The best projects challenge us in ways that force us to inventory everything we know and everything we know how to do to find a solution. Every idea that comes up is heralded, championed as “the way!”, clung to desperately as it fails to hold up to scrutiny, and then quickly abandoned or re-imagined – the healthy cycle of innovation.
As I worked with various projects today, I was pleased to hear the mixture of agonized torment and celebratory invention. It is good to have hard problems to chew on, good to wake up in the middle of the night with a new insight. This is why we do it.
Expression is in full swing, and there is a fervor about these self-declared projects that I haven’t really seen yet at Brightworks. Projects about trash and waste, street art, social justice in education and film and workers’ rights, plays about important events in social justice, research projects about fairness and justice in history. The kids – and the collaborators – are getting the hang of what it takes to bring a project from start to finish: setting up goals for every day, looking at the scope of the work in terms of how long the Expression phase lasts, finding experts that give great advice, and how to get through the inevitable snags that crop up, whether from lack of information or a stall in interest. How do you stay on task? How do you motivate yourself without getting overwhelmed by the project you set out for yourself? And how do you prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed in the first place?
Today, author, blogger, writer Cory Doctorow visited our school to talk about his new book, Homeland – a follow-up to Little Brother, which some students read for literature circles and some for fun. We gathered in the library after lunch and listened to him read an excerpt from Homeland, talk about the book, and answer questions about his writing process, his life under constant surveillance in London, and his work habits.
There was utter silence in the library as the kids listened to this writer read – silence almost unparalleled by this many kids gathered in the same space at Brightworks. Cory is used to talking to high schoolers and used language that may have gone above the heads of many of the kids, but they followed along with ease. They asked thoughtful questions and listened with great attentiveness – particularly to the excerpt, which described a method of tricking a polygraph that appeals to the kid mind: squeezing your butt cheeks together.
He described his steady work routine, which was extremely helpful during this intense project phase at school as the kids start learning to set their own schedules and routines to get their projects done. Write every day, he told us. Even if you’re having a bad day, the words you write won’t show it. Which translates at Brightworks to, “Work every day, even if your day is bad, because at the end of Expression, the work will have made an amazing project.”
Thanks to Cory for being here, the Booksmith bookstore for arranging the visit, and Paul, one of our parents, for making the initial contact!
The Coyotes have taken to the streets to document trash as a part of Noah and Ben’s Fairness project:
What conclusions will they draw from the waste on the streets by school?
We have a guest blogger today! Elizabeth, art teacher and parent, describes the visual communication curriculum she and Gever have started implementing…
Visual Communication at Brightworks
Brightworks holds drawing with the same esteem as reading, writing and mathematical thinking. Visual communication is an essential skill for creative minds and makers. Children teach themselves to draw and will persist if supported. There is no wrong way to draw your idea and often doodles can communicate ideas more efficiently and dramatically than words. It is with this in mind that Gever and I restarted the Visual Communication program in January. Our goal was to give children practice and confidence in their ability to communicate their thoughts with lines and images.
We borrowed ideas from many great drawing teachers to explore doodling, observational drawing, symbolism as well as examining materials and tools used by doodlers. Gever also used his own years of illustrative note taking as a foundation for our work with the kids.
Each band has 45 minute sessions with me on Thursdays exploring doodling as a means of expression, communication and note taking. The younger bands looked at maps and drew their own representations of the Brightworks building. The older groups worked off “The Sketchnote Handbook” by Mike Rohde to give them confidence using visual techniques for recording ideas. All the bands experimented with drawing people and letterforms, and often our time was influenced by what each band was working with that week.
While their work may look simple on the surface, each child took the drawing time seriously and made improvement in their dexterity and focus. Through the spring we will continue to practice our techniques. No high school graduate would ever exclaim “I can’t write,” and we plan that no Brightworks graduate will proclaim, “I can’t draw!”
The Coyotes went to the library today to check out books related to their projects. The librarians were very helpful and they returned with handfuls of books!
The Rubber Band helped Gever start building new studio spaces for everyone to work in during Expression.
Work continued on declarations and started on projects.
Capoeira, declaration writing, literature circles, park, hot lunch, and Market Day on this sunny February day…
And the number of approved declarations keeps growing!