an expression week

This week has been crazy busy with projects and progress happening all over the school. We’re juggling tasks and doing five things at once as the kids ramp up on their project work. Here’s a glimpse at the week, ending with today’s Disco/Future dress-up day, explorations into programming, and a dance party that kept us all light-footed all morning.

The Hawks continue to knock it out of the park with their attention to detail:





The Elephants have been loving Book Club, which they do in the down time between project work.



The Hummingbirds went to Ocean Beach for a day of exploration on the only rainy day of the week.



Max and his assistants filmed for his Clocks film project, doing incredibly diligent dedicated work, including this shot with multiple extras.



And today’s Community Friday dance party, exploring relativity with computer cameras, and an amazing community lunch.









project progress

Deep in project mode, some updates from Expression phase:

Carrie from Partch Labs in Santa Cruz visited the school today to speak to the kids. She’s an expert in clock proteins and clock genes inside the body that regulate circadian rhythms and was discovered through Jack’s project research.


Max has been working on a camera dolly to help him during his film-making project.


The Hummingbirds continue to experiment with ball runs and ping-pong ball timers using ramps and angles.


Josh, Frances, Rhone, and Jane initiated a petition to ask the city of San Francisco to repeal the tree-climbing ban. You can sign their petition and get more information here!


Clementine and Lola created the second iteration of their ball run timer.


Sean and Quinn discussed the finer points of clock escapements.


Audrey and Frances made great progress on their orrery by building another draft and adding their first object in space: the sun!


sharing discovery

Ramses is in the middle of figuring out that flat boards, set slightly off-parallel, make a ball roll. Ben and Quinn, though they have seen this rule of the universe in action, take a moment to appreciate how rad it is.


Moments of genuine discovery and student-to-student sharing – impossible to plan and beautiful to watch happen.


Thanks to Sean for passing along this lovely moment!

hands-on research

Important research happens through books and written resources, but it’s just as important for kids to experience things for themselves to find out what it all really means. The Brightworks kids are becoming adept researchers no matter where they are by asking questions, taking notes, and reflecting on how what they just discovered connects to what they’re trying to learn or what they didn’t know they didn’t know. The Expression phase lends itself to hands-on research that focuses the kids’ minds on the ideas that closely relate to their projects.

The Hawks and the Hummingbirds visited the Exploratorium yesterday to do targeted research of ball runs and chain reactions, and the sun and seasons. As always, they had a great time!





Rhone takes notes on the next steps in his project with Norabelle. They are working on creating a game where players earn clock parts every time they answer a clock-related question correctly.


Frances and Audrey successfully prototype an orrery. They had become slightly discouraged at the complexity of this project when they watched this youtube video, but as they thought more about it and watched the video over and over to see the component parts working together, they were able – with Sean’s help – to create an arm on an axle that swung in a large circle. The solar system isn’t far away!



Bruno learns how to clean up his welds with the angle grinder on a practice piece before he starts on his metal sundial.


hawk projects

The Hawks worked on their Clocks project declarations all of last week, and were duly rewarded by approvals on each one! Mackenzie reports that the iteration practice that they got with their chairs during the Rulers arc has led the Hawks to imagining several different drafts of the projects they’ll be working on for the next few weeks. They also closely linked their projects to the concepts that they explored during the Exploration phase.


Today they got to work! Mackenzie wrote about each of her students’ projects on her blog last week, which I will duplicate here:


“Natasha will be using surveys and meticulous self-reporting to research how diet and eating habits affect sleep. During our study of body clocks, Natasha really loved the process of sorting and graphing large amounts of information. She will be finding the mean, median, and mode of her collected data and use different graphing tools to help her better understand the relationship between her two variables. Her first hand research will be supported by more research into circadian rhythms!”

Today she made a survey booklet on the computer to track her bandmates’ sleeping and eating patters.


“Bruno will be creating a metal garden sundial. This project has two main challenges: how to join pieces of metal and how to space the numbers around the face of the dial so it tells time accurately. Bruno will continue working one on one with either Sean or Josh as he masters welding! The far more difficult challenge will be to figure out the spacing of numbers on the clock dial. This will require a better understanding of the movement of the earth around the sun and seasonality. I suspect it will require some pretty complicated math as well.”

Today, Bruno and the rest of the Hawks got their first lesson in welding!


“Lola and Clementine will be working together on a ball run clock. The essence of any time-telling device is to take the continuous flow of energy and slow it/translate it into increments. Lola and Clementine will be translating the continuous force that gravity exerts on a ball into a clock. Each of them will work on different sections of the ball run – first trying to make a minute-long ball run, then a five-minute-long ball run. Their goal is to eventually create an hour-long ball run by connecting their separate ball run structures.”

Today the girls worked on their first version of their ball run. Clementine reports that it was 10 seconds long.



“Ben and Quinn will be making weight powered mechanical clock from laser cut pieces. They will be working closely with Sean to learn how to use the laser cutter and, if they express interest, how to make their own gears on Adobe Illustrator. In creating their own clock they have the opportunity to get to know mechanical clocks intimately. They will learn about escapements, gear trains and gear ratios. They already have their first gear and escapement cut and will be assembling it next week!”

Today the boys worked diligently to accomplish this goal.



project friday

Talking electronics.

talking about programming

Play rehearsal.

play practice

Clock part assembly.

assembling clock parts

Advice on building a chest of drawers.

examining drawers

Art studio magic.

art studio

More origami practice.

origami how-to's

Evolution expert.

expert visit

Project work.

project work

Lunchtime announcements.

lunch announcement

Declaration approval!


more progress

Josh worked on his baking project.



Theo got a working run on his ball clock.


Evan plotted and planned the map for the environment in his and Harry’s time travel role-playing game.

game map

Jay, a robotics expert from MakerBlock, visited and showed the kids the parts of a robot designed to draw an intricate illustration of R2D2 from Star Wars.


robot pieces

Lucy and Aurora planned pieces of their project work.


Sadie, Largo, and Ramses constructed parts of their ping-pong hourglass.