mirrors presentations, day 1

Exposition is upon us! Yesterday, the Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Elephants gave beautiful presentations about their project work during the Mirrors arc.

Shawna told the story of the Hummingbirds’ arc, starting with a viewing of their choreographed dance routine based on their own version of the Snow White story. The different acts portrayed the Queen plotting against Snow White, the Queen giving poison to Snow White, the coffin with a deceased Snow White inside, and the celebration/fight scene that comes at the end. The dance was done at ODC Dance Studios nearby where the kids choreographed and practiced with the help of expert Hillary. Shawna explained their study of the Snow White story as an exploration of beauty, family structures, jealousy, and problem solving, and the steps they took to creating their own story.


At the end of the presentation, each Hummingbird was asked, “Which is more powerful: the mirror or the kiss?” Ramses was sure that it was the mirror, because whatever the mirror said, people followed. Tesla said it was the kiss, because it was all about love and the mirror is only about meanness. Sadie said it was the mirror because the mirror represents the truth.

The Hawks were up next and described the work they did on their solar concentrators.

Bruno talked about how a parabola works: the angle of reflection and the angle of incidence are equal, making a shape like a triangle, and the light condenses into a focal point. His design was inspired by a disco ball and made his reflector an inside out disco ball. It’s easily adjustable to meet the sun’s rays. He also talked about trying to attach a motor to rotate his marshmallow for an even roast, but it’s manual for now.




Quinn also used a parabolic mirror made from a satellite dish covered in mirror tiles. He talked about design challenges in finding a way to hold the marshmallow in the focal point. First he used his fingers, but burned them. He tried barbeque tongs, but couldn’t hold them still enough to heat up his marshmallow. Finally he decided to use wire, which was doubly good because wire is heat conductive. He also made an adjustable stand to hold up his mirror.



Lola and Lucy had wanted to bake a pie for their project, but realized they had to heat the oven up to 350 degrees, so ended up building a solar oven. They used the greenhouse effect, which they explained is a way to trap infrared light from the sun and create heat. They painted their oven black to have more effective absorption, and created mirror flaps to direct more heat into the oven, since they discovered that more mirrors means more heat. Ultimately they baked crispy tarts at 300 degrees.





Ben was inspired by parabolic intuition strain on Khan Academy on his solar cooker. His cooker was a large frame draped with mylar, which proved to be a challenge because of the wind, so he used plexiglass and dowels to keep it steady and taut. He described drawing a two-inch grid along the outside of the cooker to make his focal point more accurate, and made a stand to help him angle the cooker toward the sun.




Clementine, Natasha, and Aurora talked about the three different iterations they created in testing their solar cooker ideas. They wanted to bake a cookie in their oven and worked off of the ideas of the cooker that Clementine made in Joshua Tree. They used black cardboard as insulation and a mirror to direct the light, and ended up using a parabolic mirror just outside the oven to direct even more light into the oven. It got up to 150 degrees and took an hour to bake their cookies.





Lili introduced each Elephant and talked about the ways they grew during this arc.

Frances talked about her study of Eritrean braiding practices and explained some of the research she did, the experts she visited, and her scientific experiments about muscle memory. She visited Ginger Rubio salon and an Eritrean woman named Yodit to learn more about braiding. Her scientific experiment predicted that it would take less time to braid one’s own hair without a mirror than with one, and after collecting data from some Brightworks community members, this was proven correct. Her conclusion is that muscle memory helps more than visuals.



Oscar, Lukas, and Rhone described their process in building a telescope. They were inspired by a Youtube video as well as a visit to the Chabot Space Center. They researched Galileo’s work in studying the universe and tried to make a telescope similar to the one he used with mirrors. They described the way a mirror telescope working: the light of the object you’re looking at hits the concave mirror and bounces off the flat mirror to create an image in your eye. They talked about challenges and setbacks, and the lessons they learned through the process.




Jacob hit a few major setbacks in his project, but gave an excellent presentation that described his journey. Initially, he wanted to make a game in RPG player, then tried to do it in Minecraft, but found it didn’t work without a piece of software he wasn’t able to get his hands on. However, he did work on a wood prototype of the mirror maze that he wanted to replicate on the computer.



Norabelle presented the bust she made of herself and talked about the process of making this sculpture. She studied Dali and the reason people make busts – to make a permanent memorial of an important person. She talked about the challenges of her first bust, made of clay, and the more advanced and life-sized second bust, made of many materials including PVC pipe, tape, foil, glue, wood, fabric, plaster strips, paint and yarn.




Audrey’s project was inspired by the idea of photographic memory – which, she informed us, actually doesn’t exist. What takes its place is something called a memory mansion, where people use images they know well to associate with things in their long-term memory. She talked about how memory works and told us that improving memory isn’t as hard as it seems. She showed us a card trick to prove her memory improvement.




clocks exposition

This week was an incredibly busy one, from putting final touches on actual projects, to writing reflections and taking last bits of feedback for papers, practicing presentations, and setting up the space, all for Exposition night when the kids have the opportunity to show off their work done during the project phase of Clocks. There is more to say about each of their presentations and our reflections on Thursday night’s event, but for now, here are some glimpses into Exposition night:







Max’s film The Horologist








Yesterday, Friday, was a lovely, calm day – everyone was tired and happy, wearing red to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We spent the day making cards, watching a bird documentary, eating a fabulous Greek community lunch, having a dance party on the cork floor in the afternoon, and sitting together to say thanks when we opened each other’s Valentine’s cards. School is out for the week while staff plans for the next arc and reflects on Clocks. In the meantime – hooray to the Brightworks students on their first Exposition night of the year!

getting ready

Exposition night is coming up on Thursday! There has been intense energy around the school as everyone puts the final touches on their projects and works on the presentations that they will give on Thursday night.







We’re trying a new format for the Clocks Exposition by having presentations going on in two corners of the school, while science-fair-esque display boards are set up in the central spaces of the school. Some pretty amazing work has been done during this arc – the kids are thrilled and nervous to show off their progress!

exposition night

We had our year-end celebration and Maps Arc Exposition last night! Old and new families gathered with guests and friends to ask questions and look at the kids’ amazing projects from Maps.

















drawing, climbing, filling maps

No good project in this world would ever get started without a moment of exuberant optimism. How else would you cross the gap that lies between where you are now and what you want to get done? Optimism is the fuel that gets projects started, but persistence gets them done.

Maps often describe the boundaries between this and that, and us and them. Inspired by personal events in their own lives, Nicky and Mason used this arc to look deeply at the border between the United States and Mexico. They each discovered something unexpected – tunnels dug nine stories deep into the ground, stories of smugglers risking their lives to get people across the border, and more – and developed informed opinions of border policies and politics which they organized and shared with the school. From compelling statistics to re-enacting the interception of a border crossing.



Quinn shared a progress report on the development of his multi-player cooperative role-playing game. Working with multiple experts from the game-design world, he’s been learning the difference between good ideas and good game-play and how one evolves into the other.



Max thought that the hardest part about writing a book would be the writing – turns out it was the editing. Max spoke eloquently about the struggles of a writer – the blank page, the distractions, the self-doubt, the plot problems – and how he worked through them to finish his first novella. We were gripped by the action in the excerpt he read.



From the department of Be Careful What You Wish For, Madison and Zada may have thought that they were “getting away” with something when they proposed the creation of a mythical island as a project for maps, but when the work started and questions started coming up they realized that there might actually be more work in really inventing a culture than just studying one. When every narrative invention leads to a “why,” they wrestled with what history really is.





It seems like a simple question: “will comparing seemingly unrelated kinds of data on a map reveal previously overlooked relationships?” Isaac wanted to build a map of San Francisco that he could use to explore different kinds of data. He set about to draw every street in every neighborhood in San Francisco and mastered the basic drawing capabilities of Adobe Illustrator, one of the more inscrutable tools in the Graphic Designer’s toolbox. Like a monk working on an illuminated manuscript, he transcribed and interpreted the pixels painstakingly into vectors that he could work with. His work-in-progress result may communicate more about his tenacity than his data (some of which he lost when his laptop died). At one point, Isaac pulled up Natasha’s layered transparencies to explain how virtual layers work in Illustrator, much to her delight.




Henry is the first to admit that a climbing wall is a bit of a stretch as a project for maps (aside from the “you know, climbing routes” argument), but there is an audacity to the project that appealed to the whole school. He will be coming back this summer to finish it up, but it is already inspiring to see it rising above the cork floor. Working with Josh and experts from the local climbing gym, he shared with us the process of developing and refining his ideas and plans until he had something that would be fun to climb, feasible to build, and safe to use for years to come, handling the questions with confidence as he hung monkey-like from his structure.




Here at Brightworks, we don’t always look for “done,” which can so easily be a disguised version of “stopped,” choosing instead the more elusive but valuable condition of being good work with deep emotional and intellectual investment.

mice, maps, games, and comics

This morning, the mouse group from the Coyotes, Clementine, Lucy, and Noah, presented their hard work in creating houses for mice and learning the answers to their big question, “What do mice like?” They took turns to tell us the story of the project’s origins and explained the steps they took to create a friendly environment for their mice. They were very level-headed when they explained that one mouse had died because of territorial wars in the mouse mansion, and showed us the maps they made based on the time-lapse maps from Stamen design to show where their mice moved in their new home.





Eight Sand Leopards presented their projects this afternoon. Their work was clearly inspired by their explorations from the arc and they showed off the hard work that comes from asking big questions.

Thea displayed her collage mural of Italy, which was based on her trip to Italy a few weeks ago. She modge-podged maps of Venice and Florence around a central map of Italy and explained that the words around the map represented the things she saw there, namely the art and the marble. She used mixed media to complete her project and told us that she felt she had improved as an artist since the beginning of the year because she was more deliberate and careful with the artistic choices she made while creating this piece.



Coke showed off his four comic book pages that he wrote and drew during Expression while trying to answer the big question, “How do I make a comic about extraterrestrial life?” He told us how he worked with his expert Caroline to come up with new techniques and ideas for his storyline and the illustrations. The story, as yet unfinished, is about an explorer who visits a new planet and is mapping the terrain while running into various mishaps.



Theo created a trivia board game based on a map of the world, with questions about food, music, and other special cultural aspects from different countries around the world. He told us that the story of the game is that the player is a kid failing in school. There’s no power, so you can’t use the internet, so in order to pass into eighth grade, you have to travel the world to bring back fifteen facts about different countries.


Meg used her expression phase to do a research project on the future of human evolution. She worked with Uyen, who knows a lot about evolution, to look at what changes we can already see in different species and read more about what evolutionary scientists predict will happen with humans. She learned there are two hypotheses: that, based on the large, non-isolated population that humans are, they will either continue to evolve but slowly, or stop entirely. She thinks humans will either die out, stop evolving, develop exaggerated features, or become a mix of all races.



William talked about the role-playing game he created during Expression called “Natives,” which is based on Native American spirit mythology and the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. He explained that a player first starts out in a village and through a long series of decisions on different challenges, become involved in hunting for food, bigger and more high-stakes battles, and dangerous quests. He and Coke demonstrated game play and added that playing epic music in the background was one of the major rules.



Frances asked the question, “Does the Brightworks community prefer organic or non-organic ingredients?” and used her lunch-making experiment for two Tuesdays to test her hypothesis that people at Brightworks would prefer the taste of an organic-based meal. It was true! Looking at surveys she took on both Tuesdays, she discovered that students and staff could tell the difference in flavor between the two meals, although she admitted that there were some variables, like too much Green Goddess dressing, that might have skewed her data. She gave us a brief history of organic food and said she’d been inspired by the locavore meal the Sand Leopards cooked during Exploration.



Audrey talked about her family ancestry project, both the non-fiction aspects and the fantasy map aspects. Because she was interested both in family history and writing stories, she combined her curiosities to create two parallel stories, one based on family history and the other about another world based on the locations that her family lived. She worked a lot with her grandmother and discovered that the Portuguese part of her family is from an island called the Azores.



Kaia presented her animal migration map where she had drawn the migration patterns of arctic terns and humpback whales. She told us about all the research she did with facts about the habits of each type of animals’ migration, saying that animals tend to follow migration patterns when food sources change or the weather becomes too cold. She said she used books and internet materials to do her research and had to use correct citations to keep track of the research, and would include more animals on her map next time.



pigeons and labyrinths

Norabelle, Bruno, and Natasha presented all their hard Maps work today with three great presentations!

Bruno started us off by explaining the origins of his project and his big question, “What is the difference between a labyrinth and a maze?” He described the field trips he took with Norabelle and the process he took in creating his finger clay maze – inspired by a finger maze at Grace Cathedral – and his succulent plant maze – inspired by his interest in corn field mazes. He talked about various types of mazes around the world and said he would be most interested in visiting a water maze, which he learned can be found in the United Kingdom.



Norabelle described the field trips that she and Bruno went on to learn about labyrinths. They visited labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, McLaren Park, Sunset Playground, and Veriditas in Petaluma. Norabelle told us about the different parts of a labyrinth and that they represent aspects of life. She explained that her favorite part about the difference between mazes and labyrinths is that one is designed to trick you and the other is to help you find your way. She talked about her final project, a big maze painted on canvas, that was inspired by visiting expert Ulrica’s floor-sized labyrinth.



Natasha told us all about the map she made called “Natasha’s Pigeon and Pastry Project” based on the questions “Do bakeries and pigeons relate?” and “Is there a pattern for where people placed their La Boulange locations?” She talked about her visits to five different La Boulange cafes around San Francisco to observe the pigeon activity and whether the birds like regular butter croissants or chocolate croissants more. She discovered that pigeons have their preferences, just like humans! She showed us her beautiful map of San Francisco where, inspired by Stamen design, she had layered the information she gathered on three huge transparency sheets.