At Brightworks, students explore ideas and pursue their interests through a structure we call an arc. Each arc takes as its premise a central theme, to be explored from multiple perspectives. Students interact with this theme in three different phases: exploration, expression, and exposition.
Let’s take the idea of wind as an example of a Brightworks theme. Imagine it as a topography: a map with different concepts within the idea represented as regions on the map. Wind power, meteorology, flight, nautical history, and art are all different perspectives through which to understand the idea of wind. We populate this landscape with experts, people who have gained a deeper understanding of wind through their work, art, or passion. We place tools and materials within this landscape that offer a path towards deeper interaction with the theme. Our students fly kites, experiment with wind tunnels, and build turbines. We curate experiences that allow our students to play with wind, to feel its power firsthand, to be inspired by its physics and aesthetics, and to grasp its relationship to the world around us. Through this exploration, our students gravitate towards an aspect of wind that intrigues them, often clustering around a common interest. We help these groups turn their curiosity into a declaration: a proposal for a project that expresses their new-found inspiration.
Students present their declaration to the Brightworks community, and request the tools, materials, and support they need to complete their project within the timeframe of the arc. The project can be any meaningful undertaking that results in a deeper understanding of the theme. Students might build boats and sail them, create a work of art that visualizes tornadoes, or write and perform an opera based on Amelia Earhart’s final flight. For some, the expression phase will focus on the development of a skill by way of guided practice with an expert. Working together, our students become adept at collaboration, inspiring each other’s creativity, and developing the tenacity to overcome obstacles. By the deadline, students will bring their project to a fullness of expression as outlined in their declaration. Success is in the doing, and failures are celebrated and learned from.
Once the deadline has been reached, students present their work in a public exposition. They demonstrate skill, express understanding, and explain the workings of their creations, receiving feedback and critique from their audience. Students document their work from inception to completion in a richly detailed portfolio that acts as both resume and transcript. This phase of the arc allows for our students to integrate their new knowledge into their understanding of the world. While reflecting on their findings, students relax and play in the glow of their accomplishment.
At the conclusion of the exposition phase, we take a deep breath and embark on the next arc. An entire arc, from exploration to exposition, can take anywhere from a few weeks to two months. A year at Brightworks consists of several arcs in succession, interspersed with field trips, expeditions into nature, spontaneous endeavors, and play.