Posts tagged stem
The Many Moving Parts of our Recycled Robotic Ocean Project

Recently, Big-Brained Superheroes introduced our recycled robotic ocean to participants at this year’s Seattle Mini Maker Faire. Here’s the gist of this project:

The Big-Brained Superheroes Club at Yesler Community Center is creating a marine ecosystem out of recyclables, Micro:bit microcontrollers, servos, motors, LEDs, and sensors. Starting with our plastic bag moon jelly and continuing with our sea turtles made from deli pie containers and bubble wrap along with other animals in production, we’re exploring food webs and interspecies connections through our robotic ecosystem. In the process, we’re learning how certain manmade materials, such as plastics, can be both marvelously malleable and deeply damaging.

As a short exercise, we did a quick rundown of how this project combines science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), and thought you might be interested in the outcome:

Science: In planning the development of their robotic sea creatures, Big Brains analyze the behaviors of aquatic animals in their natural environments so as to incorporate that information into their robot designs.

Technology: To understand how robots function, Big Brains learn about sensors and electric circuits (input), software development (process), and motors, lights, and speakers (output).

Engineering: To develop functioning robotic sea creatures, Big Brains combine their scientific understanding of how these animals move with their technological knowledge. They also learn and deploy relatively complex mechanical engineering concepts, such as how to translate rotational motion to linear motion.

Art: To create believable and relatable sea creatures out of nontraditional materials, Big Brains learn to find their creatures’ defining characteristics and communicate those characteristics through their work.

Math: To create realistic and functioning robotic sea creatures, Big Brains learn about and deploy diverse mathematical concepts. For instance, when assessing the power requirements for their robots, Big Brains develop and reinforce skills in multiplying, dividing, and adding decimals and fractions. And when translating rotational motion into linear motion, Big Brains leverage geometric concepts, such as how to divide a circle into degrees of arc.

There’s a lot more that goes into these types of projects, and one day it would be interesting to traceback all the various inputs, processes, and outputs that make these kinds of things happen. Even relatively small projects, such as those on which we embark in The BBSC, layer in so many sources of inspiration and knowledge and require so many different kinds of resources that accomplishing any small part of them can start to feel like an act of phenomenal wizardry. But the truth is that there are just a bunch of moving parts involved, and we should just put in the time and effort to wrap our brains around as many of them as we can. For Science. (And Technology. And Engineering…)

Anatomy of a Superlative Big Brain Adventure: 1 of 2 (Our Outputs)

Thanks to a series of dedicated individuals from Yesler Community Center, Seattle Parks Environmental Education, and Seattle University combined with funding from Seattle University, Seattle Parks Advisory Council, Seattle Neighborhoods, 4Culture, and individual contributors, Big Brains got the unanticipated privilege of engaging with our environment in a whole new way in 2017. These diverse interactions throughout the latter part of the year culminated in a truly superlative Big Brain voyage through Seattle’s Carkeek Park one chilly Saturday in November.

What are the outputs that indicate the success of this event? And what are the inputs that helped make it successful? Great questions. So glad you asked!


First, our success criteria for Big Brain field trips are typically:

  1. Did Big Brains have lots of fun?
  2. Did Big Brains nerd it up?

In that order. (We’ve discussed the rationale for this perspective quite a bit.)

Now, for our evidence indicating success on both criteria:

Criteria 1: Lots of Fun indicators include smiles, intense curiosity, and spontaneously expressed enthusiasm:


We also regularly go out of our way to get input from Big Brains who we know to be the most brutal in their honesty. Typically, the feedback from those unfiltered Brains after an event corresponds well with our impressions during the event. In this case, we got an unalloyed, “It was fun!”, from all concerned parties, which was not remotely surprising to anyone.

Finally, we look for clues as to how a field trip may have affected our community after-the-fact. While this story is complicated by external factors, including other things going on in The BBSC or Yesler community around the time of the event, we still like to see BBSC participation and engagement levels increase a bit. But because this particular field trip had to occur during a time we were technically closed for renovations, the clues were slightly tougher to come by. However, when a couple of weeks after the event, we overheard one of our more brutally honest Brains tell his friend that, “Big Brains has the best field trips,” we felt pretty confident that a good time was had by all.

Criteria 2: Nerd it Up indicators include the number and quality of questions asked during the trip and, ideally, some suggestion that Big Brains came away from it with an expanded view of the world/universe and their individual/collective place in it. In this case, Big Brains were armed with 10 iPods and collectively captured over 700 photos and videos of their field trip experience, which, in our view, is a pretty nerdy thing to do. They also independently and enthusiastically peppered Park volunteers and employees with dozens of questions throughout the event:


And while it’s always tough to tell how/if this event expanded our Brains’ view of the world/universe and their individual/collective place in it, early indicators suggest at least some positive impressions. For instance, walking away from the park, one Big Brain spontaneously described herself as “a nature person.” And now that our open house is over, we expect to be referring back to the images that Big Brains captured on this field trip for artistic and technological inspiration in the coming year. So, in that sense, the final Nerdiness score for this event is still yet to be calculated, but because the Lots of Fun indicators were high, we expect the long-term Nerd level to follow in the same direction.

Part Two (Our Inputs) of Anatomy of a Superlative Big Brain Adventure is forthcoming. Stay tuned…

The Big Brain Binary Counter: An Abbreviated History

Binary began in The BBSC as simple 0 and 1 flip cards:


Our interest in binary was threefold:

  1. As part of our interest in Critical Thinking, we like to explode standard concepts and ways of looking at the world. As many of our Big Brains had never before questioned the foundations of base-10 as a number system, we figured we’d challenge their assumptions of its normalcy by introducing them to a new number system. Through this process, we gain a method of distinguishing the role of a number system’s symbols from that of its structural rules.
  2. Exploring binary is another way for us to explore switches and digital logic.
  3. Learning binary as a number system is helpful in case we ever want to delve into binary code.

After the flip cards, one of our sidekicks decided to build a binary counter and bring it in for Brains to play with, turning binary counting into a bit of a competitive sport in The BBSC:

From there, Big Brains built our own prototype binary counter using standard light switches, arduino, and giant 7-segment display panels:


Once we had our functional prototype, Google Foundation was kind enough to grant us the funds for a whole team of Big Brains to design, code, and build a full version of the binary counter on which Big Brains continue to learn and teach binary within the Yesler community and throughout Seattle:


From there, the City of Seattle was kind enough to grant us the funds to develop our Big Brain Binary Counter documentation and video through its Technology Matching Fund.

In learning binary, as in all things, teamwork makes the dream work.

Our Making and Tinkering Resources

Considering getting more involved in making and tinkering? Here are some Big Brain recommended resources:

  1. The Tinkering Studio (website, YouTube, Google+, Twitter): We can’t express enough love for the ingenuity, style, and generosity of the folks at the Tinkering Studio in San Francisco’s Exploratorium. If you see something you like in The BBSC, these folks likely played some role in its design. No matter how much tinkering/making you do, reading their book and taking their online course are guaranteed to teach you something new and valuable! Their Facilitation Field Guide: also quite helpful.
  2. SparkFun (website): SparkFun goes above and beyond in making their products accessible to diverse groups and individuals. We particularly value their Great Big Guide to Paper Circuits.
  3. Learning-oriented websites: Specifically, Edutopia and MindShift frequently talk about the value of making/tinkering in educational arenas.
  4. MakerEd’s Makerspace Playbook may also be helpful to newcomers.

For our part, as we sometimes mention in our Origin Stories, The BBSC didn’t necessarily develop as a “tinkering/maker space” as much as it evolved as a community-driven exercise in recreational nerdiness. In other words, we just wanted more hands-on ways to work out our brains, and so, we have honed in on a mishmash of tinkering/making/other tools, activities, and techniques to help us do that. If anything, we may often start with something that community members enjoy or find value in and “nerd it up” by any means necessary. This is where we find the most fun.

Volunteer and Build Stuff!

Volunteering at The BBSC is a team effort, primarily designed to engage your brain and exercise your superpowers. Volunteers are empowered to choose from among a variety of projects, making use of diverse skillsets and interests. We’ll typically start the day with a tour of The BBSC, a recitation of The BBSC Oath, and a brief skill-building exercise. From there, you can select your project(s) based on what you know how to do or what you want to know to do. Sometimes you’ll have a BBSC Volunteer Sidekick available to help you out, and other times, you’ll have only your fellow project team members. In short, a volunteer day is just like a regular BBSC meeting but with significantly taller Brains.

Volunteer Project Options


#1 Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device Hackathon

Nerd Level: 8

The Big-Brained Superheroes Club needs a better way to track time spent in the club by Big-Brained Superheroes and Volunteer Sidekicks. So, when we found this functioning motion-sensing candy dispenser at Goodwill, we got unreasonably excited at the prospect of replacing its motion sensor with our Sparkfun Fingerprint Scanner - TTL (GT-511C3) and turning it into an attendance tracker. While we have all the major components for this project, including Arduinos/Raspberry Pis, what we really need is more brains dedicated specifically to researching, designing, and developing this Super Sensing Skittles Dispensing Device.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design, requirements gathering and documentation knowledge, basic electronics experience, basic knowledge of microcontrollers/ single-board computers, C/C++ programming knowledge

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Teamwork, Leadership, Empowerment


#2 Electronics Repair and Documentation

Nerd Level: 4

Our electronics wall plays a central role in The BBSC, and as such, it gets a significant amount of use. A solder joint fail here, a hot glue fail there, and eventually, we get a decent-sized pile of components in need of some kind of repair.

While our Big Brains will often take on our repair projects, they sometimes need one of two things to help them out: either an experienced repair person actively guiding them through the process or a set of simple troubleshooting and repair instructions. We might not have either available to them at any given time. Your mission, if you choose this project, would be to troubleshoot and repair our electronics, and then create simple, easy-to-understand documentation of an efficient and effective troubleshooting and repair procedure for our Big Brains to use on their own.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation of human-centered design and documentation, an ability to manage hot things, such as solder and glue (soldering instructions are available)

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Sense of Adventure, Critical Thinking, Creativity


#3 3D Printer Uncloseting

Nerd Level: 6

Someone kindly gave us a 3D printer over a year ago, and though we have taken it out of the closet from time to time, we have yet to get it to print anything of value. Maybe you’d like to try.

Skills Most Needed: Interest in/ knowledge of 3D printing, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Persistence, Adaptability

#4 Windows Laptop Restoration

Nerd Level: 3

Our lone Windows laptop has a virus and a stuck cd drive. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Skills Most Needed: Interest in and knowledge of Windows

Superpowers Most Exercised: Persistence, Adaptability


#5 TI-99 Lab Enhancement and Activity Upgrade

Nerd Level: 5

Now that one of our TI-99s has finally had its official unboxing, it could use some peripheral set-up and development of fun and exciting BASIC programming activity guides designed to encourage our Big Brains to ask: “Shall we play a game?”.

Skills Most Needed: An appreciation and understanding of human-centered design, interest in BASIC programming, web research capabilities

Superpowers Most Exercised: Empathy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Sense of Adventure


#6 Garden Weeding

Nerd Level: 1

Take a mental health day and help weed our garden!

Skills Most Needed: Plant identification

Superpowers Most Exercised: Sense of Adventure, Persistence

#7 Choose your own Adventure

Nerd Level: You decide!

The BBSC lair is filled with all kinds of tools and resources enabling you to exercise your Sense of Adventure in new and useful ways. Want to fix a broken thing? Fix a broken thing. Want to clean a dirty thing? Clean a dirty thing. Want to make something weird? Make something weird! The main requirement is that you try hard, be kind, and have fun at all times.

Skills Most Needed: Whatever you decide

Superpowers Most Exercised: Whatever you decide

If you’re interested in working on any of these projects, either sign up to participate in our United Way Day of Caring event or contact us!

Let’s do this

We know. It’s been over a month since our Holiday Fund for the Nerdy drive ended (for us, the holidays go through February). So, let’s see where the Big-Brained Superheroes are now, shall we?

BBS Accelerator is actually happening! By popular demand, we’re experimenting with opening up the lair on Friday evening so that Accelerator members can work on their projects. While regular club meetings are still holding strong on Mondays and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are when the nerdiness goes to eleven.


Re-Maker Fest happened and we are still working on posting all the things we remade in February. Oh wait, here’s a thing:


Yeah. Remaking. If it’s being done well and in an innovative way, it takes time and care. And experimentation. Which also takes time and care. In short, a lot of time and a lot of care. And, of course, this means that remaking is an excellent way for our Big Brains to exercise their superpowers. Because sometimes the only thing we can learn to expect is the unexpected.

We’ve also just started a gardening program, in which Seattle Parks provides the seeds, and we design and maintain two planting beds out back of the community center. So far, Jack, our lead gardener sidekick, has worked with Big Brains to weed, fix the beds, and plant some sort of bean. User-centered designed birdhouses and bird feeders are also in-progress for the garden.


Those tiny tombstone-looking things in there are popsicle stick plant markers. We’ll be posting updates on how our garden grows.

Now that we’ve mentioned some of the Brain building, let’s mention some of the builders. None of these activities would happen without these organizations:


And then there’s people like you! All the individuals out there who help make our Big-Brained Superheroes grow. Thank you for all you do!

Upping our Game with Interconnection

Thanks, in part, to a generous laptop discount from Interconnection, one superpowerful Big-Brained Superhero had the tools he needed to both begin development on his Arduino-driven video game and work on his Powerpoint presentation for his science class, making this Superhacker Saturday one for the record books! Let the games begin.


(Arduino and breadboard materials supplied by the City of Seattle Tech Matching Fund and SparkFun)

Digital Logic at the Side of the Everlasting Why...


After meeting some folks from San Francisco’s Tinkering Studio here in Seattle, we sent them either a present or a curse (we’re not sure which). We sent them a package containing instructions and all the parts to build three of our digital logic boxes. Poor Ryan apparently selected the short straw

Building the kit was a good experience, but for me I wanted to mess around with something more basic and easier to understand. I looked up logic gates in Forrest M. Mims III circuit guide books and found a simple diagram of the “and” and “or” switches. I used two momentary switches and constructed two circuit board blocks that could be combined with the rest of the set. However, I am still a little unsure of the “why” behind doing this activity. While programing and systems thinking are interesting topics, I wonder what the intrinsic motivation for people to play with them could be.

Ryan is exactly right. And here is our explanation(ish):

While we recognize that systems and computational thinking may or may not be interesting in themselves, we see them as potentially valuable tools to help us think about our own thinking. All the complex ‘thinking’ computers do can be broken down into a long series of very simple binary 'decisions’, which are basic rules (logic) governing inputs and outputs. Understanding those rules helps us understand how computers 'think’, and understanding how computers 'think’ can help us better articulate (in every sense of the word) our own complex thinking. Essentially, the computer-as-series-of-logic-gates serves a metaphorical function. Just as the chain reaction machine might.

For us, the purpose of putting the logic gate into a black box (of sorts) was to create a puzzle. You know that inside this box is an AND, OR, or NOT gate, and your job is to figure out which one it is. In that sense, the motivation behind the activity is simply problem-solving and is not much different from that which motivates us to solve any other simple puzzle. The tool we offer to do this—the truth table—is simply a way to document the problem-solving process. All that said, we are working to make the problem-solving portion (including the truth tabling) more inherently fun. We want to keep the language ('input’s, 'output’s, '1’s, '0’s, etc) because we think doing so will help provide a foundation for those who want to learn more about computers. But we want to make it more tactile, if possible.

Once we get the basics of how to figure out which gate is inside which box, our next challenge is to connect the gates together to see if we can predict what the output would be, given our inputs. For instance, when we connected the AND and NOT gates together (essentially creating a NAND) at GeekGirlCon this weekend, we asked participants whether they thought the output light of the NOT gate would be on or off if we turned on both AND inputs (for instance). At that point, we’re increasing the complexity of the puzzle a bit—we’re creating a hypothesis and connecting that hypothesis to specific conditions. After they articulated a hypothesis, they then tested it. And if their hypothesis was incorrect, they would then go back and figure out exactly where their thinking had gotten off-track.

Eventually, we want to create an obstacle course (of sorts), where we have an end goal (such as, turn output ON) and certain requirements (such as, use at least 2 logic gates) and see what we can get out of it. We also want to combine our digital logic activity with our binary counting activity to see if we can create and interpret the output of a single bit adder. By using the language and rules of digital logic, we are simply adding a bit of structure to a seemingly complex problem-solving process. Once we have the method down, we think it can be highly portable to a variety of challenges and easily built upon. That’s the goal, anyway.

The broader point is that we have a tough time articulating the answer to a question that our Big Brains ask all the time (when they’re doing their math homework, for instance): “Why?”. It’s important for us to have a 'why’ for everything we do and everything we ask our Big Brains to do, and yet, it’s incredibly challenging to make that 'why’ clear throughout the process. Especially when the task is foreign or complex, if our Big Brains can’t connect it to something they already understand, the experience or knowledge they gain from it is not going to stay with them for very long. Articulating the 'why’ is probably the toughest aspect of instructional design and also the most essential to get right. Which means we have much more work to do.

If you’ve been checking out our  Facebook  page, you know that our Big-Brained Superheroes helped Yesler Community Center’s Back-to-School event attendees learn about logic gates and create illuminated notebooks. And if you were at The Museum of Flight’s STEM Back-to-School weekend, you probably saw BBSC volunteers there doing same. In short, we’ve had an insanely nerdy week, and our schedules just keep getting nerdier. None of which would be possible without these exceptional sponsors: 
   guided : Generous donors of such amazing recycled notebooks! 
  Brown Paper Tickets : Batteries and LEDs and Maker Advocate Tamara’s time, oh my! 
  The City of Seattle : The sponsors of our digital logic project that keeps us off the streets! 
  Sparkfun : Also sparking so much digital logic fun! 
 And, as always, Somali Community Services and Yesler Community Center, who keep the lights on for us! 
  Kindness. So much Kindness everywhere. All for the cause of hacking brains and school supplies alike. Thank you so much, Team Big-Brained Superhero!

If you’ve been checking out our Facebook page, you know that our Big-Brained Superheroes helped Yesler Community Center’s Back-to-School event attendees learn about logic gates and create illuminated notebooks. And if you were at The Museum of Flight’s STEM Back-to-School weekend, you probably saw BBSC volunteers there doing same. In short, we’ve had an insanely nerdy week, and our schedules just keep getting nerdier. None of which would be possible without these exceptional sponsors:

  • guided: Generous donors of such amazing recycled notebooks!
  • Brown Paper Tickets: Batteries and LEDs and Maker Advocate Tamara’s time, oh my!
  • The City of Seattle: The sponsors of our digital logic project that keeps us off the streets!
  • Sparkfun: Also sparking so much digital logic fun!
  • And, as always, Somali Community Services and Yesler Community Center, who keep the lights on for us!

Kindness. So much Kindness everywhere. All for the cause of hacking brains and school supplies alike. Thank you so much, Team Big-Brained Superhero!

United We Do!


The profound connections between perspective, process, and possibility were on display during our first ever mini BBSC trip to Seattle’s Mini Maker Faire this year, sponsored by Brown Paper Tickets.

Thanks (once again!) to BPT Maker Advocate, Tamara Clammer, several Big-Brained Superheroes got to do something totally new last weekend. Or, more accurately, we got to do something(s) totally new.

For instance, a few of our BBSes had never before ridden our city’s light rail:image

Or ridden the Seattle Center monorail: image

Or driven a remote-controlled submarine: image

And that was merely the beginning of the boundless process of making our Big-Brained Superhero world just a bit bigger.

Soon, it became time to lay hands on and make.

Simple machines with Xbot:image

And simple circuits with Curiosity Hacked:image

While the taller BBSes then proceeded to see the world anew through the latest tech: image

the shorties split to the Pacific Science Center to embiggen their brains in other ways: image

Whew! After a very full day, we returned to Yesler Community Center with heads full of ever-expanding notions of what big brains can do with just a little help from our friends.

Big-Brained Superheroes vs.'s #HourOfCode


Around this time last year, our young BBSes spent some time developing Codecademy’s web holiday cards. How did it go? Well…it could have gone better. This year, we spent time with’s Hour of Code. How did it go? Well…aside from a lack of headphones for every BBS coder, it couldn’t have gone better. It went so well that several of our young Big-Brained Superheroes are choosing to go Beyond One Hour. Even without BBS sidekicks around to help them!

And now, for the breakdown. Our BBS population for this exercise was fairly similar to that of last year’s Codecademy exercise, so we’ll skip that explanation and go straight into the review.

The Good:

  • Like last year’s Codecademy exercise, this year's Hour of Code is freely available to anyone with a computer and internet access.
  • Unlike last year’s Codecademy project-based exercise, this year’s Hour of Code was game-based. This particular game-based approach provided much more method to the madness and enabled a leveling up process that was significantly more logical and predictable than Codecademy’s project-based approach. Coders were more motivated to think problems through, and they seemed to grasp much more programming logic as a result of Hour of Code’s game-based approach.
  • The Angry Birds character set is a great example of how broadly inclusive design doesn’t have to be banal or vapid, and the use of Angry Birds in Hour of Code was an obvious draw for our young BBSes.
  • The instructional videos were exceptional in that they were explanatory but didn’t give too much away. They were timed well, and the diversity of the instructors was inspiringly inclusive. Apparently, when Chris Bosh speaks, our Big-Brained Superheroes listen. (When they have the technical capability to do so, that is.) And the written instructions that were provided for those without sound capability eliminated a big obstacle for us.
  • The completion certificate at the end of the game was a nice reward and motivator for some BBSes.
  • Beyond One Hour provides us with a simple way to continue the learning!

The Less Good:

  • Once our BBSes got the auditory reward for completing a level, they tended to skim through the text that told them they might have completed the level using fewer lines of code. Making that information more prominent (at least the first time around) would have given them stronger cues that there was more learning to get from the level they just completed.
  • Also, it would help if the link to “Show Code” were more obvious or if the lines of code came up automatically in at least one level so coders wouldn’t unintentionally skip over it.

All in all, we are thrilled with how our coding exercise went this year, and we’re continuing to use in our BBSC meetings. For us, it was not just a method of learning some basic programming logic, but it also served as a welcoming, inclusive invitation to explore the world of computer programming. After completing their Hour of Code, several of our coders went on to build web pages using W3schools:


Or played with Tynker and other code-learning platforms directly available through the website:image

In short, even though our coding exercise this year was not holiday-centric,’s Hour of Code provided us with some fine holiday (and beyond) fun!

DISCLAIMER: The BBSC is not affiliated with any of the code learning platforms or sites discussed in this post. However, one of our volunteer brain-hackers (Launchpad McD) does work for Facebook, which is somehow involved with (though we don’t know how, and we didn’t know this before we began exploring

Big-Brained Superheroes vs. the Rain

Saturday may have been the rainiest day of the year so far, but that didn’t stop Yesler Terrace from engaging in its bi-annual neighborhood clean-up. From there, ten Big-Brained Superheroes braved even more rain on our walk to our favorite maker space—Jigsaw Renaissance—in Seattle’s International District.

This trip was a reward for a brave young BBS who received the first ever Big-Brained Harry Potter leadership award for defending others against bullying.

Here’s our exceptional BBS Harry Potter Leader working on an electronics project at Jigsaw Renaissance:


Other young Big-Brained Superheroes were fortunate enough to share in the adventure. Happily, Jigsaw Renaissance is more fun than Disneyland.

Here are a few of us working on a robotic arm and a salt water conductivity experiment:


A few young BBSes then expressed their appreciation for BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man via whiteboard:


And also learned a bit of guitar and keyboard:


Much Persistence was exercised in the process of analyzing and deconstructing a broken cell phone:


World Pizza also made a delicious appearance.

Big-Brained Superheroes definitely know how to make the best out of a torrential downpour!

* Thanks to BBS Volunteer, Launchpad McD, for compiling this post! *

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. The Babylonians

You’re reading the world’s first Big-Brained Superheroes Club guest blog post!  What a pleasure blogging is for me since I started volunteering for this wonderful program over a year ago.  Enough about me, and on with the blog posting!

What’s the deal with those darned Babylonians?  You see, algebra traces its history to the Babylonians, and the Big Brains have recently been tearing up the Algebra scene at Yesler Community Center.  



Yes, Big-Brained Superheroes are learning algebra as early as age 5 thanks, in part, to the Washington State Algebra Challenge.  It relies on an online game called DragonBox, which is designed to intuitively teach the mechanics of solving equations algebraic style via game levels involving icons and exploration.

In all seriousness, it took me just as long to figure out the mechanics of the Algebra Challenge games as it did for the young Big Brains.  Even longer, in fact, since they taught me how to play.  At first, I was a bit perplexed by how it taught Algebra at all, but after playing for a while, the genius behind it became clear.  It works by teaching the mechanics in game form and then gradually begins to use the algebra equations we’re accustomed to seeing.  By the time you get to the levels containing traditional equations, you’re well-versed in the process of applying the same treatments to both sides of an equation in order to isolate your variables.

Check it out, and get your Algebra on!

Watch an amazing 2nd-grade big-brained superhero work hard to explain how electricity flows through the circuit she created. Not shown here is the moment she exclaimed, “I want to make one on my own!”, before she then proceeded to, essentially, make one on her own. Empowerment superpower is in effect!