Big-Brained Superhero advocates for an upgrade of Engineer Zero’s breadboard.
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!
Congrats to this exceptional big-brained superhero for being the first in the club to successfully completely remove and reinstall a PC power supply all on her own! Fifth grade girls represent!
Yesterday, Engineer Zero kindly brought his Grisbot back to the club for another Big-Brained Superhero challenge. The new feature he added—a light-chasing function—engaged our big brains on a whole new level. Watching our young BBSes get excited about their ability to direct Grisbot’s movements with light served to remind us that our brains don’t want to just sit and observe. They crave interaction and inquiry. Not to mention control, which is really what The Big-Brained Superheroes Club’s particular combination of superpowers and STEAM is all about. Helping us acquire and deploy the tools we need to control ourselves and as much of our world as we can manage. Even if the source of that control is little more than a simple flashlight in a dark place.
Sometimes, it takes a lot more than Willpower to accomplish a mission. In the case of our first ever robot-making field trip, it took the combined superpowers of at least five different organizations and 10 big-brained superheroes to turn our plans into reality.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Brown Paper Tickets and the incredible Kindness of amazing Maker Advocate Tamara Clammer, four of our finest Big-Brained Superheroes got to create their very own mouseybots at today’s Xbot Robotics workshop. On our walk down from Yesler Community Center (which opened early just for us!), we picked up trash in coordination with Nature Consortium for Earth Day. Once we reached the Inscape building, we bided our pre-workshop time by hanging out with the folks at Jigsaw Renaissance, checking out their Arduino library and other fun stuff. Whew! And we did it all before lunch.
When it comes to building robots, Big-Brained Superheroes jump right in…
Goodbye wire insulation…
Hello circuit creation…
It’s time to heat things up…
Or maybe fog things up?…
A flurry of activity…
And mission accomplished…
Thank you again, Tamara et al! We have to agree with one of our young big-brained superheroes…this was, indeed, the “funnest day ever!”
including our big brains…
oh yeah, and the sun…
Our Big-Brained Superhero volunteers are geniuses (who should be getting paid!). Here’s just one of the many reasons why:
We’ve been thinking about the problem of Willpower recently and how it’s a challenging superpower to recognize and reward. So much so that we’ve even contemplated replacing Willpower in our Shared Superpowers lineup. However, there’s one area in which Willpower has been so valuable to us that replacing it becomes practically out of the question…The area of contretemps.
If you know the history of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, you know that contretemps were a big challenge for us in the early days. So much so that, if we hadn’t evolved out of the state we were in, the club surely wouldn’t be around today. So, if there’s one area in which we have all recognized overarching BBSC improvement, it’s in the area of contretemps. Whether the improvement has been the result of our superpower interventions or of the passage of time alone, we can’t say for sure, but we have all noticed markedly fewer and much more manageable contretemps among our club members.
And contretemps are where Willpower currently gets its due. Our young big-brained superheroes know that when someone says or does something mean to them (regardless of intent), if—instead of reacting in-kind—they either come to our big-brained superhero volunteers and talk it out or talk it out among themselves, they automatically get rewarded for exercising their Willpower superpower. That’s because we know how challenging it is to not immediately react when we feel we’ve been personally affronted. We’ve all failed to use our Willpower superpower from time to time.
As this particular need for Willpower exercise becomes rarer, we are having a harder and harder time finding instances in which we can reward for Willpower usage. That’s partially because our young BBSes aren’t always aware they’re exercising their Willpower. For instance, when they’re restraining themselves from following an impulse to interrupt or shout out, they don’t necessarily say to themselves, “Hey, I’m exercising my Willpower here. Go me!”. And as we don’t know what’s going on in their minds, we also don’t have a clear way of recognizing and expressing value for their self-restraint. In other words, beyond the contretemps arena discussed above, we currently lack clear, positive instantiation models of Willpower exercise.
Enter the “Willpowerometer” (artist’s rendering above) idea dreamed up by some of our big-brained superhero volunteers…
As we continue to seek our club’s ideal balance of structure and pandemonium, we’re also keen on avoiding power struggles between young BBSes and volunteer BBSes (as much as possible) in the process. While we recognize that power struggles have their own educational value, it’s always been our goal to continuously strive toward putting increasing amounts of power (and responsibility) in the hands of our young big-brained superheroes. Nonetheless, the club is also geared toward making (educational and social-emotional) progress—not toward retaining the status quo. We need at least some direction and, currently, that direction is, to a large extent, dictated by our volunteers. We’re hoping that technology can help us push the balance here, since many technologies can at least come across as fairly neutral arbiters.
One method of bringing more structure (and therefore, more obvious areas in which to reward the exercise of Willpower) to The BBSC is to add more concrete and measurable noise-level requirements. We can get to be a rowdy group sometimes (especially as our numbers increase), and it wouldn’t hurt to be able to deliberately modulate ourselves in this area. Consequently, the idea for the Willpowerometer is based on that of a standard sound meter.
We’ve been kicking around the idea of building a sound meter for a while now, but we’ve hesitated for lack of a way to bring meaning to our measurement. What happens when we hit a certain level on the meter? Do we get some sort of punishment? That strategy seems very un-Big-Brained Superhero-like. Plus, as one of our genius BBS volunteers observed, the incentives on many sound meters don’t fit our model. Our young big-brained superheroes enjoy seeing things light up (Who doesn’t?), and the sound meter designs we’ve been considering are LED-based. So, in standard mode, the more noise, the more light, and therefore, the more fun. These mixed messages don’t work for us.
As currently conceived, the “Willpowerometer” will, to start, measure sound, but the feedback displayed will be contingent on volunteer-determined settings rather than on straight sound production. That is, ideal sound ranges will be selected at the beginning of each meeting, and the more we, as a club, stay within our chosen sound range, the more the display will light up. As an added bonus, we’ll put young Big-Brained Superhero works of Art and Science in front of the display to be lit up from behind. And we’ll try to build the display with individually controllable RGB LEDs so that, as we all get better at programming, our young big-brained superheroes can eventually program their own patterns to be lit up by their Willpower. Beyond which, Willpower bucks will be distributed based on Willpowerometer readings. Ta da! A clear, positive instantiation model of Willpower exercise! (Or something like it, at least.)
Obviously, we have a lot of work to do to make the Willpowerometer happen, and we’re hoping this is where you will come in. Beyond needing more big-brained superheroes to help us design and build the Willpowerometer in our club, we need supplies. Resources. And ideally, some way to compensate all of our genius Big-Brained Superheroes for their work. Our young BBSes need Big-Brained Superhero mercantile items and our current genius Big-Brained Superhero volunteers need rent money. We’re hoping that, with a little seed money, these kinds of projects can bring both in the long run.
We figure that, if we see value in bringing this type of environmental and personal awareness technology into what we’re doing, others might see value in bringing it to what they’re doing. Especially if we make it flexible and simple enough for a variety of users. It’s not new. But we think it’s an improvement. So, if we can manage to acquire the resources to build our Willpowerometer, we will post the design plans here for anyone to build from. And, if we can keep down the costs of implementation, we want to sell Willpowerometer kits in order to help fund The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. This type of funding model represents the future of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. But we can only get there through the help of big-brained superheroes everywhere. More on this later, but in the meantime, please…
We Big-Brained Superheroes are always up for a challenge. And sometimes our challenges aren’t nearly as challenging as we expect them to be. For instance, yesterday, Peter Gruenbaum of SDKBridge came by to teach us how to develop a maze game in Scratch. This impending event made a few of us Big-Brained Superhero volunteers a bit nervous for the following reasons:
- Peter is fantastically generous with his time, and we were anxious for him to feel that hanging out with us was time well-spent;
- Our young Big-Brained Superheroes had just spent all day in school, and we knew that a more formally structured lesson would seriously test our Persistence and Willpower superpowers;
- We still hadn’t settled ourselves on how well a more formally structured lesson would fit into our less formally structured club, with our young Big-Brained Superheroes coming in and out as their schedules and needs demand.
In other words, this challenge presented a genuine test for our Sense of Adventure superpower. And yet…it went great! On the whole, our young big-brained superheroes worked assiduously to the end. Huzzah! There. Now that the celebrations are over, we have to ask ourselves: Why did this exercise work so well? Here are some of—what we consider to be—the contributing factors:
- Peter is a genuine big-brained superhero. He exercised all of his superpowers in this endeavor, most especially Adaptability. He constrained and simplified his lesson. Rather than spending all of his time at the front of the room lecturing, he broke up his instructions into very discrete chunks and then went around the room helping. When our young Big-Brained Superheroes went off-script, he didn’t even flinch and just rolled with it.
- Peter also helped create an environment conducive to concentration. He brought with him a projector and laptop with which he projected his Scratch code onto the big screen. Beyond being a helpful reference tool, the projection served as a useful focal point to which our young Big-Brained Superheroes could turn their attention when they began to get restless. The dim ambient lighting accompanying the projection also seemed to help relax us.
- We pulled out all the motivational tools in our arsenal for this event. Successfully completing a Scratch maze became a prerequisite for attending our upcoming roboticized club field trip (details forthcoming). Big-Brained Superhero volunteers were especially generous with the big-brain bucks during this event. And at the end, our young Big-Brained Superheroes were rewarded with flash drives provided by the City of Seattle. (Whether or not we actually needed all these supporting materials for this event is open for debate, but having them at our disposal at least made us Big-Brained Superhero volunteers feel better.)
- Finally, it appears that our young Big-Brained Superheroes self-selected into this event, so the preponderance of the energy in the room belonged to the Scratch-curious (or at least to those who didn’t feel absolutely compelled to be running around outside on a beautiful afternoon).
All in all, this event was a hugely empowering experience for us. We all learned something useful and demonstrated that we can manage more structure when called upon to do so. How far we will take this awareness is yet to be determined. We’re still holding out hope that our young Big-Brained Superheroes will eventually perform a coup and take this club for their very own. In the meantime, however, periodically interrupting our normally scheduled pandemonium with a little bit of structure is a good thing. At the very least, it proves we can meet a serious challenge. With quite a bit of help from our big-brained superhero friends, that is.
Many thanks to Peter at SDKBridge for the help!