Posts tagged video
Anatomy of a Superlative Big Brain Adventure: 2 of 2 (Our Inputs)

In Part 1 of our Anatomy of a Superlative Big Brain Adventure, we looked at how we determined that our recent BBS field trip to Carkeek Park was a success. As challenging and ambiguous as it may be to make such a determination, understanding and articulating the tools that were employed to facilitate the event’s success is an infinitely more challenging and ambiguous task. For starters, it all begins with Big Brains—Who are they? What inspires and motivates them, individually and collectively? What are their strengths and concerns?—etc. For instance, you wouldn’t take just any random set of kids off the street and set them loose in an oceanside forest with $$$ worth of technology for half a day (well, maybe you would, but we wouldn’t). So, let’s stipulate that not all our actual inputs will be enumerated in this one catalog and instead try to capture the overall gist of what we consider to be our known inputs.

Input #1: Trust


Trust in our community, in our shared superpowers, and in our institutional frameworks and people, including:

  • Seattle Parks staff and volunteers and their substantive commitment to facilitating a field trip that maximizes positive Big Brain development;
  • Big-Brained Superhero Buddies and volunteers and our collective commitment to try hard, be kind, and have fun.

As ambiguous as it seems, we know trust when we deploy and experience it, and for this adventure to be a success, we definitely needed it.

Input #2: Space and freedom to explore


Carkeek Park and all the diverse environments and experiences it offers combined with 3+ hours for Big Brains to explore those offerings made for an invaluable and incomparable Big Brain adventure. We could go on about the relative freedom Big Brains had to explore this place in their own time in their own way, but then we may be circling back to trust already. So, let’s keep fixated on the environment, which was fully stocked with curiosity stimulants, as evident in the 700+ photos and videos Big Brains captured, such as:


Because these are just some of the many many things they took pictures of, we have to assume that these are just some of many many things that interested Big Brains on this field trip. And because not all of the Big Brains photographed these same objects, we have to assume that a wide diversity of potential curiosity stimulants mattered as did the freedom for Big Brains to observe them.

Input #3: Care


Being hugely resource-intensive for us, field trips are never simply a box-checking exercise in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. So, if we’re going to do them, we’re going to do everything we can to give ourselves the highest probability that we’ll feel a sense of success afterward. Care facilitates our success in so many ways because it’s fundamentally based in knowing who Big-Brained Superheroes are, as individuals and as a group. For our Big-Brained Superheroes on this particular trip, care came in several forms:

  1. Rubber boots: Our Big Brains don’t have them, and luckily for us, Seattle Parks employee, Anne, thought of that and brought them. These boots also contributed to the freedom for Big Brains to explore. We also had ponchos ready just in case. On our next outdoor adventure, we’ll probably also add spare socks and fleece jackets to our care package, just in case.
  2. An abundance of Brain food: As they frequently acknowledge, Big Brains are highly susceptible to feeling competitive for resources. We’ve seen such competitiveness diminish all areas of a Big Brain’s capacity, including openness to new ideas and experiences, enough to know that food is one area on which we do not skimp. Ever. No stale solitary PB&Js for our Big Brains.
  3. Rewards: There must be a sense of adventure center of the brain because when a reward—no matter how vague or undefined or inconsequential—is on the table, it captures Big Brain interest. As long as there is no competition involved in the process, we use small rewards to help Big Brains feel validated in their superpower-development work. 
  4. Mom:

Mom makes everything better, and we were insanely lucky that Mama Rahima joined in on this adventure. May we always be so lucky!

Input #4: Enhanced Reality


Big Brains love creative adventure and exploration as much as anyone, but enhancing that foundation with profoundly diverse elective opportunities for more in-depth thinking and understanding is really what helps nerd up this and all BBS field trips. In this case, reality was enhanced in two significant ways:

  • Knowledgeable Seattle Parks employees and volunteers were not only part of the Big Brain field trip entourage, but Parks naturalists were also actively working throughout the park counting, measuring, and dissecting salmon right before our eyes. Great in itself, what was more important was that, while they were working, naturalists were always open to being interrupted by questions from Big Brains. For Big Brains, Parks naturalists were like Siri in blue jackets.
  • Big Brains carried iPod cameras in waterproof cases, enabling them to capture and frame their unique experiences in their own ways. Not only do those tools enhance the ability of Big Brains to own their experiences in the moment, they provide another way to build on those experiences in the future.

So, there we go. Our outputs and inputs for a superlative Big Brain adventure. If we had more time, we’d also talk about the process, but we’ll leave that for another day. In the meantime, we’re thrilled to thank:

  • Seattle Parks and Recreation
  • 4Culture
  • Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
  • Seattle University
  • Mama Rahima and all the other Big Brain guardians who made it possible.


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 Infinite Burden of Being Cardboard Godzilla

Cardboard Godzilla’s humble origins date back to late 2015, as we were nearing the end of our second or third stage of development on our City of Light, when one (or more) Brains suggested the need for a villain. A complexly powerful symbol of the folly of men, Godzilla was the obvious choice. So, on December 31st, Big Brain Buddy Eva deftly made the first cut of what, so far, has been a year-long intermittent creation of several Brains.

Through Godzilla, Brains have explored and explained the fundamental concept of input, process, output:

Brains have learned about and played with servos:

And Brains have developed a bit of hardware and software in the process:


But mostly, through Godzilla, Brains have exercised Persistence and Adaptability. Poor Cardboard Godzilla has been up and down, on and off his S-hook, at least ten or fifteen times over the last year. His first animation involved his LED eye and “roaring sound” that initiate when the door to The BBSC Lair is open. Then, came his “fire breath”, which happens next in the loop. Finally (so far), his back arm also moves up and down in the process. In that sense, Cardboard Godzilla is our first home-made robotic platform—a tool for exercising all the superpowers as well as helpful motivation for developing new skills.

We want Godzilla to declare, “I’m going to destroy your city!”? Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to do that.

It’s this almost magical ability to inspire and facilitate iteration that makes art, specifically art made by Big-Brained Superheroes out of real-world junk, so valuable to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. It’s a special kind of burden for a giant piece of cardboard to serve as an outlet for so many different Big Brains imagining, making, breaking, reimagining, and making again, but somehow, Cardboard Godzilla has managed to carry it for a little over a year now. If he weren’t such a complexly powerful symbol and quirky labor of love, it’s unlikely he would have been able to handle it. And in spite of all the ups and downs, he hasn’t even neared his half-life yet. Go Go Godzilla!


Bonus: Cardboard Godzilla has also helped introduce a whole new Big Brain generation to a cult classic:

(PS Omar, Moody, Marwa, and fam, we miss you!)

The BBSC is really a study in the art of “just go with it”. All the best bits are totally instigated by our young Big-Brained Superheroes with our volunteer sidekicks just helping nerd it up. Tapping into hidden strengths!

White House National #WeekofMaking Connections

“Being interested and engaged in life is the single most important pathway to success.” -President Barack Obama

Let’s be honest: sometimes you simply just don’t want to do the things you probably should do. Such was the case for us when we learned about the White House National #WeekofMaking happening in June. Our reluctance to engage in this initiative may seem paradoxical given our obvious predisposition toward everything the event was about. But exactly because every week is a week of making for us, making a big deal out of one week just seemed…unnecessary. That, combined with the event’s scheduling conflict with Yesler’s Juneteenth celebrations, inspired little more than hesitation in us. However, the persistent dedication to the event shown by Andrew Coy and the rest of the Making team in OSTP finally compelled us to get over ourselves and get the job done.

In our experience there are two main methods for getting a job done. In one way, Willpower and Persistence are the primary mechanisms for accomplishing the goal, and you just suck it up and do what needs to be done to get through it. We call this “the box-checking method”. The other main way primarily requires Sense of Adventure and Creativity, and rather than simply powering through all the job’s attendant complexities and discordances to find the most direct path to the checked box, you embrace those complexities and discordances and zigzag between them until the box becomes something of actual interest to you. We call this “the fun way”.

(Obviously, jobs can involve both methods to different degrees at different times, but many influencing factors—the type of job, the amount of time and other resources you have to do it, the constraints involved, and your own interests and motivations—can make a huge difference in which method predominates.)

Big Brains generally spend a huge portion of their young lives checking boxes. Go to school; do your homework; read this book; etc. They have tons of experience in that particular method of getting the job done (and often failing to get the job done). Consequently, The BBSC is necessarily designed around doing things “the fun way”. It takes significantly longer and involves way more work, but we, like President Obama, find that learning to do life the fun way is the single most important pathway to success.

For us, doing National Week of Making the fun way involved exploring the unique history of Juneteenth and illustrating the connections between the events and people that eventually made it happen. And so we put together a bunch of materials we had lying around to make an electric circuit out of history:

This is the kind of project that, as one Big Brain succinctly put it, “makes nerdiness cool.” Nearly every Big Brain had a hand in its development and, therefore, had an investment in its outcome. And by viewing the National Week of Making through the Juneteenth historical lens, we not only came away with a more complex understanding of our history, we now have a new (for us) platform for storytelling that we’re already deploying in other contexts.

So, for being an instigator and determined supporter of making, Big-Brained Superheroes would like to earnestly say, “Thanks, Obama!”

When discussing how we should organize our materials, a Big Brain suggested the old “art materials over here and electronics parts over here” approach. To mess with her brain, we gave her team a box of old circuit boards given to us by Interconnection and asked them to do something with them. So, they went ahead and discovered Planet Technology.

Art? Science? Technology? You be the judge.

"How Does Science Work?"


The BBSC recently rolled out a prototype field trip request form, which asks our young BBSes what they want to learn on their desired field trip. Our very first question comes from a 10 year-old BBS: “How does science work?”. The very second question from a 12 year-old BBS: “How do science and math work together?”.

This is what the kids these days are asking. And sadly, while the places we go may be equipped to effectively communicate some science facts, science processes are another matter entirely. Making our field trips yet another way in which we’re reminded that focusing on process (a true Big-Brained Superhero imperative and moving up our priority list almost daily) is still a fringe ideal. Hopefully, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot will help us out:

In the meantime, Hank Green can lay down some scientific method on us:

The Willpowerometer lives! Thanks once again to the superpowers and Propeller prowess of BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man, we now have a graphical representation (version 1.0) of how well we’re exercising our Willpower as it pertains to sound production. The closer that we—as a group—get to our desired decibel level, the more green the display and the higher the point count. The farther we get from our preferred decibel level, the more red the display and the lower the point count.

In this video, our Willpower goal was to reach a count of 50. SPOILER ALERT: We did it. And in the two weeks since the Willpowerometer was rolled out, we’ve come to love it tremendously.

Technology! Who knew?

Persistence is a Roller Coaster

It may not seem like much, but this roller coaster has been several weeks in the making. Thanks to a K'Nex set on loan from Jigsaw Renaissance, we’ve been toying with building one of these for a while. The idea seemed interesting to our young BBSes, but the Persistence just wasn’t there. When faced with a huge pile of tiny pieces and no clear path to a finished product, giving the project a miss can quickly become the obvious choice for them. For everybody. So, BBS volunteers debated…

Given that there’s no clear path from K'Nex roller coaster to world domination, is this exercise even worth all of us exercising our superpowers on? Maybe we should give this project a miss and offer our young BBSes something with quicker, more direct results. And yet, we Persisted. Why? Because we have this zany idea that our Persistence and Empowerment superpowers are inextricably linked and that the more often we—as a group—create something tangibly complex, the more confident we’ll feel that we can create anything, no matter how messy the beginnings or how unclear the path.

So, how did we get it done? Leadership, Teamwork, all the biggies. We BBS volunteers decided we were going to make it happen and that, if our young BBSes would work with us, they would be appropriately rewarded (aka Big-Brain Bucks). And how did it turn out? Well, for starters, we got it done. And more importantly, we engaged in quite a bit of problem-solving and superpower exercise along the way. But most importantly, we found that our zany idea about the connection between Persistence and Empowerment seems to have some legs. We didn’t even have time enough to get decent photos of our creation before our young BBSes decided to tear it down and begin building a bigger, better one. Looks like we’ll have to start scrounging for even more tiny pieces…

Big-Brained Superheroes Invade Seattle City Hall


On Wednesday afternoon, several Big-Brained Superheroes exercised their Sense of Adventure superpower by invading Seattle City Hall to profusely thank Seattle for our Technology Matching Fund grant award. Or as our young Big-Brained Superheroes would see it:

We came…



We saw…



We ate.


Oh and there might have been some other stuff in there too…


Thanks so much, as always, to all the hardworking folks at The City of Seattle, Asfaha Lemlem of Rectech at Yesler Community Center, Brown Paper Tickets’ Maker-Doer Advocate Tamara, Big-Brained Superheroes and their caretakers, and the entire amazing community of nerds with a purpose! Extra thanks to BBS volunteer and photographer Mr. Measurement Man (aka Michael).

A couple of other projects in the C.D. about which we’re super excited are: The Young Geniuses at UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center (we had serious nerd-envy over some of their work!) and Hollow Earth Radio. Check them out and see what serious nerds can do!

Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Problem-Solving

Like many before us, The Big-Brained Superheroes Club has finally succumbed to the siren song of the popsicle stick. While stick bombs and chains are not entirely new to us, the more we work with them, the more we value their potential. Spatial reasoning, mechanical energy awareness, eye-hand coordination are all there. However, it wasn’t until this week that we’ve tried using the lowly popsicle stick to teach us such lofty skills as reverse-engineering and problem-solving. Unfortunately, those sticks didn’t fly. Yet.

We set out a short cobra-woven stick chain onto the table along with a bunch of loose sticks, and asked one of our most self-aware Big-Brained Superheroes to “make that”. And oh, did he seem to want to make that. But as for those reverse-engineering and problem-solving skills we were hoping he would show us…well…protesting is a problem-solving skill of sorts. He was not having it. Not even trying. “I just want you to teach me,” was the one recurring refrain.

The thing is, this big-brained superhero already possessed all the technical skills he needed to solve this problem and then some. As we mentioned, stick bombs and chains weren’t a wholly new activity for us.  This wasn’t a “how many golf balls can fit in a 747”-type question to a kid who has likely never seen a golf ball or been inside of a 747. He had this. And yet he didn’t. Without even trying, he ran away.

No doubt that, in other areas and in other contexts, our young hero has solved all kinds of problems more complex than this one. He did, at one point, learn to walk, after all. And he’s played video games and solved math problems. But if he’s not transferring those skills and that Empowerment to other, simpler problems, then he’s not going to go running after the big problems that desperately need his big brain and superpowers. Instead, he’s going to be waiting around for someone to teach him the steps. Which means, he’s going to be spending his life solving problems that have already been solved.

Needless to say, we’re going to have to solve this.

In this video, we see the current state of a project we discussed many moons ago here. Unsurprisingly, it takes time to tell time. Well…it takes time and Persistence and Adaptability and Willpower and

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!