turtle project

The Rulers arc has been structured much differently than the other arcs we will have this year, both because of its short length and its goals of building community and building awareness of what Brightworks is as a school and how it works. This doesn’t mean, however, that projects aren’t at the heart of the experience during Rulers – each band is taking their own approach to a shortened Expression phase with big group projects guided by their collaborators.

The Hummingbirds’ project has moved in the direction of figuring out the best way to bring a band pet into the school. Because they had planted a woolly pocket garden on the wall along the window, they were excited about the idea of an animal at school (a bunny was the first idea) while being conscious of allergies that make furry creatures not an option. They decided that a turtle would be the best kind of pet to add to their bandspace and have since embarked on a journey to figure out how to make that happen. With Shawna’s guiding hand, the Hummingbirds have asked questions, done research in the field, talked to experts, and thought about the responsibilities of having a class pet, as well as incorporated their explorations of turtles in arc-related animal pursuits with measurement, science, math, and art.


Shawna explains it best in her incredible documentation of their process and experiences. She writes, “With the idea of a pet reptile in our classroom, the children listed many things we needed to know and to do before getting the pet, such as learn what it likes to eat, what it needs in its home, how to handle it, if anyone is allergic to it, and the children even went so far as to decide how to introduce their new pet to their school community: they want to host a school “tea party” with refreshments (some from our garden, of course) and a puppet show!


“I was inspired by their sense of industry as well as how fast their minds were thinking ahead: one possible proposal was that we get six small turtles to solve the potential conflict inherent in only having one pet to name (who gets to decide its name?).


I suggested that we first needed to look into cost and space requirements, as well as how much responsibility we’d take on for feeding and cleaning, before we get attached to the idea of multiple pets!”


They visited Petco and learned about the different kinds of turtles available and looked at pricing for all the materials they need. Having worked through many of these questions, the Hummingbirds are ready to begin the declaration process to propose adding a turtle to their band.

bridge building

The bridge presentations last week from Christie and Phillip’s band were fascinating to listen to. Designs were presented on powerpoint presentations with SketchUp drawings or 3D models, and included hooks, supports, railings, clubhouses, stairs, and cubbyholes, and it was wonderful to hear the kids both answer questions with confidence and admit to when they might not have thought about the answer to a tricky question. There was no one idea that solved all the questions about how to get from the bandspace to the mezzanine, so the clients (Ellen, Josh, Sean, and myself) called for a cull of the best parts of a couple of the strongest ideas.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the band began bridge construction based on a combination of several of the design ideas.



They did a physics lesson with Gever and used their body weight to test the physical strength of different widths of wood.




Phillip writes, “After park, we broke the band into groups responsible for key components of the bridge. Each group elected a project manager to facilitate collecting measurements and drawing plans.



“This morning, after a little scolding about messes left out, kids got together and measured wood, made cuts, and asked experts (Sean and Gever) best practices for construction. [Other] kids helped prepare the site for the bridge. We ended the day with a near-complete mount for the mezzanine wall and the basic rectangle for the bridge’s main beam.”




Construction work and adjustments to the plan have continued all week, and they are definitely on track to finishing the bridge by the end of the Rulers arc. Updates to be added as they happen!

presenting distance

Lili and Mackenzie teamed up last week with their bands to continue their exploration of estimating the distance from Brightworks to Dolores Park with a measurement unit of their choice. After some multiplication skill practice, the kids returned to the provocation to do some more math-y exploration, culminating in a presentation on Wednesday. Lili writes all about it below:


Each group used a map of the mission to count the number of long and short blocks between Brightworks and Dolores Park. Using the block the school is on as a sample block, students estimated how many of their units would make up a short block and how many would make up a long block. Some groups, looking for increased precision, used pieces of paper as makeshift “rulers” to decide that short blocks were ½ or ⅓ the length of long blocks, etc.


Each group employed different strategies to work out the math. Some added the number of units per block as they went along–creating long strings of complex addition problems. One group started by thinking about averages–estimating the average number of units in a given block and then doing the multiplication to get a rough answer before diving in with more specific numbers. Another group created an equation and learned how to cross-multiply. We made use of the base 10 manipulables to make long addition and multiplication more concrete for some groups who were struggling to visualize the arithmetic they were working out.


On Wednesday, when most groups had already worked out a lot of the math, we gave the students about an hour to create presentations for each other to describe the process they went through to arrive at an estimate. We emphasized the fact that the numerical answers would be different for each group because everyone started with a different unit. Especially without any define-able correct answer, our presentations would be the only way for us to understand each others’ methodology and eventual answer. It was lovely to remove the absolute from the mathematical process in this way. Everyone got a different answer based on the conditions they set up for themselves at the beginning of the project.


Clementine, Quinn, Ben, and Jacob solved the problem two different ways: they averaged the number of smaller and longer blocks, and counted the number of smaller and longer blocks and added the totals.


Bruno, Audrey, and Lukas measured the distance in sheets of paper – ten sheets of paper could fit in 3 paving stones, so they counted how many paving stones are in a city block, then used that number to figure out the total.


Natasha and Norabelle were thrilled about the chance to present their findings, and both handwrote and typed their spell-checked speech to make a confident presentation. They used Natasha’s cubit (tip of finger to bottom of elbow) to determine the length of a copper pole, then used the copper pole to measure the block, and then added and added and added.


Oscar and Nicky used a long stick to measure and used multiplication and division to do their math work, measuring from the front door to the corner of the block. When prepping for their presentation, they found that they didn’t show enough work during their figuring and needed to fill in the blanks before presenting. They learned that they actually do need to show their process in their work!


The presentations created further opportunities for a multi-modal approach to the project. Visual thinkers made diagrams and spent time designing and decorating their presentation boards. Tactile learners built structures with the base 10 blocks. Auditory learners talked through the steps of the project with peers and collaborators and got to shine during the actual speech-giving part of the process. Mathematical minds could attempt more precise estimations, making the project more challenging for those who were ready. Because the projects and presentations were so multifaceted, all different kinds of learners left feeling both accomplished and challenged by the work they had done.


Iteration is at the core of every project – starting with an idea, taking notes, putting out a draft, revising, looking for edits, incorporating new ideas, creating another version. It’s a process at the heart of Brightworks’ project-based learning, but has so far been a difficult process to exemplify and make clear to our students. An iteration of exploring a project’s process is Mackenzie’s latest contribution to making learning visible for her Hawks.


She writes, “When we talk about the Brightworks graduate, we imagine a person who approaches problems with curiosity, vigor and thoughtfulness. But how do we impart these qualities and values?


“To create more self awareness and intention around project work, I think a standard language for the steps of project work is important so that the kids can reflect on what they have done and perhaps anticipate what steps they may need to take in the future… To impart this idea that the stages of project work aren’t linear but can be identified Josh made some beautiful cards!


“In the past weeks the kids have been working side by side on a common project: build chairs for our classroom. My not-so-secret-agenda in doing this as a group is to give them the tools of project work they will need later in the year.


The story of this chair project is unfolding along the outside wall of our band space. [Yesterday] we took some time to reflect on the different stages of project work. Then we set [the kids] loose on the documentation walls with their project cards in hand to identify as many stages as possible.”


The Hawks discovered that their “simple” task of creating chairs isn’t so simple at all! They were excited to find that it’s filled with careful considerations and thoughtful next steps – and plenty of drafts and edits. Next week they will learn some new skills and draft yet another iteration of their chairs – something that Mackenzie knows will astonish them with their own abilities and help reinforce that the steps that creating something takes are important and ultimately worth doing.


Last week, Christie and Phillip took their band to the Golden Gate Bridge and to the design firm AutoDesk last week to explore bridges and become familiar with terminology, styles of bridges, materials they’re made of, and forces that act upon them and make them stay up.

At the bridge, they used what they had learned about measuring a city block to measure the entire length of the Golden Gate.




Phillip writes, “Wednesday, we spent the morning recalculating out measurements we took on the bridge. Students had to count their tally marks and multiply by 25ft. We created a table of actual distance vs. measured distance and calculated our percentage of error. Zada took the prize by coming within SIX FEET of getting the actual length of the bridge WOWZA!! The whole group won the challenge of having their averages come under 10% of the actual distance.”


They got a tour of AutoDesk from one of our parents’ friends and took a look at their models:



This week, they dove into designing their own bridge that will lead from the top of their bandspace to the mezzanine. In groups, they’ve used what they’ve learned to make rough inaccurate sketches and turn them into more formal drawings, which involve learning about proportions and scale drawings. They practiced by drawing their bandspace to scale on graph paper.



Some have started converting their drawings onto Sketchup and building more accurate and stable models.



Phillip continues, “Today, students broke out into their groups with a goal of presenting a successful “pitch” to us and other Brightworks staff as clients for their bridges. In teams, tasks were delegated by the Project Manager into model building (physical or in SketchUp), presenting, or researching. We watched a video of Walt Disney’s pitch for the original EPCOT concept, noting important characteristics of an impressive pitch. Students spent they day working on their individual tasks, which involved a lot of Sean-questions.”




Their presentations are at 1:00 tomorrow in a formal board room mezzanine with their clients, who will vote on the most promising design.

end of expression, mostly

It’s the end of Expression! For many, the dreaded Friday deadline is pushed up against with force. For others, it’s perfect timing. Some students are still in the testing and modifying and finishing touches phase; others have already started their declarations. No matter what stage they’re in, however, the presentation days next week are on the calendar and parents are coming – ready or not! But the kids have tons to be proud of, and the leaps and bounds of learning and expressing their ideas – with road bumps along the way, as with any project – they have made in this Expression phase one for them to be proud of.

Play rehearsals

Coyotes fairness

Clementine got to see the fruits of her labor in her book drive first-hand this morning as she, Ellen, and Mackenzie drove to visit a third grade classroom at Bayshore Elementary School to deliver books to the kids there. Their teacher had hand-selected books for her students and Clementine had the chance to talk to the kids about their experience of fairness and pass out the books she’s been lovingly collecting for the entire Expression phase. Her book drive has raised over $900 so far! She has a donation page through the organization First Book. Check it out!

Coyotes fairness

Coyotes fairness

Coyotes fairness

Coyotes fairness

Coyotes fairness

Lots of climbing

Coyotes fairness

And chopping



Presentation preparation





And go-carts.



hearing is believing

There is a unique quality to the sound of Expression; it is quiet industriousness punctuated by exclamations of glee and frustration, it is playful and serious, it is Brighworks as we imagine it to be. That was today.