← Saturday Kids Home

#ISTE2018 | Andy Weir on curiosity, problem-solving and failure

July 14, 2018

#Community #Pedagogy Andy WeirChicagoCuriosityFailureFieldtripsISTE 2018

Saturday Kids ISTE2018

I had wanted to do an #ISTE2018 recap of sorts on the blog (one of those 10 things we’ve learnt post) but decided to scrap that and instead focus on delving into those sessions that we felt were inspiring and meaningful. If you need a bit more background on our trip, have a look at this, and also check out what John has to say about his favourite session at #ISTE2018. PS. for the lack of a suitable photo of Andy’s talk for the featured image, here’s one of the team. #saturdaykidsrepresent

– Nicole


Many of us might know the movie The Martian – you know, the one where Matt Damon got left behind on Mars after a mission gone wrong. Did you also know that this film was adapted from a book written by Andy Weir, a software engineer?

At #ISTE2018, we had the opportunity to listen to Andy share his story during one of the keynote sessions. It was a good talk, and he’s got a great sense of humour to boot – it almost felt like he still could not believe his luck. In sharing his journey, a couple of themes emerged which we thought might be worthwhile sharing:

On curiosity and problem solving

“What drives me to learn is just curiosity. I just enjoy it”

Andy is a sci-fi fiction writer and in his writing, the theme usually revolves around solving problems and working things out. Such as the scene in Martian where Matt Damon’s almost running out of food and tried to grow potatoes using Martian ’soil’. He shared how he specifically enjoy the process of learning new things, doing research (so as to be as scientifically accurate as possible) and that the really fun part for him personally is the researching and the problem solving. But not for solutions that other people have came up with before. For example, if he wants to make a city on the moon, he doesn’t want to see someone else’s city on the moon, but he want to make his own, and to solve each problem his own way. He attributed the problem-solving skills to what his career as a software engineer taught him – the process of breaking things down into smaller, discrete problems that each have to be solved and then put together. And what drives this all is curiosity.

Sir Ken Robinson famously said that the most important thing a teacher can do for students is to keep their curiosity alive, and if teachers can keep the flame of curiosity burning in children, then pretty much everything else will follow from that. (If you have not watched his TED Talks, do us a favour and watch at least just this one). We all know that kids are born curious, you just have to look at your own or kids around you. So what really bothers us is how that fades away when kids ‘grow up’ and starts going to school where there is often only one right way or one right answer. How would that drive innovation and creativity? This is also why at Saturday Kids, keeping curiosity in kids alive is at the core of our mission.


Andy shared how for him personally, there’s a lot of failure on the path to publishing (and that is hardly new especially for anyone in the creative field – sometimes I wonder why it’s more common to come across ‘struggling writers’, ‘struggling musicians’, ‘struggling artists’ but you seldom hear people talk about ‘struggling doctors’ or the likes. But anyways).

His story is not unusual, but what’s admirable is that he kept believing in what he did and kept at it. I believe this is considered grit (we wrote something about this here previously if you’re interested to read). And finally when he started writing for fun (that’s when The Martian came from), that’s when his luck turned around in his pursuit as a writer. I guess there’s truth to what people say about how opportunities arise when you start doing the things you love. Which leads me to the next point.

On side projects

The last thing that struck me personally was the importance of side projects. This is also something a lady I like a lot (SwissMiss) talks about – you can watch her talk here. Reality for many of us is that there’s a day job that pays the bills but does not always feed the soul. But there’s value in starting and pursing small side projects, as we’ve seen in Andy’s case as well – where writing was essentially a creative outlet for him outside of his full time job as a software engineer, and how it eventually turned into his full-time gig. And for kids, despite the demands of school, to help them identify where these outlets are and to continue to allow them to experiment, to explore.

So here is a video I found online of Andy’s ISTE talk, it’s not HD-quality but good enough to make out what he’s saying – worth checking out.

Thoughts, comments or feedback? Send them along to us h[email protected] – we’ll love to hear from you.


More stories you may enjoy