project work continues

Project work continues!

Frances, with Debbie’s help, made hot lunch for the whole school today as a part of her project on mapping local, organic food and non-local, non-organic food.

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Kids are meeting with experts and taking their to-do lists very seriously, although frustration and resistance still crop up despite their understanding of the hard work they have to do! But it’s all in the process of doing something that’s important and worth doing.

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great work week

It’s been a pretty amazing week here with declarations and project work and so much thinking and doing! This Expression phase is short, but it hasn’t lessened the quality and ingenuity of the ideas and goals for the Maps arc projects. We are so excited and so proud of these kids for all of the work they have done and all they are about to do!

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inspired by exploration

What an incredible mix of map projects these kids have come up with! They have really taken great leaps and bounds in allowing themselves to be inspired by a topic during this arc, which is wonderful considering that many of them were discouraged and uninterested in the arc topic when it was introduced to them several weeks ago. Also lovely to see is a new trust in the learning aspects of the Exploration phase. In arcs before this one, the kids would hear the arc topic and immediately decide what kind of project they wanted to work on, without first embarking with their collaborators into Exploration to learn new things and be exposed to many ideas. However, with these Maps Expression projects, I see the kids’ declarations that describe projects based on ideas they allowed themselves to be curious about during Exploration. Their project ideas now very clearly stem from topics that they discovered, not that they brought with them. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they didn’t know much about Maps before this arc (other than they’re the squiggly lines that tell you where you are) or were limited by their understanding of what maps can show you, or maybe – just maybe – we’re getting better at following a path through a landscape of Exploration topics and seeing more clearly just what ideas most inspire curiosity in these kids.

Nicky and Mason, inspired by the immigration stories and adventures they learned about during Exploration, have chosen a project based on gathering firsthand stories of immigrants and mapping out origins and journeys. They are particularly interested in issues dealing with the Mexican-American border. Yesterday, they saw the tail-end of a naturalization ceremony and they are excited to return for the next one to interview some of the participants and see the whole event.

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Natasha is hitting the streets to collect data – the streets in front of La Boulange bakeries, that is, to collect data about the number of pigeons that crowd around to eat crumbs. She was inspired by Stamen’s presentations of data in beautiful, aesthetic ways, and will be working with them and our artist-in-residence Jacqueline to create a map representation of the data she collects over the next few weeks about pigeon habits.

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She’s not the only one who was inspired by Stamen maps – the mouse house group of Lucy, Clementine, and Noah are learning about mouse habits, creating a mouse house based on what they find out and an architect’s expertise, and tracking live mice through their creation to draw a map that explains what mice like. Isaac is also collecting various pieces of data from neighborhoods in the city and will be mapping Stamen-like representations of correlations between computer stores and hot dog stands (for example).

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Zada and Madison are creating their own civilizations that exist in an almost-fantasy world – still based partly in reality – and will be doing readings and research to better inform what kind of society they are creating to make it better and more ideal for their citizens. Max is writing a novella exploring the idea that a map can silently destroy a life by putting someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Henry is creating a map that the kids can climb – on a climbing wall inside the school that he is raising funds for.

Norabelle and Bruno were inspired by mazes and labyrinths during the arc and will be researching the design elements in making these map puzzles. They’re excited to visit Grace Cathedral’s labyrinth, the maze at Land’s End, and Veriditas in Petaluma, a nonprofit that focuses on learning more about labyrinths and the role they play in spirituality and mythology. Their project is mathy too! They’ll be measuring the time it takes to walk a labyrinth, and then measuring that time in terms of length, and the mathematics involved in maze design.

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Ben and Lola are working together to explore the tectonic plates and continential on the surface of the earth and create a clay animation video about how Pangea became the seven continents. Their video will be set to a song they write based on Gotye’s break-up song “Somebody That I Used to Know”.

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More and more details on more projects, particularly those that the Sand Leopards are taking on, are forthcoming as these projects develop!

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Thanks to Beth for the lovely blog post she wrote about Stamen’s visit to Brightworks! We’re excited to call on their expertise during this Expression phase as the kids start collecting data for their own maps. Check out Beth’s post here.

summery day

Today was one of the most joyous Community Fridays we’ve had in a long time, with the springy summery heat, declaration approvals, capoeira, literature circles, dance parties and painting, school picture day, water balloons in the park, hot lunch, and Market Day! Whew. Back to declarations and Expression next week.

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delicacy and firmness

Declaration time at Brightworks is a moment of great delicacy and steadfast firmness for the adults in the school. It’s a time to tease out ideas from the kids about what grabbed them the most during the arc, and to see whose ideas might overlap to take advantage of collaboration, and to dig deeper about how to turn their inspirations into manageable project work. It’s a time for lots of questions and lots of curiosity and lots of who’s, what’s, why’s, and how’s. It’s a time for, “Are you ready and willing to put in the effort that it’s going to take to do this awesome thing?” and letting a kid say “Yes!” even if, as the adult, you might be able to see some pitfalls or mistaken assumptions. And letting those things go, because they’re important lessons to learn in the doing.

Delicacy and firmness: encouraging a kid to take on something they’re excited about, something worth doing for multiple weeks, but standing firm to help them challenge themselves in all the right places, think bigger, and commit whole-heartedly to the work.

There are usually three general categories of students by the time we get to declarations: those who know what they’re interested in and declare a project so massive it might fill a PhD program’s worth of work, those who find a tiny sliver of an idea that they either don’t know how or are unwilling to make broader and more complex, and those who have no clue what they want to do.

In the first two arcs (and getting better each time around!), we’ve encouraged all the kids to take the median path of these extremes so that they’re working on projects that are interesting and engaging, challenging in the right places, and (mostly) accomplish-able during the three to four weeks of Expression. The declaration process has been hard, filled with many conversations and multiple drafts of the written declarations. We’ve learned a lot from each series of declarations for each arc and have some new prompts in place that reflect those discoveries – most notably the new declaration template. This document is an experiment that we hope will streamline the thinking and writing process across all age groups, with the caveat that collaborators can add their own additional requirements (a more complete write-up, for example, depending on the kids’ ability level).

We’re learning to ask different questions from a kid when they start thinking about their projects. Now, after hearing the beginnings of an idea, we start the conversation with the end goal: What does this project look like for you during the night of Expression? Expression at Brightworks is about the process of doing a project (not necessarily the finished product) but we start here as a way to understand the best way to support and guide the kids along the way. We (as the adults) and they (as the students) have learned a lot about biting off more than you can chew, keeping in mind the deadlines for getting to that stopping point, and have learned that the declaration process of thinking out all the potential roadblocks in the plan, and that making a somewhat realistic schedule of due dates and goals to hit is one of the most important steps in the whole Expression phase.

But all the specific goal setting and scheduling is for later. Right now, after knowing what the kids want to have accomplished by the end of Expression, we ask questions that will guide the students to making a proposal and declaring their intended work: What has been most interesting to you during Maps? What kind of project will you take on during Expression? What is the Big Question that guides your work? How does this project relate to Maps? What materials and supplies do you need to do awesome work? Is there a safety plan needed?

Are you ready to sign your declaration and pledge to undertake this work? Are you ready to do this thing?

where lines meet

Expression is just around the corner and the kids are getting ready to think about writing their declarations to start project work at the end of this week or beginning of the next. Today was full of math, from triangles to the percentage of the U.S. population that are immigrants to the circumference of the earth at a given latitude (37.7° for San Francisco).

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As the day winds to a close, we are inspired by the ideas and images in this video about wooden boat repair and construction.