Elizabeth, our incredible Maker Faire coordinator, wrote this about our 2013 Maker Faire experience:
We had a fabulous weekend at the 2013 Maker Faire!
Many Brightworks friends and families came to help run our booth which featured two fun activities for the kids. We were in a smaller building this year so we were busy but not mobbed and had lots of time to talk with grown ups about the school while kids pursued our challenges with focus and determination.
At first glance these two challenges appeared quite simple, but they provided rich and engaging opportunities for all ages. Our goals for the booth were to show the simple joy of these tasks, demonstrate of proper tool usage and to illuminate Brightworksian characteristics such as curiosity, creativity, persistence and cooperation.
We brought a dozen stumps and 20+ pounds of nails for the traditional hammering ritual. Hammer plus nails plus log equals
happy, busy children. Most parents were able to let their boys and girls work without too much interference and were surprised how engaging these simple tools were to their children. It was great to see toddlers with hammers intent on driving their nail into the hard pine logs. Hammers aren’t so scary after all, and girls love them too!
Our second activity was the ladder challenge: a cooperative task that required two kids on adjacent 8 ft. ladders to use a shared “fishing” pole to lift an object from the floor, over a line and into a basket beyond. Again, this task looked simple but provided just the right challenge for the kids. Objects that looked easy to grab were not, and those that were, proved harder to land in the target and release. Some kids worked with a sibling or friend, while others worked with strangers. Communication, failure and persistence were required to finish the job. Great triumphs came throughout the weekend, but I was especially pleased when a three-year-old worked successfully with a nine-year-old he didn’t know, as well as when one young girl persisted though she revealed after that she had been scared up on the ladder. YES!
Thanks to everyone who worked and visited our booth!
As the school documentarian and blogger, I have a very close-range view of the goings-on here as I sift through the daily photos and work with the kids and the staff. In looking back over the blog this year I realized that we don’t share the struggles of a growing school as much as we could. I wrote this last night, after a wonderful parents meeting where we watched one “outsider’s” view of our world.
I sit down to write the blog most days and think, “What is the best, most interesting story I can possibly tell about this day?” Nine times out of ten, I don’t have to think very hard; there are so many days where good things happen, excellent pictures capture beautiful moments of these kids thinking and working and playing in this strange new model of this school we are building.
Other days, it’s harder.
The truth is, there are beautiful ups and staggering downs in building a place like Brightworks. This is a place where we, the staff, the students, the parents, are constantly being asked really difficult questions, and it’s demanded that we have an answer, no matter if we’re completely sure about the response or not. We’ve all shed tears – at school or at home – about what this school is all about and the demands that it places on us. It’s hard not to get lost in the stress of what Brightworks is trying to be – it’s an untamed beast that has beautiful ideas about what it wants, but a more winding way of trying to get there. We work so hard to climb a hill that is seemingly unending and seems to get steeper the higher we climb. We have to constantly ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is right for the school and the kids, and if we’re doing something worth doing.
Brightworks is hard.
The truth is, looking at something so closely as we adults do every single day when we walk through that door at the front of the building that slams and dings and announces our presence is incredibly overwhelming. The truth is, it sometimes gets to us and we want someone to notice or make sense of the things we’re struggling with or just give us the answers. We stumble a little in the face of so many questions: How do we get the kids to engage? How do we know they’re learning? What is the right thing for this kid in this moment when he or she is facing this struggle in this exact moment? How? Why? What? Tell us! Now!
Then there are moments when we stop. We take a deep breath. We close our eyes and listen. There’s conversation at the dining tables. There’s math happening in the Phantoms’ band space. There’s some chop sawing happening in the workshop. Is that painting happening on the cork floor? A mouse being tracked by the Coyotes? The click-clacking of the keyboard where a Rubber Bander is typing madly on a research report or a short story? There’s a play being rehearsed by the Sand Leopards. There’s a budding artist watching an older mentor and learning what the life of an artist is really all about.
There are these faces:
And in those moments, we remember: this school is for the kids. They’re happy. They are curious and asking questions. They are listening and engaging in what they’re doing. They’re connecting the dots and grasping big, important ideas. They’re being wonderful, glorious pains in the butt because we ask and demand and challenge them to be critical thinkers and curious questioners. They aren’t just kids – they are incredibly intelligent, individual people with hearts and minds and eyes, people who have started to grab the world with their bare hands and ride it and want to change it and ask it to share its secrets. The school is there for them to do all that, and we release that great breath and remember that this place, this Brightworks, works.
Uyen, our researcher-in-residence, did a presentation tonight at the parent meeting about what she’s learned this year filming the kids during the three arcs. She spoke with incredible eloquence and grace about what she discovered as a researcher looking to see if children can understand and grasp the larger concepts like evolution and the scientific method at young ages. The amazing thing about it was that she, without any kind of prompting or outside influence, verified the hypothesis that Brightworks has been touting since the beginning: that yes, children can learn by doing. They can learn by building on concepts and being exposed to big ideas. Yes, they can be fearless and fail with confidence and take ownership over their work and become experts in their own areas of interest.
I write blog posts in moments like these – moments of great triumph, moments of beautiful learning that strangely have become the everyday thing for me. I know that the blog only shows off those moments and rarely does it get at the truth of how hard it is sometimes. But so often when we have a rough day at Brightworks, I forget that this school isn’t the mundane. Even at its toughest, weakest moments, it’s still extraordinary. It’s as complex as our kids’ projects: an exploration, an expression, a declaration of wanting something different for education. It’s trying something new, with best intentions and great courage. Most of the time now, we’re getting it right.
The truth is, though, that it takes moments like Uyen’s presentation or a day at MakerFaire to take a step back from the tough every day thing and remember that we’ve come a long way and we’re doing pretty alright. The truth is, Brightworks is hard. Moments of triumph are coupled with moments of great dissatisfaction and disappointment and sometimes, it’s really difficult to hold those great things up to the light to prove that, like Uyen said, Brightworks works.
But then there’s moments like these:
and the truth is, in those moments that happen by the dozen every day, whether they’re recognized or not, whether or not it’s as hard as hell to see them or understand them, Brightworks is what it says it wants to be. And the truth is, it’s worth every heartache for that.
Concentrating students look like this:
Rubber Band work!
The Rubber Band visited the offices of SETI in Mountain View to learn how the Search for Extraterrestrial intelligence scientists search the stars for life on other planets and how they use maps to track their data.
When they got back they learned some of the principles of sea navigation from Christie’s friend Jonas.
Project work continues!
Frances, with Debbie’s help, made hot lunch for the whole school today as a part of her project on mapping local, organic food and non-local, non-organic food.
Kids are meeting with experts and taking their to-do lists very seriously, although frustration and resistance still crop up despite their understanding of the hard work they have to do! But it’s all in the process of doing something that’s important and worth doing.
It’s been a pretty amazing week here with declarations and project work and so much thinking and doing! This Expression phase is short, but it hasn’t lessened the quality and ingenuity of the ideas and goals for the Maps arc projects. We are so excited and so proud of these kids for all of the work they have done and all they are about to do!
What an incredible mix of map projects these kids have come up with! They have really taken great leaps and bounds in allowing themselves to be inspired by a topic during this arc, which is wonderful considering that many of them were discouraged and uninterested in the arc topic when it was introduced to them several weeks ago. Also lovely to see is a new trust in the learning aspects of the Exploration phase. In arcs before this one, the kids would hear the arc topic and immediately decide what kind of project they wanted to work on, without first embarking with their collaborators into Exploration to learn new things and be exposed to many ideas. However, with these Maps Expression projects, I see the kids’ declarations that describe projects based on ideas they allowed themselves to be curious about during Exploration. Their project ideas now very clearly stem from topics that they discovered, not that they brought with them. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they didn’t know much about Maps before this arc (other than they’re the squiggly lines that tell you where you are) or were limited by their understanding of what maps can show you, or maybe – just maybe – we’re getting better at following a path through a landscape of Exploration topics and seeing more clearly just what ideas most inspire curiosity in these kids.
Nicky and Mason, inspired by the immigration stories and adventures they learned about during Exploration, have chosen a project based on gathering firsthand stories of immigrants and mapping out origins and journeys. They are particularly interested in issues dealing with the Mexican-American border. Yesterday, they saw the tail-end of a naturalization ceremony and they are excited to return for the next one to interview some of the participants and see the whole event.
Natasha is hitting the streets to collect data – the streets in front of La Boulange bakeries, that is, to collect data about the number of pigeons that crowd around to eat crumbs. She was inspired by Stamen’s presentations of data in beautiful, aesthetic ways, and will be working with them and our artist-in-residence Jacqueline to create a map representation of the data she collects over the next few weeks about pigeon habits.
She’s not the only one who was inspired by Stamen maps – the mouse house group of Lucy, Clementine, and Noah are learning about mouse habits, creating a mouse house based on what they find out and an architect’s expertise, and tracking live mice through their creation to draw a map that explains what mice like. Isaac is also collecting various pieces of data from neighborhoods in the city and will be mapping Stamen-like representations of correlations between computer stores and hot dog stands (for example).
Zada and Madison are creating their own civilizations that exist in an almost-fantasy world – still based partly in reality – and will be doing readings and research to better inform what kind of society they are creating to make it better and more ideal for their citizens. Max is writing a novella exploring the idea that a map can silently destroy a life by putting someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Henry is creating a map that the kids can climb – on a climbing wall inside the school that he is raising funds for.
Norabelle and Bruno were inspired by mazes and labyrinths during the arc and will be researching the design elements in making these map puzzles. They’re excited to visit Grace Cathedral’s labyrinth, the maze at Land’s End, and Veriditas in Petaluma, a nonprofit that focuses on learning more about labyrinths and the role they play in spirituality and mythology. Their project is mathy too! They’ll be measuring the time it takes to walk a labyrinth, and then measuring that time in terms of length, and the mathematics involved in maze design.
Ben and Lola are working together to explore the tectonic plates and continential on the surface of the earth and create a clay animation video about how Pangea became the seven continents. Their video will be set to a song they write based on Gotye’s break-up song “Somebody That I Used to Know”.
More and more details on more projects, particularly those that the Sand Leopards are taking on, are forthcoming as these projects develop!