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!


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!

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

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.