps for seconds, and regular steps for minutes. At the fox’s command, the clock can go backward or move forward. This has been really fun for us, and it’s yet another representation of the passing intervals of a clock.”


In their explorations they have been thinking about animal migrations and internal clocks, as well as looking at the solar calendar as the sun relates to seasons and the measure of days.


This week, they’re turning to a study of clock functions, Shawna says. They’re going to look at telling time, gears and pendulums, and examining clocks for time data. Today they are on their way to the Ferry Building at the wharves to look at the clock tower and listen to the chimes for clues about its mechanics. Good thing it stopped raining!


One of the main threads of inquiry for the beginning of the Clocks arc for the Hawks has been the ancient timekeeping tool of sundials. The Hawks have approached the sundial in the same way they approached their chairs in the first arc: with a first draft! They came up with their first idea of a sundial as a clock face with a dial (called a gnomon) sticking straight out of the middle. Mackenzie writes, “I may have guided them to a more successful sundial if I hadn’t seen such an incredible math opportunity in the challenge of dividing a circle into twelve equal parts.”


She watched as the group started folding their circles in half, and them half again, coming up with fractions as small as 1/32. They discussed the number pattern, them reevaluated to come up with 1/12 for their clock face.


They started using protractors to make each folded fraction equal. “Soon everyone discovered that each section would have to be 30 degrees,” Mackenzie writes. “After lunch the kids returned to the clocks faces add minutes and mark out hours with numbers and roman numerals.”


After some experimentation, however, the Hawks learned that their first prototype did not work, even despite the cloudy day at the beginning of the week.


Mackenzie writes, “The group discovered that the sun travels from east to west in the south casting a shadow across the upper part of the dial and never the bottom! On Tuesday our second iteration of sundial was a simple board with a stick in it that we would mark on every hour. We would bring the clock to where we found a patch of sun then orient it north and mark the tip of the shadow. We discovered the problem with this method was that the uneven ground was messing up our readings. On Wednesday we traced a place for our sun dial that we could return to every hour.”


The Hawks have asked, “Why do so many sundials have tilted gnomons? What angle should our gnomon be?” They report that they have been google searching, watching videos and making mini-solar system demonstrations to try and understand this. We’re excited to see what they come up with!


friday photos

Some photos from Friday:

Phillip made another stop motion video of the morning circle by recreating one minute on a clock face with people.


He set Bruno and Nicky up in making their own videos.



Isaac led a comic-making drawing class.


Elizabeth led the next step in mural painting with Clementine, Aurora, Sadie, Ben, and Quinn.


After Madison’s hair braiding, there was a flower-drawing workshop in the art studio.


Tab asked Sean advice on a personal workshop project.


Christie started an a-capella group in the library and they practiced making harmonies for different songs.


The playwrights practiced scene five of their script, running through lines and blocking out scenes.



Jocelyn made us burritos and all the fixings for lunch!


Madison timed her 13.5 second marble run, with Rhone documenting the process in the background.


hawk chairs!

The Hawks have finished their chairs!


Mackenzie writes,

“This is no small feat…in fact the Hawks practically lived in the workshop for a week to get these chairs done! When using screws it takes less than 3 minutes to join two pieces of wood together, but, when using dowels and glue, each joint takes at least 15 to 20 minutes. This is because each joint has twice as many steps, which means twice as many ways to make a mistake.


The consequences of careless work were immediate and unavoidable, and the amount of focus, resilience and perseverance required by these chairs was immense.



There were times of frustration when chair-building had lost all novelty and was just plain hard. However, the evidence stands around our band table: 6 square, precise and true chairs. These chairs have set the bar for craftsmanship and quality of work at Brightworks. They are truly something to be proud of.”


“I never planned for us to spend three days straight in the workshop. I had put together a balanced schedule so we could avoid burn out and maintain continuity with our academic lessons.



I’m really glad that schedule had to be scrapped. There was something about spaciousness of having nothing to do but build chairs that captured the magic of tinkering school.



In our action packed lives it is rare to find the freedom of a single minded focus on one problem. Because there was nothing more interesting happening next, the kids sank their teeth into the task at hand. I think it was this kind of freedom and spaciousness that Gever had in mind when he founded Brightworks.”



Every November for the past couple of years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, a world-wide challenge that people take on to write a novel from beginning to end, all in thirty days. This incredible, crazy program is a word-sprint that encourages writers new and old to put away their inner editors and write with abandon for a whole month. NaNoWriMo is now its own nonprofit run out of Berkeley and they have amazing resources for teachers and educators to run it in their own classrooms. I’d tried to encourage kids in Brightworks’ first and second years to write, but there was little interest. Oh well.

But this year, I was thrilled to hear the enthusiasm for the project when I mentioned it in October at morning circle! And I was even more excited with a couple of the collaborators decided that their whole bands should participate and write too! During October, we all sat down together and talked through our fears about setting off on a novel-writing adventure and planned out our characters and plots. There was a lot of pep-talking. There was a lot of encouragement and easing of fears and “You can do it – really”s.

And now it’s November. The seventh of November. And just when I was starting to wonder if this project would really get off the ground and the kids would come through on their word count promises… they did. They have been writing with a fury and an excitement that I haven’t seen about a writing project at this school. As a writer myself, it makes my heart sing to see so many good ideas and big ideas and small ideas come out from these kids’ brains and onto a piece of paper or typed into a google doc. They’re writing! And the best part of it is – they’re really liking it.

A few of the kids were willing to share pieces of their work:

She walked up the stone steps, through the little vegetable garden, and passed the chicken coop finally reaching the door. – Frances

Harry the hamburger was just waking up when his bottom started to burn! Harry danced with joy he was being grilled!! – Norabelle

Quinn would like to report that his story is about robots who play football, and Ben says his story is about skateboarding and a kid who loves it.

When they got on the train it was dark and wet. Nobody was smiling, just of the thought of it kind of sends chills down my back. Drips of water falling silently in the dark shadows of the depressed people. The people looked like tall statues in a desert. – Lola

Natasha says her story is about the big changes in the life of a girl and her family when her father dies and she gets a stepfather.

Altaira was exhausted! But she had to stay up five more minutes! – Audrey

So far, the Brightworks writers (about 25 of us) have written more than 38,000 words… and counting.