the scientific method

Science is not a subject, it is a perspective, a philosophy – a framework for understanding the world. Contrary to cultural trivializations, a scientific approach can make the world seem more fabulous and more bewitching – as fantastical as any great fiction.

Noah and I were playing with some seeds from a large maple tree that I spent some time under this weekend. The seeds of this maple were particularly graceful helicopters as they drifted down in the afternoon breeze. I filled a cup and brought them to the school, and it wasn’t until after-care that I remember to bring them out. Noah and I tried launching them from various places around the school until we found the perfect spot upstairs in his band space. After dropping a few, we discovered that some fell slower than others – “they’re better at flying,” said Noah. Much careful observation followed as we slowly emptied the cup, one pair of flying seeds at a time.



Noah evolved a set of useful terms for describing each flight test; “spin-y”, “drop-y”, and “diver.” These terms, unconsciously developed, helped us codify our observations. Perhaps later we will start sorting the seeds into categories using these terms as labels, then we might try to see what characteristics the members of each category has in common, perhaps even going so far as to make a taxonomy of morphologies, published as a field guide to maple seeds, with a beautiful frontispiece and marbled covers. But for today, we were happy to watch them float down, spinning, dropping, or diving as they were wont to do.


Community Friday usually goes something like this: in the morning, there’s capoeira followed by literature circles. Then we come back together and the adults offer the kids options for how they want to spend their Community Friday, usually a building project, an art provocation, or an outdoors exploration. But today, most of the adults sat back and watched with awe as members of the student body offered their own provocations and activities for the younger kids.

Madison and Zada went into the workshop to duplicate the activity they did with geologist Jug in using magnets to remove iron from sand.


Art and writing abounded, of course, as well as community lunch and Dreambox math work.



Max organized a cast of characters for a short film he created on the cork floor. He directed his actors and treated them like professionals, asking for another take, or another expression, or a close-up.


His actors took their job very seriously, and Max incorporated their feedback and ideas with open-mindedness and respect.



By the end of the day and after lots of editing, he had produced a short film and inspired several other students to create short movies of their own. Check it out here: How We Reacted – and have a great weekend!

presentations + exposition night

The fourth day of presentations!

Lola explained how her project shifted in many directions after she was inspired by a video of Capuchin monkeys wanting equality in their food. She talked about how primates have a sense of fairness and justice, and then described how she learned about the mining of coltan in gorilla habitats, leading to her electronic waste drive that helps dispose of and recycle products that contain this metal so she can help protect primate habitats.



Zada described her process of becoming a dedicated volunteer for the San Francisco Food Bank and the Homeless Prenatal Program after volunteering at the needle exchange during the Exploration phase of the Fairness arc. Her research on homelessness made her more passionate about doing what she can for the various organizations in San Francisco to help change disadvantage peoples’ lives. She is still running a donation drive for the Homeless Prenatal Program and raised over $600 in the evening.



Isaac showed us the dozens of stencil art pieces he has created throughout the arc. He talked about the controversy of street art and what he does or does not consider to be acceptable street art, and described the process of creating the stencils: what was easy, what was difficult, his thought process in creating the more controversial pieces.



Connor talked about his discoveries during the Expression phase in learning various computer programs like Unity and Google Sketch-up to help him build his video game. He told us about the major hiccups he came across in learning and debugging code. His game is based on the Saharan desert trade game that the school attempted to create at the beginning of the Fairness arc and includes a series of moral dilemmas that the player has to solve as they move through the world he has created.


William presented his short four-act play about warring tribes and the discovery of metal to triumph in battle with actors from the Sand Leopards and Phantoms. After the warlord’s troops were defeated in battle, he sent them into the mines, where they found a wonderful hard substance that they then used to defeat their enemies. William’s conclusion? People with weapons made of metal was not fair.



Quinn presented an infographic-packed study of the fairness of education. He talked about the advantages and disadvantages of people of various races and genders, told us the story of desegregating schools, rapped about the court case Plessy v. Ferguson, and compared rising rates of graduates from high school and college. Based on all the evidence he collected, he decided that education is becoming more and more fair, despite setbacks along the way.



Audrey re-presented her game at the very end of the day and told us all about the difficulties she faced in making her games fair (initially, the person who went first always won) and making it more complex (instead of winning in 2 or 6 moves). She had a glittery, completed board game based on one of her favorite shows to show off at the end of Expression!


In the evening, Brightworks became a show-and-tell event for parents and community members. The kids created displays of their work and stood by to answer questions and talk about their process and the end result. The kids did so much work this arc! They knew how to answer every question posed to them and handled themselves with the professionalism that their work deserved!
















presentations day 3

The presentation run-down from Wednesday:

Logan told us all the rules and regulations of his fantasy games, including the amount of monsters he has already created and ones he’s planning to make. He said the game was created to be fair because at the beginning, everyone has the chance of winning the game.



Theo presented his play based on the emotions of his Kimochis and the global warming issues that plague our planet. Although he was unable to perform the entirety of the thirty-five page play he wrote, he and the Sand Leopards did a stage reading of the Terrible Ending (one of the three endings) of the story, where the character Sleepy makes the choice to take over the world.



Evan, Daniel, and Alexander shared their blacksmithing experiences at the Crucible and the work they did exploring the history of metal. They described the terrible advantages that certain people who had metal and metal weapons and tools had over those who did not.



The go-cart team of Alessandro, Mason, and Nicky talked about the challenges they faced in building their go-cart. They showed us an almost-completed vehicle and agreed that the motor box was the most difficult thing to construct. And of course, it related to fairness because they had to decide the most fair way to choose the driver!



Frances, Kaia, and Meg introduced their global warming video filled with facts about the impact that humans have on the environment and footage from their experiences with no-impact camping at Point Reyes. In the video’s audio, they took turns speaking about the ways we can do better to protect the environment and showed an interview with a park ranger they met at Point Reyes.



Ben and Noah revealed their identities as the Waste Wizards during their presentation and talked about their work exploring waste, compost, and recycling. They explained that they’d wanted to look at how Brightworks deals with trash and how they are now starting an after-school Trash Club to see how they can affect waste management in the world.



presentations day 2

Presentations continued this afternoon!

Lucy and her fellow Coyote actors performed her play about Ruby Bridges, the first African American student to integrate into an all-white school in the 1960’s. Despite a minor injury onset, the play was a beautiful story about the bravery of a six-year-old kid and the support she got from the adults in her life.




Norabelle, Bruno, and Natasha presented their six-chapter book about people in history that fought to bring more fairness to the world. They wrote about Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, and Louis Armstrong, and talked during their presentation about their triumphs and challenges throughout the writing process, including the challenge of using the dictionary to spell words.



We moved into the dining room to hear Max talk about the process of making his movie. While the movie itself was rated 12+ for language and could not be shown during the school day, Max did a wonderful job explaining where things went right and how things went wrong, and how he learned to plan, plan, plan everything from this experience. We (the 12 and overs and those with parent permission!) saw a screening of the movie after school ended and it was pretty impressive!



Back to the cork floor to hear from Madison about her study of hotel workers’ rights in various unionized and non-unionized hotels. She was a pro at fielding questions from kids about what a union was, why it was considered more fair to visit a hotel with unionized labor and how it might be an unfair criticism of workers’ happiness if they’re an non-unionized establishment. She is excited to continue her research, she said, since this time around it was difficult to get in touch with more than the two hotels she spoke with.



We heard from Thea about her study of sibling rivalry. She told us about her interviews with the siblings at Brightworks and a psychologist, and the data she gathered that told her that the amount of sibling rivalry depends on an myriad of variables, from age to gender. She explained that the research she did has changed her relationship with her own sister and now she is more aware of certain factors that affect the fights she has with her. She also showed us the linoleum carvings she did in conjunction with her book.



Finally, Clementine told us about the book drive she conducted as part of her study on literacy and underprivileged children’s access to books. She received over 300 books in her book drive and over $900 in monetary donations! She talked about delivering books to the students in Ms. Baker’s classroom at Bayshore Elementary School and what a neat experience it was being like Santa Claus and giving books to the kids there. She asked us to remember our love of books by asking, “What was your favorite book when you were little?” at the end of her presentation.



presentations day 1

Today Audrey, Henry, and Coke presented their hard work from the Fairness arc. Their projects were creating board games and exploring cheating when incentives are high-stakes.






presentations day 3

Day the third and final of individual, whole school presentations for the Salt arc!

Zada gave us all an informational talk on the influence that salt has on nerves and how that idea informed her research project on synesthesia. She also played song samples and showed us the paintings she’d done based on colors she sees when listening to music.


Mason described the process of building a lemonade cart in the workshop and the difficulties he faced. He also told us about serving salted lemonade and took an impromptu poll of which people preferred lemonade with a little bit of salt versus a lot of salt.



Isaac told us about his process in making his three-minute video of chefs preparing food in professional kitchens. He explained that he had a lot of setbacks, but we were all impressed at the film and his freestyle jazz drumming that he did on the cork floor while we watched the film.



Meg displayed her research on the effect of salt on cows and brine shrimp and told us how she had discovered that cows are much more intelligent than we think. She asked a series of questions based on her research and rewarded right answers with a cookie.



Logan talked about his knowledge of fishing and proudly displayed the fishing rod he made during the expression phase. He did a demonstration of threading eyelets onto the rod with a device called a jig.



Henry and Max, whose restaurant project happened Friday (pictures forthcoming!), told us about the struggles they faced during the idea and implementation process, as well as how successful they were on the big day.



Levi read us his research on piranhas from South America and admitted that he had had assumptions about the bloodthirsty fish before he did the research and debunked some myths: they don’t live in seawater and they’re very shy!



Clementine presented her Field Guide to Salt, her hand-bound and handmade book on different kinds of salts from all around the world. Her particular favorite was the ginger salt from Thailand, which uses the juice from ginger roots to make the spicy flavor.



Nicky brought us over to the Phantoms’ bands space and showed us the pulley system he made that is strong enough for one person to lift 75 pounds of salt. He explained the physics of splitting up the weight of the heavy object between several pulleys to make lifting easier.



Theo, planet master, filled our bellies with pizza that he had meticulously put together as representations of planets and moons from all over the Solar System. Each pizza had flavors that mirrored its planet’s attributes: the Sun pizza had multicolored bell peppers, the Mars pizza was red and peppery hot. Yum!




Tomorrow night concludes the Exposition phase of the Salt arc in an evening open house where the students will set up their projects like museum displays and will be on hand to answer questions in more depth and admire their peers’ work!