Violet Band: (Second to) Last Week of School

Presentations started this week. The afternoons are full of other bands showing off their hard work. Our presentation afternoon isn’t until next Monday, so we’ve been furiously working to finish our projects and create our presentations and get the space set up (broken down?!) for next week – our last week of the school year.

Jack’s project was to build a robotic arm. He prototyped it out of foam core, and then learned computer-design through fusion360 to 3D print his final iteration. This project evolved into his end-of-year arc project, and it was awesome. To supplement his work, he also researched and wrote a paper on robotic arms and their use in space. Here’s his first prototype (with foam in the background):

Here’s his second:

For her project, Zada researched, interviewed, surveyed people and experts around the country on their understanding of altruism. Skeptical that true altruism exists, she explored the research in an unbiased, objective way in order to analyze and see if humans are truly capable of giving back and being selfless, or if the motive is still self-serving. Zada wrote a research paper to share her findings.

Cyrus’ big project was to learn Python. To do this, he worked through several smaller projects, building off of his knowledge to create the next one. Through Trinket, he started with creating different image generators, with lines, angles, and colors varying for each version. The second project was to understand circles and parabolas, drawing them through code. The final project was to create a self-sustaining conversation. Programming two different voices and randomizing their outputs – but still making the conversation make sense – was the final step on this iteration of his end-of-year arc project. Here’s a slide from part of his work:

Max’s project was to work with the city of San Francisco to help support RC pilots. Currently, the city’s policy bans all flight apparatuses in parks, but he’s trying to update that. In this project, he presented a proposal to the SF Parks and Rec department and was left with a promising, “let’s see what we can do.”

Laurel‘s doing a couple of different projects. For one, she programmed a baby arduino screen to read and mimic human facial emotions. For the other, she’s building a tesla coil. This big, beautiful copper coil that sparks lightning and makes music. She spent weeks on both projects, reaching out to various experts, balancing design and debugging, and building really awesome work. She’s still in the middle of her tesla coil – it’s huge and powerful. Here’s a diagram of how it works:

Cassandra decided to program a “RamsBot” in Trinket. Sitting to chat with her chatbot replicated a conversation with her brother, Ramses. It was perfect. Continuing her long-term project, Cassandra further developed her space-station. After finishing (and creating a model of) the algae-based air filtration system during seed arc, she switched gears and began designing all of the blueprints for her floating city in space. She even built a to-scale paper model!

Sayuri and Josh, of course, decided to do a community building project. They partnered with a local nonprofit organization, Lava Mae, to design a fundraiser. Lava Mae turns old muni buses into mobile shower stations for the homeless in SF. Eventually, Grace and Harry were also added into the project. The night of the event, the entire band helped support the Lava Mae team, and we raised over $1000 from donations alone! The even happened at the very end of the year, and served as their arc project. They’re using the week to wrap up the paperwork and the art deliveries. (See images from the night in the blog post below 🙂

For most of the arc, Harry spent time working on his skin. He went to several weeks of intensive skin treatment and therapy, and was able to come back at the end of the arc looking and feeling great. We missed him so much, but are so happy he was able to work on his “human” ! He decided to share about this journey during presentations on Monday – which is a bold and vulnerable move. I’m really proud of him.

While all of this is going on, everyone is mostly interested in making sure the “Alan Rickman Experience” – a tribute show to David Bowie and Prince – goes off without a hitch next week.

Photos from Unbelavable Night!

Photos from the Violet Band art auction to support Lava Mae yesterday during our Unbelavable Night!

We raised over $1000 in donations alone, and are so happy to give back and strengthen our community with partner (and future BWX family!) Lava Mae.

This was truly an all-hands-on-deck event – from donating art, to setting up the space, to being our guest, to bidding on the goods! We truly appreciated the support and commitment from our school in our hard work. It could not have happened without them.

The Violet Band is so happy to have had this shared experience, and grateful to give back to our community during Human Arc.

And, as an added bonus, people came in from the street and asked if we were a professional art gallery! 8)

Violet Band: An Unbelavable Night

After several weeks of work and planning, tonight is the big night! Students in Violet Band partnered with different charity organizations over the course of the year to help support and give back to Bay Area communities. Through their work, they were inspired to put on…


An art auction hosted by the Violet Band to support Lava Mae, a nonprofit in the city that turns retired muni buses into mobile shower stations.

For information and tickets, you can see more here:


Welcome to An Unbelavable Night! 

The High School students at SF Brightworks, in collaboration with Lava Mae, present an Unbelavable Night: an art auction to help benefit San Francisco’s homeless population. 

Lava Mae is a nonprofit working to redesign decommissioned SF MUNI buses into state-of-the-art sanitation and shower stations for those without access to these resources. Brightworks partnered with Lava Mae earlier this year to help support their volunteer efforts, and together we want to give back to the city. 

Our Unbelavable Night will be held at the new Brightworks campus extension at 1920 Bryant St. 

Join us for a night of drinks, snacks, and music while viewing and bidding on exquisite student and professional art pieces from around the Bay Area. All proceeds from the silent auction and event will go to supporting Lava Mae’s mission to bring cleanliness and dignity to the people of San Francisco. 

Tickets are available by donation. Donations are also accepted the night of. 

See you there! 

Upper School Sex Ed

Last week, the upper school spent the entire week on a comprehensive sex ed curriculum. We made up the curriculum, of course, but it hit the following key points:

– what happens to bodies?

– what is sex?

– what is gender?

– what is consent?

– what goes on in puberty and after? why?

– how to be healthy and safe


The first couple of days, we split the kids into unique groups. Phillip and Simons worked with half of them on understanding sex, gender, sexuality, and components of those things regarding mental and emotional levels. Willow and I took the kids and talked about biological changes and expectations in bodies and health regarding these changes.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we broke up into girls and boys Q&A sessions. On Wednesday, the girls got together with the female collaborators and boys with boys. On Thursday, we switched! So girls went with the male collaborators and boys with the females.

The questions were so thoughtful and helpful. It was a really wonderful week.

If interested, you can check out the sex q&a document for the upper school here. 

It was one of my favorite weeks teaching, to be sure.

Violet Band: Robotics Update

The Violet Band has been deep in their robotics courses. We’re studying how robots are ways to think and learn more about humans and human brains.

We started by understanding the difference between fearful and aggressive motions – or when sensors are programmed to move away from light or to move toward light. Having slight differences in the programming changes the way a baby bot moves dramatically.

We advanced to learning about how our brain connects with nerves and sensors in our own bodies, and how to use that information to create signals and responses in robots.

On Thursday last week, they started creating their own baby bots.

Some of the kids are choosing to do robotics projects for their choice projects! Stay tuned…

Band Swap – Psychology

The past month, the middle school and high school bands have been rotating between collaborators. Each member of the Upper School team wanted their kids to have access to certain similar elements of “human” – early civilizations, body systems and maintenance, civil rights, and psychology. These four subjects were decided on because, well, they’re important (duh!) but also because the kids have explicitly expressed interest in these areas over the course of the year.

Instead of the traditional single-collaborator dive into each one of these, it made more sense for each teacher to specialize in an area and have the kids cycle through.

We designed a week-long crashcourse in each area, with a small culminating project at the end of each session. The notes, reflections, work, and projects would be physically entered into a portfolio due after the entire wheel. As it’s Spring Break currently, the students are wrapping up each of their projects and getting them ready to submit.

Once submitted, each project earns an individual button!

Check out my button for psychology:

The course questions for psychology were amended for each particular age group, of course, but went as follows:

  • what is psychology? why is it hard to study or learn about?
  • what are “knowns” about psychology? what are trends enough they’re truths? (focused on cognitive development and stages in developmental psychology!)
  • how do we learn these “truths”? is there anything we disagree with about them? what are the ethics of studying them?
  • how do we behave? what do we want to know? can we design a psychological study to figure it out?
The culminating project for the psychology course was to design an independent social study to answer a research question of interest to the student. Ideally, if one of the kids wants to turn it into an arc project, they now have the time to perform their study and analyze the data. But, if not, at least they have practice thinking critically about the ethics and development of a psychological study.
And, because the Exploratorium has an exhibit all about social studies (specifically, not the curricular arena) and sharing right now, we were even able to go and play out several of these experiments!
The other projects were: to create a full-scale ancient civilization with all the key components; to research and then write a civil rights bill that would impact groups of people today; to write a love letter to a system of the body and explain why it’s so remarkable.
We get back to school on Monday! I can’t wait to see their work.
Oh, and then we jump into sex ed. ~~

Violet Band: Human Arc

VIOLET BAND – HUMAN ARC. changes // updates


q: what does it mean to be “human” ?

… and why do we care?


key components:

brave new world

now – march

we’ve already started this (woo!), but how does this book define humanity? how is it depicted in this dystopian society? what is limited, changed? what is present?
race theory

all term

we’ve already started this (woo!), but what is the state of social human interaction, evolution, life today? how does critical race theory play a part in our everyday life? how can we be socially responsible, conscious members of society? how can we use our privilege to help solve problems?


robots and artificial intelligence are a window into our own brains, needs, and design capacity. in a godlike fashion, most robots are created in our own image – whether literally (think about robots through pop culture) or figuratively (they don’t look like us, but they behave like us). in order to gain another perspective on humanity, all of us will view humanity through the lens of robotics – playing with, building, exploring different levels of robots


all the sex ed. you guys knew this was happening.
guided exploration

now – june

small group classes. once a week we’ll meet for math and writing. for some of you, it’ll be mandatory. for others, you can opt-in to enhance your skillset. all of you should plan to explore at least ONE outside option using guided resources. think about it this way: what outside class are you taking to enhance your own humanity?
band shuffle


since not only are we studying views and components on humanity, we’re also studying humans, starting next week you’ll be in a collaborator rotation wheel. every week you’ll spend mornings with a different collaborator, studying a different topic interesting and essential to the idea of human. over the course of the month, you’ll explore different arenas of humanity and collect, compile a working portfolio of your experience, complete with mini projects at the end of each week. your rotation schedule is below:

  • week of feb 29: simons – civil rights (social history, movements)
  • week of mar 7: phillip – early civilizations (expansion, evolution, culture)
  • week of mar 14: willow – human body (system and maintenance)
  • week of mar 21: mandress – psychology (development, experiments, drugs)


a: formal end-of-arc paper on your answer, findings

✨✨✨ should be really good, you guys. ✨✨✨

Violet Band: Brave New World

Jumping into our exploration while still in project mode (Laurel is currently putting the finishing touches on her self-watering arduino planter. Max finished the school’s program of “RotorEd” to train middle and upper-elementary students on how to fly the quad. Grace is painting her reflections of plants. Sayuri is currently re-stringing a violin. Harry is creating a video trailer for his game. Cyrus is writing his project presentation. Jack put the finishing touches on his baby plane. Josh is building a planter to hold young oat plants to feed the cats. Cassandra is culturing algae.) 

The Violet Band started reading Brave New World. As we spent so much time on organic food and genetically modified foods in the seed arc, it was easy to extend into genetics in general, and the transition into modifying human genetics was seamless. We are six chapters into Brave New World.

The initial responses from the group – especially after the early chapters describing the setting – produced some beautiful, analytical, counter-intuitive responses.

Before we jumped into the novel, we tried to define what it means to be “human” as a group. The band settled on three buckets:

– biological factors (opposable thumbs, large brains, bipedal, etc.)

– emotional factors (having and understanding emotions)

– social factors (engaging with others)

Brave New World has brought about very distinct conversations on various elements of humanity, as the humans in their civilized society are decanted in a factory, conditioned to live and love and work in their caste, and satisfied through heavy extrinsic drug use and sex.

I want to make sure they have enough time to dive deeply into the concept of what it means to be human, exploring other areas in this realm as well.

In Brave New World, the characters are about to venture to a reservation to meet the “uncivilized” population, which – as the band hypothesizes – are people who are more like us, whose normal corresponds to our own normal.

The band is keeping a communication journal with me on their reading experience, as well as participating in a weekly literature circle. So far, they’ve mapped out the Central London Hatchery and made predictions about the world, as well as analyzing each of the main characters. Notes from some of their work:

— This society is different from ours, but so far, I don’t see why this ‘dystopia’ is so bad. It certainly is ethically wrong- training babies since conception to fill a certain position. But to the person, it makes no difference. Unless there is a defect in the system and a baby comes out wrong (which there certainly will be, otherwise the story has no plot), the person is perfectly happy doing their job.

— In our world, we are fully grown and matured in about 16-24 years. And while we are growing up, we learn mostly by making mistakes. When you break something, when you lose something, when you hurt someone. All these things teach us while in BNW, they don’t really have those learning experiences.  

— Alphas are given normal levels of oxygen to ensure full physical maturity and full mental capacity, the oxygen supply is reduced the farther down the social construct you go to the point of having epsilons being stupid dwarfs. my question is is it wrong to be forced to do one kind of work when you are sort of genetically inclined towards those working conditions?

— In the Brave New World setting we have been introduced to, nearly the only thing humans today have in common with the humans in London, 632 A.F. are some biological factors. So far there is nothing in the book to suggest that there are people in this society that don’t have opposable thumbs, and proportionately big brains. However, the mentality of the society seems to be centered around consumerism rather than creativity, each person striving only to fulfill their position as a cog in the great machine, pushing limits only in the endeavor of greater mass production of people. 

— In Human 782’s case, it has not and will never reproduce, has never felt emotion, and most likely does not have the will to survive. So is Human 782 human?

— Even in the first few lines, the atmosphere was set up beautifully, but that atmosphere was strangely sterile and overall a little spooky. The last thing I noticed was how even though it was written decades ago, how much of the impact and relevance still remained. That isn’t a common thing, even with actual classics.

Violet: Ski Weekend

This weekend, we’re going skiing.

But for now, we’re in the middle of our projects!

Sayuri posted her petition to extend the Alameda library hours earlier this week. You can read and sign it here: Improve West End Library Branch Hours to Seven Days a Week

Max and Jack got their fundraising page up and running! They’re raising money to buy an Ultralight kit – a starter pack in building their airplane. You can read more about (and donate to!) their project here: Send Two Students into the Sky!

Laurel started working at 826 Valencia this week. Cyrus and Harry are both using Unreal Engine 4 to work on their game platforms – Harry is detailing the movement, steering, and shooting of a ship; Cyrus is creating the land. Josh drafted his first iteration of a clay potter for the redesign of KitTea to make it greener and more balanced. Grace finished her survey of BWX students and staff and their interaction with age, and is creating visible boards for their results. Cassandra finished both of her essays – a persuasive paper on GMOs and a research paper on the evolution of human understanding of the universe – and is drafting out an air filtration system for her space community.

In the middle of this, we started reading Brave New World. Chapter 1 done. We’re so excited.

And this weekend, we’ll be in Tahoe for a ski trip. The band wants to play Dungeons & Dragons, so I am frantically training to be a Dungeon Master. So far, I am in way over my head.

Violet Band: Project Season

Welcome back and happy new year!

The Violet Band is in full project-mode. After the holiday break, everyone was anxious to get back into their work. And rightfully so! Check out what they’re all focused on (taken from their independent project declarations):

Jack: This arc instead of doing a normal seed based arc project, I want to put my time into the ultralight project (UL). This project will teach me many skills I can use later in life.  It will teach construction techniques and basic aerospace design skills. Because this such a long project it will require me to develop long term project management skills. The Ultralight Project will last a couple of years and is a very major project, both because we have large goals to accomplish and because building an airplane is something i have always wanted to do.  I have been working on it since the beginning of the seed arc and would like to make serious progress before the end of the year. I am very passionate about aircraft and air travel, as an added bonus, and this project would look very good on a resume and help me get into the aerospace field of work. for these reasons, doing a seed arc project would not be nearly as beneficial as working full time on the UL. 

Josh: During this arc, I will do research on plants to find which ones might affect cats and why. After talking with experts and gathering information, I will find these plants and add them to KitTea to help new cats adapt to the space. I hope to create cat friendly planters and holders for the cats to enjoy both the aromatic benefits as well as the physical benefits of the plants. Ideally when I put specific plants in the space, it will help them adjust faster and make them happier so they can get adopted.

Harry: Video games have always been a passion of mine, and with this project I’m hoping to make a deeper foray into video game design and development. I’ve created smaller games and demos before, but this is my first time creating a full game. This experience will be invaluable asset for potential game development opportunities later on. 

In short, the project I’m working on is a game, made in Unreal Engine 4, centering around an airship captain attempting to dismantle an oppressive regime run by robots, and all the while trying to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter.

The deeper details of the game are outlined in this document, free for your perusal. 

Cassandra: My long-term project is an entry into the NASA Ames Space Settlement contest.  This is a contest done by NASA where students and sometimes teams design a space settlement and send it in to be judged.  I decided to do this because it will be extremely interesting to design all the systems to keep people alive, indefinitely, in space.  The contest doesn’t call for the settlement working for forever specifically but I would like mine to.  This will be a project that will require research, engineering, math and tons of science.  It’s going to be difficult because I intend to win the contest.

Cyrus: My goal is to create a small, fully-functioning game by the end of the year. The game would demonstrate use of Lua’s basic to advanced functions and be connected to a terminal for debugging purposes. I will be using the game engine MOAI (which is built in Lua) to compile and export everything. MOAI is another widely-used engine in the gaming industry, and is almost identical to vanilla Lua, but with an array of basic programs and optimizations hardcoded into it.

SayuriI have chosen to accomplish several bundles of mini-assignments and in doing so, embracing this otherwise encumbering need for multiplicity… This plan aims to both do away with the traditional single-focus arc project and emphasize the lessons learned in a project-based learning environment. Although I have allowed myself to choose multiple focuses as my project, I will also be fighting against my tendency to do everything at once and instead attempt to finish my projects one at a time. Learning to focus on a short-term goal and knowing not just when and how to keep going but also when to give something up or change an aspect of my expectations is important to me. For me, this arc is all about recognizing bad habits and devising strategies to control them, and nurturing good habits in order to achieve my maximum possible capabilities. 

Max: But only one vehicle project piqued Jack’s interest for flying, and my interest for engines: ultralight aircraft. Ultralights have been around for quite some time. They are popular because they can satisfy one’s need for flying, without breaking the bank, similar to Frankencart, they have a much lower top speed than most aircrafts, and are generally not flown aerobatically; they are just for getting a feel for what flying an airplane really is. And we want to build one.

Laurel: For the seed arc, I plan to create an Arduino-based automatic plant watering system. I have thought about pumps, servos, valves, and gravity, and I finally decided on a tank suspended above one or more flowerpots, with plastic tubing feeding into each pot. At the end of each tube will be a valve, and this is connected to the Arduino. The Arduino will know when to release the valve because of constant feedback from a soil sensor in the flowerpot. So, basically, the Arduino makes sure the soil is the perfect wetness for growing plants. I have some drastically underwatered poinsettias at home that I want to test my project on.

Zada is in India for the next two weeks, but has plans to continue her sewing. Right before break, she finished her first dress. And over break she created another dress – this time the corset even had boning! She wants to adapt her sewing practice to help create costumes for circus.

Grace is exploring the concept of “age” and how people interact with their age. She intends to research and explore how different age groups – both within the school and outside of it – express and think about their age.