San Francisco School Takes Experiential Learning to the Next Level

At Brightworks, kids learn by completing projects. With electric drills.


Imagine receiving an electric drill to use at school—and the freedom to learn and explore while building things with it. That’s what happens at Brightworks, a year-old nonprofit private alternative school located in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The school is tiny—just 20 students between 6 and 13 years old—but it's building quite the reputation for its innovative learning philosophy. Brightworks takes its cues from the maker and tinkering movements, which do away with formal classroom instruction in favor of project-based experiential learning.

Students aren’t divided into traditional grade levels, either: The school allows kids to interact naturally across age groups—older students work on more sophisticated projects while younger ones learn primarily through play. And, instead of relying on tests to measure learning, the school's students create portfolios.

The GOOD video team recently paid a visit to Brightworks and caught up with cofounder and director Gever Tulley. It might seem impossible to scale the Brightworks experience for a public school with hundreds of students. But the focus on giving children authentic, creative experiences that prepare them for the future is something every classroom and school can replicate.