Posts tagged sense of adventure
Our Math Problem

Big-Brained Superheroes are creators of things. Whether those things be Space Needles or Circuit Trees, video games or airplanes, some version of math almost always comes into the equation. That’s just the way it is. And that’s where our math problem begins.

While some Big-Brained Superheroes are perfectly comfortable doing the math wherever they find it, we have found that a nontrivial number of Brains freak out in certain contexts. And though math anxiety is something we recognize and work on (as we do reading anxiety), this seems different. Many of these Brains seem perfectly comfortable doing the math in the worksheets they bring in from school. But when facing the exact (exact exact) same problems in the context of real physical things, they freeze up—as if they’re being asked to speak a completely different language without ever having learned the words. Is it us?

After we reward for Sense of Adventure to keep them from running out the door, we typically break the problem down within the context of the project we’re working on. In the process, these Brains seem to be learning how to solve the problem all over again. Just as if they had never seen it before. If we have time, we try to connect the problem-solving process we go through directly back to their homework. But though we try, it doesn’t always jive. The connection doesn’t seem to deep-down feel real. Maybe it is us.

The flip side of this equation is when Big Brains solve math problems for us that they don’t seem to be solving in other contexts. A surprisingly common example:

Volunteer Sidekick: “What’s 15 divided by five?”
Big-Brained Superhero: “I don’t know division.”
Volunteer Sidekick: “OK, how many fives are there in 15?”
Big-Brained Superhero: “Three.”
Volunteer Sidekick: “Congratulations, you just learned division.”

Obviously, these Big Brains aren’t just learning division—they’re learning that they’ve already learned division. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe the math our Brains do in The BBSC and the math they do in other contexts never become the same math to them. And this is where our math problem currently sits.

As we say, Big-Brained Superheroes are creators of things. They can’t not be. And there’s no getting around doing math in the process. But the math they’re doing in other contexts doesn’t seem to them to be the same math they’re doing in The BBSC even though it is the exact same math (or so it seems to us). Our solution to this problem so far has been to develop “BBSC math”— a collection of activities and stuff we make or find on the market that we think helps facilitate learning the math we need to use when creating things.

Obviously, this solution is incomplete. At best. For starters, we have the obvious structural inefficiencies—the multiplication of time, materials, effort, etc. going into solving multiple problems that are really the same problem. More importantly, however, we have concerns about the strain this dissonance puts on our Brains. They’ve already got what must feel like a million divergent cultural, social, and intellectual demands on them; do they really need more? For math?

At present, our answer is yes. But we admit—we have a problem.

The Space Needle and the Return of the Everlasting Why

How to design and build a tiny motorized elevator? This is the next frontier in our Space Needle project, and the elevator development process raises several relevant (and mildly frustrating) questions:

  1. Of what (preferably recycled materials) should our elevator be made?
  2. How do we get it to stop/switch direction when the elevator “car” reaches the top/bottom of its path?
  3. How fast should it go, and what is the simplest way to get it to travel at that speed?

We’ve spent a relatively decent amount of time and energy contemplating, discussing, and researching various answers to these questions. But there’s one question that’s arguably far more relevant (and more frustrating) than any of them: Why are we even trying to build a tiny Space Needle elevator at all?

Taken in a certain light, this question may appear obtuse or, at best, tangentially related to the more technical questions we are working through. But, it’s the question we keep using to help us answer the more technical questions. For instance:

“What if we cycled an LED array up and down to look like an elevator?”
“Hmmmm…Nah. We want some mechanical motion in the City of Light.”

At this point, we can’t completely answer this question, which feels like a weird thing to articulate. Shouldn’t we know this already?

None of the usual reasons apply. No one is paying us to do this (Really. No one.). Clearly, we’re not developing to a written set of specifications or requirements from any source (not even our own). We haven’t stumbled into any significant societal value in this particular project, per se. And, not surprisingly, a tiny Space Needle elevator isn’t part of any master plan to acquire wealth, power, or prestige, of which we are aware. So, Why?

It is perfectly rational, when staring into the Why Abyss, to shrug the shoulders and settle (or even retreat from the entire enterprise). And at times, let’s be honest, we have done that. But at other times, even when the abyss was at its most abysmal, we have refrained from doing the perfectly rational and, instead, responded with, “Let’s find out.”

We have no idea why.

Big-Brained Superheroes on Ice


As much as we love hanging out at Yesler Community Center creating cool stuff, there are just too many superpower-building opportunities available out in the world for us to stay cooped up for too long. And thanks to a thoughtful holiday gift from a member of our extended Big-Brained Superhero community, we were thrilled to exercise our Sense of Adventure, Teamwork, Kindness, and other superpowers on the ice rink at seattlecenter this Winterfest! (We even got in some brief discussions of the principles of inertia and ice formation in the process.) At one point in the festivities, a young BBS wanted to stop and “admire the talent” of one exceptional skater: image

So, we did stop and admire her talent. And then, we stopped her to ask about her experience and how much Persistence she puts into learning the skill of ice skating. It turns out that this exceptional skater began skating relatively late in life after she immigrated to the US from Okinawa in her twenties. Since then, she’s practiced as often as five times a week, depending on her scheduling priorities. Though our interaction with her was brief, this obliging ice skater provided more real-life supporting evidence for a few of our basic BBS assumptions:

  1. “It all begins with a Sense of Adventure.” If we adhere to preconceived notions or rules for when and how we should learn new things, we are likely to fail at the goal of tapping into all of our hidden strengths.
  2. Persistence is a roller coaster.” Sometimes our Persistence is powered up, and sometimes it’s powered down. There are many potential explanations for this variability. The only constant here is the fact that we need our Persistence superpower in order to tap into all our hidden strengths.
  3. Empowerment is the one superpower that rules them all.” Tapping into your hidden strengths makes you a model—someone whose talent others will want to stop and admire. Taking the time yourself to stop and make those hidden strengths accessible to others makes you a big-brained superhero.

Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Winning


What you see here is the screen one of our 4th-grade Big-Brained Superheroes saw after beating DragonBox, the game we began playing during Washington State’s algebra challenge week. One of our favorite aspects of this success is how much exercise our young Big-Brained Superhero’s Persistence superpower got in the process. He faced no small number of challenges and frustrations during the game, but he just kept going. Even though the algebra challenge week had ended, he was determined to keep going until the end. And so he did.

Needless to say, we’re incredibly excited to see him so diligent in his Persistence superpower exercise. He set a goal, and he stuck to it until it was achieved. So, unalloyed success, right? Fourth-grade BBS FTW!

Well, there’s a catch. When our young hero hit the above screen and realized what “endless” meant, he wanted absolutely no part of this game anymore. He was done. Finis. No way was he going to participate in an “endless” journey. No goal—no game. End of story.

And this got us thinking about some of the problems associated with focusing so directly on outcomes. Outcomes are, by nature, limited. And once you reach them, why keep striving? Of what value is process? And can all successes be planned and measured? Not to mention…Sense of Adventure, anyone?

It goes without saying that Persistence is good. Winning is good. Mastering algebra is good. But, as every good superhero adventure series teaches us, the challenges most worthy of our superpowers are those that aren’t, by nature, limited. And those in which our mastery is endlessly questioned.

Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Structure

imageWe Big-Brained Superheroes are always up for a challenge. And sometimes our challenges aren’t nearly as challenging as we expect them to be. For instance, yesterday, Peter Gruenbaum of SDKBridge came by to teach us how to develop a maze game in Scratch. This impending event made a few of us Big-Brained Superhero volunteers a bit nervous for the following reasons:

  1. Peter is fantastically generous with his time, and we were anxious for him to feel that hanging out with us was time well-spent;
  2. Our young Big-Brained Superheroes had just spent all day in school, and we knew that a more formally structured lesson would seriously test our Persistence and Willpower superpowers;
  3. We still hadn’t settled ourselves on how well a more formally structured lesson would fit into our less formally structured club, with our young Big-Brained Superheroes coming in and out as their schedules and needs demand.

In other words, this challenge presented a genuine test for our Sense of Adventure superpower. And yet…it went great! On the whole, our young big-brained superheroes worked assiduously to the end. Huzzah! There. Now that the celebrations are over, we have to ask ourselves: Why did this exercise work so well? Here are some of—what we consider to be—the contributing factors:

  1. Peter is a genuine big-brained superhero. He exercised all of his superpowers in this endeavor, most especially Adaptability. He constrained and simplified his lesson. Rather than spending all of his time at the front of the room lecturing, he broke up his instructions into very discrete chunks and then went around the room helping. When our young Big-Brained Superheroes went off-script, he didn’t even flinch and just rolled with it.
  2. Peter also helped create an environment conducive to concentration. He brought with him a projector and laptop with which he projected his Scratch code onto the big screen. Beyond being a helpful reference tool, the projection served as a useful focal point to which our young Big-Brained Superheroes could turn their attention when they began to get restless. The dim ambient lighting accompanying the projection also seemed to help relax us.
  3. We pulled out all the motivational tools in our arsenal for this event. Successfully completing a Scratch maze became a prerequisite for attending our upcoming roboticized club field trip (details forthcoming). Big-Brained Superhero volunteers were especially generous with the big-brain bucks during this event. And at the end, our young Big-Brained Superheroes were rewarded with flash drives provided by the City of Seattle. (Whether or not we actually needed all these supporting materials for this event is open for debate, but having them at our disposal at least made us Big-Brained Superhero volunteers feel better.)
  4. Finally, it appears that our young Big-Brained Superheroes self-selected into this event, so the preponderance of the energy in the room belonged to the Scratch-curious (or at least to those who didn’t feel absolutely compelled to be running around outside on a beautiful afternoon).

All in all, this event was a hugely empowering experience for us. We all learned something useful and demonstrated that we can manage more structure when called upon to do so. How far we will take this awareness is yet to be determined. We’re still holding out hope that our young Big-Brained Superheroes will eventually perform a coup and take this club for their very own. In the meantime, however, periodically interrupting our normally scheduled pandemonium with a little bit of structure is a good thing. At the very least, it proves we can meet a serious challenge. With quite a bit of help from our big-brained superhero friends, that is.

Many thanks to Peter at SDKBridge for the help!