The Things Iowa BIG Wonders

I’ve been reading a lot of human evolution and sociology books and papers in order to increase the base of fundamental research for some of the emergent design principals behind BIG.

A few assumptions that we make have always sat well with me, but they have always seemed a bit too because-we-think-so:
  1. Questions of community size in a small learning community (SLC). BIG has settled on a range of 100-200 with little support.
  2. Questions about time management and the number of projects/threads a human can handle at one time.
  3. Questions about abstraction level development as they relate to genetics, experience, and learning opportunities.

I’ve been reading the book Sapiens which is really great, and in it a book is referenced that features a meta study of 100’s of sociology studies regarding the abilities of the human brain to keep track of community size and what the scientific community calls “gossip.” We would refer to that as our ability to know and recommend projects to students.

The result shows that community sizes of 150 individuals is the absolute limit for an effective human group, and that groups begin to show infighting and Donald Trump-like behaviors at numbers barely over 150.
That said, humans obviously have huge success in numbers larger than 150 as long as they believe in a shared idea, what the author calls “shared fiction.”
This also brings up research around propagation of the sunk cost fallacy and escalation of commitment, which appears to be a systemic pathology of the current school system. Essentially, the more you’ve spent historically creates a mental inertia in the present that is often backwards logic given an objective cost-benies.
I think that BIG has a small probability of falling into these fallacies, given how much mental, physical, and emotional capital has been sunk into our success. So the warning from sociology and human dev research is to focus on the metrics of success for small windows of data (~3 years of student data)
Abstraction level is something I’ve been obsessed with, and at BIG we often talk of the mental vs physical age of the student, which is an ad hock measurement of abstraction. Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction is an interesting way to think about this for students. In general we ask students to step up a rung of abstraction without any measurement of their neurological limit for this kind of thought; this is why many students conclude that math is “not for them” when in fact they are simply presented ideas from one or two rungs above their current limit a frustratingly small 1-2 years before they’re ready.
We’ve discussed a shared abstraction level assessment for BIG students that centered on having the students tell imagined narratives. Something like explaining how a project started and how it ended and then asking them to imagine how many ways the team could have gotten from start to end. We never executed this, because it didn’t seem quite on point.
Happy morning!