Debunking a Superpower Myth
When we talk about what we do in The BBSC, we sometimes hear, “That’s great that you’re teaching kids Persistence (or Willpower or [insert superpower here])”. We appreciate where this comment comes from, but for a whole variety of reasons, it’s important for us to debunk this myth. We aren’t actually teaching kids these superpowers, and this fact highlights a core precept of Big-Brained Superherodom:
All these superpowers are integral to all Big-Brained Superheroes. And Big-Brained Superheroes simply must exercise their superpowers at some point (they can’t not).
Anyone who has ever watched BBSes play an online video game, for instance, has seen that they already have Persistence (and Willpower and [insert superpower here]). And it’s at least partially their need to exercise those superpowers that compels them to play in the first place.
What we in The BBSC are trying to do is decontextualize these extremely valuable abilities so that we can help isolate them, strengthen them, and prepare our BBSes to intentionally apply them to a variety of contexts. Why is it important for us sidekicks to see superpowers and our goals for them in this way?
- Efficiency: We don’t have to be playing basketball to talk about Teamwork and Leadership. And we don’t have to be drawing a picture to talk about Creativity and Sense of Adventure. All of our actions are composed of superpowers, and it’s our job to see these abilities, value them, and reward (or possibly redirect) their use at every opportunity.
- Efficacy: When BBSes get off track, it’s important for us to be able to pinpoint the source of the problem as accurately as possible in order to help remedy the situation. Our experience has indicated that BBS challenges are almost always related to either conflicted motivations or any number of various incorrect preconceptions. Lack of ability has yet to be a significant hindrance for any BBS we’ve encountered so far, so misattributing problems to that would hinder our success as sidekicks.
In short, we sidekicks are not teachers. If anything, we’re little more than motivators, facilitators, and sometimes explicators. We all bring our superpowers, and we all help each other exercise them. And while the way we construct—and deconstruct—this process does have its challenges (and yes, even its flaws), it’s the best method we’ve found so far for breaking through barriers and getting down to business tapping into hidden strengths.
This Adventure Made Possible By…
When a young Big-Brained Superhero decided she wanted to go on an adventure in the halls of Yesler Community Center, we knew just who to call. The front desk and administrative staff are frequently the unsung Big-Brained Superheroes of the center. Rather than drawing strict lines around their pre-conceived roles and responsibilities, they’re often looking for ways to exercise their Kindness and Teamwork superpowers on behalf of the community. In this case, when we brought out some cardboard and paper plates, staff member Kris was more than ready to get to work making this adventure possible.
How do you measure the value of this kind of support? How do you measure the power of being able to realize your big idea for a Saturday afternoon adventure within the relative safety of your own little community?
You’ve probably heard by now that, over the weekend, The BBSC hosted our first ever community-building event. There are so many contributors to this event worthy of recognition that it’s almost impossible to name them all. Nonetheless, we’re going to try. And, because we’re big-brained superheroes, we’re going to try hard.
First, our corporate and non-profit sponsors.
Look at just some of what these folks contributed!
And the sponsors are…
Whew! That’s a lot of love! And we’re not even done yet. Next up, the people who devoted their time and energy (and often money) to making this event a success:
-> Danielle Henderson—our amazing emcee
-> Volunteers from Judkins St. Cafe (including Ed the printer)
-> Volunteers from Somali Community Services
-> The Big-Brained Superheroes who volunteered
-> All the event attendees (aka the adventurers)
-> All the folks who couldn’t make it but bought tickets anyway!
Whew! That’s a lot more love! And yet there’s still more. The BBSC is big on making the invisible visible. And doing so means that, while we might not go all the way to back to Nikola Tesla and Charles Babbage, we still have a lot of thanking to do.
For instance, our digital logic and circuit board activities wouldn’t exist without:
Plus, there are those who contribute the basic stuff that rarely gets the love and attention it deserves, such as:
-> Yesler Community Center—where we hold our meetings and build much of our cool stuff
-> Julianna from SPACE who so long ago donated the paper products we’re still using today
-> And all the Big-Brained Superhero volunteers (past and present) and friends who are often thinking of us and joining in to lend many hands when needed most.
And the list goes on…
What we’re getting at is that, while we Big-Brained Superheroes work incredibly hard every day to make cool things happen, we recognize that we’re just a tiny pale blue dot in a vast universe of amazingness that expands around us all the time. Stepping back and appreciating this universe every so often underscores our responsibility to deal kindly with each other and to preserve and cherish our own place in it.
It’s true! SparkFun sparks fun!
A few weeks ago, SparkFun gave a very generous gift to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. But the truth of the matter is that we haven’t even gotten to those boxes yet. We’ve been so busy soldering connections, stripping wires, and testing voltages with our new SparkFun tool kits that we haven’t yet made our way to the best stuff! Which brings us to the other gifts that SparkFun is giving us: the opportunity, motivational support, and tools we need to work our way toward harder problems.
In our experience, SparkFun is unique in how far it goes to put its tools and information into the hands of unlikely makers. And they do it with flair (and flare)! When we started excavating all the shiny red SparkFun boxes from our first delivery, word got around the community center rather quickly that something was up. Almost immediately we had more hands helping us than we knew what to do with. And even before our main electronics components had arrived, we were digging out of our stash a discarded CD player motor and other junk with which to play.
Since then, Big-Brained Superheroes have built 12 logic gate modules and a few soon-to-be revealed components of our emerging electric circuits lab. All using the many tools we were able to get thanks SparkFun’s educational discount and Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. The most exciting aspect of this project, though, is that it’s really just the beginning of something even greater. Each new tool we figure out how to use, each new part we learn about, and each new circuit we build makes our world just a bit more accessible and equally more fun. And all those shiny red boxes waiting for us on the shelf serve as an excellent reminder that we’re just getting started.
Thank you, SparkFun, for helping make it all happen!
Everyone is Family and Big-Brained and a Superhero…
For several reasons, we’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how to characterize The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. Yes, we have many, many meetings and do many, many things. But what do we really do? No matter how many times we turn the problem around in our heads, we keep coming back to the same conclusion: Explaining things is complicated.
Sometimes, we, ourselves, try to explain The Big-Brained Superheroes Club through analogy: “Think Boys & Girls Club—but nerdier—meets Big Brothers Big Sisters—but in a community setting.” Nope.
Sometimes, those who observe and value what we do every week try to offer up their own analogies: “Imagine a science flash mob,” or “They’re…an…afterschool tutoring program…yeah…kind of…”. Nice try, guys!
As always, our young Big-Brained Superheroes are really the best at understanding and explaining the club: “Everyone is family”. True. And as good as that explanation is, it’s simultaneously too complex and too simple to be sufficiently illustrative.
Expand on the family theme with Einstein’s belief of what education should do—“The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem”. (Third rule of explaining things: If you need to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable ideas, start by quoting Einstein.)
And then, add to Einstein’s ideals for education our profound reliance on real-life superpowers, and you’re beginning to capture the essence of what it means to be a Big-Brained Superhero.
Big-Brained Superheroes Fight an Epic Battle
He comes back in the room, slaps his half-done homework onto the table in front of him, and puts his head down. It doesn’t take much Empathy to see that he’s feeling defeated, disenfranchised, downtrodden. So, what do we do? Do we reinforce his hurt and insecurities by criticizing him? Tell him to: Suck it up, kid, because learning how to multiply is way more important than whatever is going on in your brain right now?
Big-Brained Superheroes fight epic battles every single day. Some of the battles we all fight every now and then; some of them are fought relentlessly—without truce—by a precious few. Those Big-Brained Superheroes get dispatches, overt and covert, every single day telling them who they are and who they are not. Telling them what they are and are not capable of. And mostly, what they should and should not expect from a world that doesn’t always concern itself with tapping into their hidden strengths. Like the Avengers and like the X-men, they get it. It takes superhuman strength to fight for a world that doesn’t seem to fight so much for you.
Which is why sidekicks exist. Sidekicks may not have all the answers or know exactly what to say or do to defeat the villainy. We may even get distracted from time to time with our own battles. But, by default, we always come back to knowing who our priorities are. And no matter what, when we see a Big-Brained Superhero losing the battle, we know our job is to fight alongside—not against—him. So that when he raises his head, both victory and completed homework in hand, we can be there too. Right by his side. Helping show the world all the amazing things Big-Brained Superheroes, when we work together, can do.
Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey
OK. We were going to take a bit of time to talk about how busy we are, but we don’t have any time to talk about how busy we are. So, here’s the deal:
Sunday, June 8th, at 5pm: You should come to Judkins St. Cafe to eat and drink, play games, build stuff, and support The Big-Brained Superheroes Club! We were going to regale you with exclamations about how excited we are for this—our first ever fundraising event—and how it’s going to be an amazing time, etc, etc…Whatever. Just come. You’ll love it.
Digital Logic: Still happening. The exciting news here is that we’ve decided to open up at least one of the later series to the general public with our young Big-Brained Superheroes leading those workshops. If you (or people you know) want a fun, hands-on environment in which to discover the basics of how computers think (which is actually everyone, even if you don’t know it), prepare to sign up. You’ll love it.
Big-Brained Superheroes Club Meetings: Oh yeah. We’re still doing those. Though now we’ve moved into a special room in Yesler Community Center (currently known as “the art room”). There are actual cabinets for us to store materials in. This is very exciting. If you want to join any of our Monday or Wednesday meetings, show up from 5-7pm. Volunteer an evening or two. Just for fun! You’ll love it.
There’s so much more to announce (some big stuff, even!), but that’s all we have time for now. In summary, the current state of Big-Brained Superherodom in a single photo:
We love it!
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:
Or ridden the Seattle Center monorail:
Or driven a remote-controlled submarine:
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:
And simple circuits with Curiosity Hacked:
While the taller BBSes then proceeded to see the world anew through the latest tech:
the shorties split to the Pacific Science Center to embiggen their brains in other ways:
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.