Saturday may have been the rainiest day of the year so far, but that didn’t stop Yesler Terrace from engaging in its bi-annual neighborhood clean-up. From there, ten Big-Brained Superheroes braved even more rain on our walk to our favorite maker space—Jigsaw Renaissance—in Seattle’s International District.
This trip was a reward for a brave young BBS who received the first ever Big-Brained Harry Potter leadership award for defending others against bullying.
Here’s our exceptional BBS Harry Potter Leader working on an electronics project at Jigsaw Renaissance:
Other young Big-Brained Superheroes were fortunate enough to share in the adventure. Happily, Jigsaw Renaissance is more fun than Disneyland.
Here are a few of us working on a robotic arm and a salt water conductivity experiment:
A few young BBSes then expressed their appreciation for BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man via whiteboard:
And also learned a bit of guitar and keyboard:
Much Persistence was exercised in the process of analyzing and deconstructing a broken cell phone:
Apparently, big-brained superheroes can be found pretty much anywhere as we discovered during United Way of King County’s most recent Day of Caring (which we turned into a day of hacking/making). This particular set of big-brained superheroes came from a company called Blucora, located in Bellevue, WA. And not only did a team of 10+ people travel all the way to BBS HQ at Yesler Community Center to spend the day with a few BBS Volunteers, but they brought a broad array of valuable skills and superpowers—not to mention materials—with them.
The mission: to build prototype electronics kits for our young Big-Brained Superheroes to tinker with.
The result: great stuff!
What you see here are three prototype electronic/multidimensional greeting cards, two prototype phone chargers, one prototype dexterity tester, and one pure exercise of Creativity. Mission definitely accomplished!
Summer is over; homework is back; and with this evolution, a quotation suddenly comes to mind:
It was as if one had diverted some terrific electric current which should have been controlling a vast system of machinery, and turned it on to annihilate a black-beetle.
-Psmith in the City
Just like Psmith with a silent P, we revel a bit in the hyperbole of this sentiment. Nonetheless, aside from our general ambivalence regarding the effectiveness of homework, its abrupt reappearance in our lives presents us with some more prosaic problems:
For starters, nobody—not volunteers, not young BBSes—nobody is overly fond of homework. And unless we’re relentlessly focused on exercising our superpowers rather than on simply finishing our homework, it’s a short path to volunteers practically doing our young BBSes’ homework for them (an obvious, yet quite common, problem). Not helping.
Secondly, if some young BBSes don’t have homework and others do, what to do with those who don’t? Our traditional response is to present the otherwise unencumbered with equally unexciting extra worksheets. That is, if some of us can’t be engaged in interesting, hands-on projects, then none of us can be engaged in interesting, hands-on projects. Unfair.
Homework seriously taxes our resources (eg, our reward system and volunteer time). It’s difficult to convey how utterly unrewarding our young Big-Brained Superheroes seem to find the process of doing their homework. Consequently, their reward typically comes in one of two forms from the club: attention from volunteers and BBS Bucks. These complementary reward systems are intended to help activate the reward circuitry in young BBS brains, and without enough of them, our young BBSes are left to their own devices—often not the most healthy ones. Costly.
Finally, the process of doing homework rarely produces the feelings that we big-brained superheroes prefer to associate with learning. Feelings like these:
Oh, homework!…we totally get you. But you present quite a problem for us.
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…
We had just spent the weekend representing The Big-Brained Superheroes Club and Jigsaw Renaissance at Emerald City Comicon, and our first-ever grant application was due that day. I was battling a wicked cold (probably from the combined lack of sleep and abundance of human contact) while sitting at a computer in our Big-Brained Superheroes Club meeting struggling to finish the application.
All throughout, young Big-Brained Superheroes kept calling my name to come look at the Scratch programs they were working on. Sitting next to me was a young BBS creating his own math-art project. After several instances of responding to those calling my name, I blew my nose and reminded them what I was working on. I then jokingly asked if they wanted the club to be “poor forever”. In an instant, the young BBS next to me (9 years old at the time) piped up, “LEAVE HER ALONE!”. We all kind of laughed and continued about our business.
See. Funny story. Or maybe not. But at least we won that one!
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:
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).
One of the topics that comes up quite frequently with regard to The BBSC is our membership policy. As we explained many moons ago, The BBSC is an entirely voluntary, minimal barrier-to-entry after school/summer program open to pretty much anyone who happens to be around and wants to participate. No one is compelled to join and no one is prohibited from joining. Consequently, our 1-year BBSC roster is well over 115 Big-Brained Superheroes long while our meeting participation numbers can vary by as many as 35 young BBSes.
It’s easy to imagine the liabilities associated with this type of “structure”, and the reasons why it is so rarely embraced are innumerable. As we big-brained superheroes like to say, “If it were simple, everyone would be doing it.” But in spite of the many potentially rewarding aspects of applying The Filter, we have refrained for many reasons. For starters, those expunged by The Filter must invariably end up somewhere. And we deeply care where that is. Beyond this, where others may see a preponderance of liabilities in our program’s structure, we see assets:
Our BBS volunteers and young BBSes get A LOT of superpower exercise. Seriously. A lot. And for a program, such as ours, dedicated to the exercise of superpowers, this asset is a biggie. It’s amazing what shifting the focus from fundamental outcomes to fundamental processes can do for a superhero.
There’s tremendous power in diversity. Character and quirkiness are endemic to our Big-Brained Superheroes, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our young BBSes, in particular, come from so many different backgrounds and speak such a diversity of languages that they can’t help but be creative in their problem-solving (as well as in their troublemaking). And Creativity is a hugely important superpower to us.
Our potential is limitless as is our capacity for surprise. By focusing on the whole instead of the part, we BBS volunteers willfully avoid categorizing and pigeon-holing our young BBSes. Who they are one day may be completely different from who they are the next, and it’s everyone’s job to see and stretch the potential in each set of strengths our fellow club members exhibit. While this may be a seemingly impossible task, we are big-brained superheroes, and it’s what we do.
So, why enumerate our structural assets now? Well, our recent Tumblr reminder that this website/blog is 1 year old combined with our human tendency to mark and ritualize certain measures of time may have something to do with it. Second, it’s just a good reminder for all of us—young and less young—as to why we do this business at least twice a week. Finally, we all know what they say…superheroes gotta superpower.
So, how does all this happen? Well, if we were Carl Sagan, we would start by acknowledging the origins of the universe. But since we’re The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, we start by acknowledging our shared superpowers. And then, we recognize the hours and hours and hours of work done by BBS volunteers and EACS staff, volunteers, and community members. And then, we appreciate the wide variety of in-kind contributions from a whole host of big-brained superheroes present and past:
We love Cappy’s Gym for rescuing over 40+ water bottles from their recycle bin to serve as our rocket ships!
We love EACS and BBS volunteers for providing over 4 1/2 gallons of vinegar for rocket fuel and 16 ounces of baking soda for rocket engines. Not to mention Julianna of SPACE for, so long ago, providing the paper towels we used for engine casings.
We love Starbucks on Capitol Hill for handing over a handful of corks to BBS volunteer Mr. Measurement Man, who went door-to-door in search of serviceable containment methods for our rocket engines and fuel.
We love EACS, BBS volunteers, and our old Gasworks Kite Shop for providing tape, markers, and streamers used to accessorize our rocket ships. Plus the sidewalk chalk and tin cans for the launchpads.
And finally, we love EACS staff, volunteers, and community members (Elizia, Connie, and everyone else) for giving us the privilege of meeting so many new big-brained superheroes! (And for letting us accidentally use the roof as a landing pad for so many unmanned recyclable vehicles…sorry about that, EACS.) You all really know how to party!
Several months ago, one of our young big-brained superheroes asked a few of us BBS volunteers to attend her school play. This is the kind of thing we are always up for. Soccer games, school fairs, performances…if they ask, we do everything we can to get there. Not only because we big-brained superheroes stick together but because these events give us unique opportunities to learn much more about our young BBSes, and hopefully, create a better club as a result.
So, attend her performance we did, and learn we did. For instance, we learned from her teacher that our young BBS was struggling with her multiplication. This surprised us somewhat because, while we knew math was not her very favorite subject, she had always been able to accomplish what we asked of her. So, of course, the first thing we did was quiz her verbally in the school hallway while we waited for her mom to pick her up after the play.
"9X3?" "27." "8X5?" "40." "6X6?" "36."…
This young big-brained superhero answered every multiplication question we threw at her, casually and without hesitation. Just hanging out in the hallway, she went well above the level her teacher told us she was stuck at in class. Immediately, we had a sense of the problem, but just to be sure, we quizzed her again at our next BBSC meeting. Same result. And such is another deeply unsatisfying aspect of focusing so directly on outcomes—tests, in particular. We, quite frequently, aren’t very good at knowing what they measure.
In this case, the situation wasn’t as it might have seemed—that our young hero was incapable of doing multiplication. The situation was simply that she wasn’t completing 100 multiplication problems in class, on this particular test as written, within the 5 minutes allotted. And, to add yet more complexity to the situation, it was probably one of the more favorable aspects of her personality that kept her from succeeding in this area. She is a very calm, congenial young Big-Brained Superhero. And as such, she is less likely to feel the pressure one might need to feel in order to complete 100 problems in 5 minutes. If we had to guess, she simply proceeded to take this test in her own way—in her own time.
Ultimately, of course, we did have to guess. Because the test she took did very little to measure her fundamental knowledge of multiplication. There were simply too many variables involved. So what else is new? But, from a distance, that’s frequently not how it seems. When looking at report cards and aggregate test scores, we often unconsciously view these as concrete, even objective, measures. Teachers may know better (or, at least, they should), but even with that knowledge, any amelioration efforts may seem ultimately futile.
Tests are everywhere. And yet, as far as we can tell, the process of much academic testing involves taking a whole wide world of variables, confounding them with even more variables, and then thinking we learned something from the outcome. And maybe we did learn something. But sadly, we probably don’t know what that is.
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.
So the grittiness went out of life…At the last minute, when the social machine was clogged hopelessly, one member or other of the family poured in a drop of oil.
It may not make for a spectacular story, but more than anything, the value of our superpowers lies in their humble ability to take a bit of the grittiness out of life. To unclog the social machine. And so it was on Wednesday, when—thanks, in part, to the Kindness and Teamwork of our friends at Jigsaw Renaissance and Seattle Radio Control—we were able to take a step back from our more grueling superpower exercise and just play…
And we built things out of squishy shapes:
And every once in a while, when we’d have a minor dispute…maybe over a particular building block or an electronics part…we’d exchange that thing for the chance to exercise one of our superpowers. Who would willingly trade a LEGO for an Adaptability superpower? A Big-Brained Superhero that’s who.
You’re reading the world’s second Big-Brained Superheroes Club guest blog post! What a pleasure blogging is for me since I started volunteering for this wonderful program over a year ago. Enough about me, and on with the blog posting!
Hey hey hey. Sorry for the delay. A lot’s been happening with the BBSC of late, so we’re a little slow in posting about our crazy fun party celebrating our recent Seattle Tech Matching Fund grant award.
Before we go any further, let’s give a big (brained) shout-out to the owners of World Pizza in the International District. World Pizza Adam Cone (left, in green) and Aaron Crosleycone:
Small business owners Adam and Aaron donated pizza to our event and exercised their Kindness and Teamwork superpowers to great effect! Their pizza was a big hit with our big brains!
Celebratory festivities included…
Roaring like a lion:
And electrifying paper plates with Maker Advocate, Tamara:
A great time was had by all. Thank you, Big-Brained Superheroes, World Pizza, and once again, Tamara from Brown Paper Tickets!
What you see here is the screen one of our 4th-grade Big-Brained Superheroes saw after beating DragonBox, the game we began playing during Washington State’s algebra challenge week. One of our favorite aspects of this success is how much exercise our young Big-Brained Superhero’s Persistence superpower got in the process. He faced no small number of challenges and frustrations during the game, but he just kept going. Even though the algebra challenge week had ended, he was determined to keep going until the end. And so he did.
Needless to say, we’re incredibly excited to see him so diligent in his Persistence superpower exercise. He set a goal, and he stuck to it until it was achieved. So, unalloyed success, right? Fourth-grade BBS FTW!
Well, there’s a catch. When our young hero hit the above screen and realized what “endless” meant, he wanted absolutely no part of this game anymore. He was done. Finis. No way was he going to participate in an “endless” journey. No goal—no game. End of story.
And this got us thinking about some of the problems associated with focusing so directly on outcomes. Outcomes are, by nature, limited. And once you reach them, why keep striving? Of what value is process? And can all successes be planned and measured? Not to mention…Sense of Adventure, anyone?
It goes without saying that Persistence is good. Winning is good. Mastering algebra is good. But, as every good superhero adventure series teaches us, the challenges most worthy of our superpowers are those that aren’t, by nature, limited. And those in which our mastery is endlessly questioned.
You’re reading the world’s first Big-Brained Superheroes Club guest blog post! What a pleasure blogging is for me since I started volunteering for this wonderful program over a year ago. Enough about me, and on with the blog posting!
What’s the deal with those darned Babylonians? You see, algebra traces its history to the Babylonians, and the Big Brains have recently been tearing up the Algebra scene at Yesler Community Center.
Yes, Big-Brained Superheroes are learning algebra as early as age 5 thanks, in part, to the Washington State Algebra Challenge. It relies on an online game called DragonBox, which is designed to intuitively teach the mechanics of solving equations algebraic style via game levels involving icons and exploration.
In all seriousness, it took me just as long to figure out the mechanics of the Algebra Challenge games as it did for the young Big Brains. Even longer, in fact, since they taught me how to play. At first, I was a bit perplexed by how it taught Algebra at all, but after playing for a while, the genius behind it became clear. It works by teaching the mechanics in game form and then gradually begins to use the algebra equations we’re accustomed to seeing. By the time you get to the levels containing traditional equations, you’re well-versed in the process of applying the same treatments to both sides of an equation in order to isolate your variables.
Unsurprisingly, today was a busy day in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. And yet, it was all surprisingly simple. Strangely self-organized, even. Our big-brained superheroes showed up and just…kind of…did stuff. Such as…
And such. Microscopes and other miscellany even made their appearances. And while nothing necessarily noteworthy or grandiose happened, today left an unusual impression. Sometimes simplicity is sublime.
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.
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.
Maybe it’s a reaction to all the hustle and bustle, but rather than spending the bulk of our time this week documenting who did what and when, we’ve mostly been meditating on a larger, more abstract question: Just how does all this happen?
A March Mathness example: On Monday, we encountered a free range (aka unofficial) big-brained superhero roaming the halls of Yesler Community Center and stopped to ask him to solve a few math problems for us. In the course of our brief discussion, we offhandedly mentioned that we were part of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, which met on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 6pm. After a few more math questions and responses and thanking him for his time, he responded, “OK. I’ll see you on Wednesday!”
Huh. We were not expecting this. If we were planning to seek out new recruits to the club, “ask random kids to solve a bunch of complex math problems” probably wouldn’t have been our go-to course of action. And yet, recruit a new member we did as that particular young BBS proved when he exclaimed, “I told you I’d be here!”, when we met him for the second time on Wednesday afternoon. And he was actually just one of three new recruits (two boys, one girl) resulting from this week’s Hallway Math event so far.
Yesterday saw a blur of activity in The Big-Brained Superhero Hall of Justice (a working title; calm yourselves, DC fans). And while the search rages on for more, more, MORE amazing Big-Brained Superhero volunteers, we can’t help thinking how useful our crazy kid-to-volunteer ratio can be in providing opportunities to exercise our superpowers. To some extent, this is by design. We want a club—not a tutoring center, per se.
However, when your lair has porous borders like ours does, it can be a bit disquieting to see five big-brained superheroes suddenly morph into 10 big-brained superheroes…and then into 15…and then 20… And that’s when our Adaptability superpower kicks into overdrive, so that, when we hear, “Can I have some work?”, we have options.
Sure, you can have some work. Come help this 4 year-old (technically below our age range, but Adaptability!) big-brained superhero learn to count, add, and subtract, using big-brain bucks. Teamwork!:
And then, stick around for The Big-Brained Superheroes Club after party where we have WAY too much fun testing out the augmented reality graphic novel kindly gifted to us by the good folks at Anomaly. Even more Teamwork!:
Pandemonium, while assiduously avoided in all the respectable circles, is a superpowers playground. Dilemma.
Our first-ever March Mathness* is getting off to a bit of a late start…blog-wise, that is. As far as big-brained superheroes are concerned, we started celebrating promptly on March 1st with an entirely impromptu big-brained superhero gathering in the halls of Yesler Community Center for Hallway Math. Also, we already have an exemplary (also entirely impromptu) piece of Art and Math on which we can look for inspiration. So, regardless of all other challenges, we’re taking these as promising signs. Our first-ever March Mathness is going to be mathtacular!
But first, you may be wondering…um…what? What is March Mathness? So glad you asked. We’re dedicating the entire month of March (which includes Pi Day, of course) to finding ways to incorporate math into all of our Big-Brained Superheroes Club meeting activities. True, we already do Hallway Math, Mathketball (the ever-evolving rules of which we’ll be documenting sometime soon), and JUMP Math. Besides which, we’ll soon be booting up AdaptedMind (kindly donated to us by the AdaptedMind folks) to provide even more math-portunities in the computer lab. But we know that there’s more math where all that came from.
For starters, we’ll definitely be engaging in all of our standard math-tivities (taking them up to eleven, even!). Plus, we’ll be adding more, more, more mathtivities to our repertoire. Beyond which, we’ll be looking for ways to uncover the hidden mathematical aspects of our seemingly non-math-oriented activities. And we’ll eventually end the month by documenting an entire week straight (Monday thru Friday) of Hallway Math. Not to mention, we’ve been chatting with other caring members of the Yesler community about the possibility of bringing math into other areas of our big-brained superheroes’ lives. So, without further ado…let’s let the mathness begin!
* While the Google suggests that we’re not the first to come up with the “March Mathness” idea, we’ll do what we can to be the punniest.
Last week, The BBSC got the privilege of meeting two more big-brained superheroes. Women’s boxing Olympic hopeful Jen Hamann and her coach Tricia Turton of Arcaro Boxing Gym exercised their Kindness and Teamwork superpowers in coming to talk with us about boxing as it pertains to big-brained superhero-dom. A more perfect physical expression of the power of superpowers could not have been asked for. Jen and Tricia addressed so many of the issues our BBSes face on a daily basis, but there was one notion in particular that caught our attention: slipping negativity.
As Jen demonstrated how she slips punches in the ring, she proposed that we big-brained superheroes visualize ourselves slipping the negative words and expressions that tend to come at us (young ones, especially!) in direct and indirect ways every day. We found this concept incredibly powerful. In superpower lingo, we might even call it “Empowerment”ful (ugh).
It seems paradoxical to us, but when we seriously considered which of our superpowers would best connect to the concept of “slipping negativity”, we had to come down on the side of Empowerment: “feeling confident in ourselves”. Amplifying the weirdness of connecting a quintessentially evasive maneuver with Empowerment is the fact that we typically consider Empowerment to be “the One Superpower that rules them all”. Slipping? Really? But Empowerment sounds so strong and dramatic! More like a knockout punch. And slipping sounds so…the opposite of a knockout punch.
Well, we had the chance to explore this question a bit last night when one very young big-brained superhero (not yet a club member) fell into tears in the halls of Yesler Community Center. Having witnessed some of the activity that led up to the tears, we approached this young bbs (whose name we did not know) and asked him if the reason for his sadness was that he felt like the world was against him. The tears wouldn’t let up long enough for him to answer so we quickly noted that we sometimes felt like the world was against us too and could understand.
From there, we hurriedly explained (over his sobs) Jen’s idea of how he might “slip negativity”. And then, we provided a demonstration. “Imagine: negativity—>(slip left)…negativity—>(slip right)…negativity—>(slip left)”. Almost immediately, teary sad face turned into teary perplexed face. As soon as we got teary perplexed face, we asked him if he wanted to give it a try. After abruptly shaking his head “no”, he immediately started slipping the “negativity” that we had already begun to throw at him. And by his third slip, he was actually laughing out loud through his tears. By this time, the very young big-brained superhero’s caretakers had apparently noticed something amiss and rushed over to adjudicate the he-said-she-saids of the tear-inducing incident while we quietly slipped away (Note to potential members: Incident adjudication services are not provided by The Big-Brained Superheroes Club).
Whether this episode serves as an archetypical example of either Jen’s notion of slipping negativity or our BBS idea of exercising Empowerment is debatable. Even so, we were incredibly impressed by how quickly “slipping negativity” changed the nature of the problem with which we were dealing. We went from crying over the world being against us to—at the very least—getting some entertainment out of it. And while it may be that this conclusion is a bit anticlimactic—lacking the drama typical of what we think of as the knockout punch—we have to ask ourselves: “How many knockout punches do we even have in us throughout our lives?”. And might small little daily slips of negativity pile up into something more powerful than all those punches combined?
Tapping into the Hidden Strengths that All Humans Have
Admittedly, the mission of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club is primarily directed toward young people. But one of the more bracing aspects of being a big-brained superhero is that it frequently puts us in a position to discover and value the hidden strengths in adults as well. And these fun and surprising discoveries often go well beyond our select volunteer circle (which you should still join, of course!).
Over the weekend, a member of our extended big-brained superhero community exercised her Kindness superpower in thoughtfully sending us a notice she had found about an upcoming theatre arts supply sale. And yesterday, a couple of us swung by the event on the off chance that we’d find a few BBSC project materials that our tiny budget could afford. When we arrived, however, we were immediately overwhelmed by a myriad of materials and tools of which our club is constantly in need: namely, office supplies. Paper, that is. White/off-white gold. Pressed wood pulp.
Now, typically, one might find a story of the sale of paper goods to be not at all bracing. But that presumes the seller of said paper goods to be not at all bracing. Such was not the case here.
Here enters our newly discovered extended big-brained superhero community member, Julianna, of SPACE. In the process of discussing Julianna’s supplies and materials, we began discussing arts, culture, and people helping people. Like us, Julianna is a volunteer. And her volunteer work is dedicated to helping preserve the space of Warren G. Magnuson Park for the community. Listening to her talk about all of the work her group has done and continues to do was incredibly inspiring. Her Sense of Adventure, Teamwork, Leadership, Empowerment, and Kindness superpowers have clearly been well-exercised. So much so that, upon hearing what we were up to in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, Julianna offered to simply give us all the paper goods our little car could carry. FREE, that is. Gratis. On the house.
So, with paper, paper clips, pens, markers, scissors, etc, we loaded up the little car until the back windshield was a faint memory. Fresh in our minds, however, were the continually resurgent thoughts of how Kindness begets Kindness. Teamwork begets Teamwork. Empowerment begets Empowerment… Superpowers, that is. Like Julianna, let’s exercise them daily.
What the "A"?: Why We See "STEM" as a Path to Failure
On a very rainy day last spring, a few kids from Yesler Community Center boisterously piled into a Honda Civic on their way to see a little movie that had just come out, which you may have heard of, called The Avengers. This was our first ever field trip reward for our after school homework help program, and in pretty much every measurable way, it was a failure. Kid there without permission slip; permission slip there without kid; no kid, no permission slip; you name it. As a result, we ended up with about half of our projected attendance. Keyword here: (F)ailure.
Now, if you’ve read The Big-Brained Superheroes Club Origins: Part 1 of X, you may have a sense of where this whole thing is going. This post is essentially a prequel to that one (We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this prequel is more Christopher Nolan or George Lucas). In short, if we were purely STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and data-driven decision-making were our only guiding star, The Big-Brained Superheroes Club would likely not exist today.
Upon return from the failed field trip, the attendees were all quiet…for a change. One of our 11 year-old boys didn’t have time to discuss it because he simply had to “go write a poem”. And when we asked a round-faced, supremely stoic young girl covered in Hijab who was her favorite Avenger, she smiled broadly with her eyes: “Captain America”.
"Captain America?" Really? Not Black Widow who had the brass to say, "Maybe it’s not about guns," in a superhero movie!? Not the scintillating scene-stealer Iron Man? But, rather, the conventionally wooden throwback to the 40s whose most exotic feature was his spangly outfit? That guy? We had to get to the bottom of this. And get to the bottom of it we did when we embarked on our mission to determine what made Captain America cool. It was from that mission that the basis of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club was formed.
We can argue all day about what constitutes scientific vs. artistic thinking. In truth, we see a lot of overlap ourselves. But words require meaning, and in the language of superpowers, we rely pretty heavily on Critical Thinking to be our pathway into scientific thinking. Data, math, logic…all of these tools are absolutely necessary for us to analyze, to communicate, to determine. However, for us, these tools are by no means sufficient. Without our pathways into what we currently consider artistic thinking—our Creativity and Sense of Adventure superpowers—we come up short. All of our carefully discerned patterns would never develop into themes. So, just like Albert Einstein, we big-brained superheroes need our (A)rt. STEAM is the word.
What is math? Why does our current number system only go up to 9? Is zero really our hero? Last night, in service of The Big-Brained Superhackers Club, we learned to count in binary. Little did we know that, through such a tiny number system, we’d be re-exploring these kinds of ginormous questions!
Oh, Schoolhouse Rock, your profundity never ceases to amaze.
Even before our Monday meeting commenced, our big-brained superheroes were building amazing structures out of the materials we had brought. And within the first ten minutes, this same series of tubes had been turned into a pair of binoculars/spyglasses (complete with a few battery-powered LEDs), a samurai sword, and two different types of guns. And immediately after that, we were fielding complaints that we couldn’t supply enough materials to meet demand. All of which begs the question: Is the tubularity upon us?
On the evening of December 24th, about 12 big-brained superheroes (+a few interlopers) got together in the Yesler Computer Lab to put together a gingerbread house kit and create web holiday cards. Most of our ages ranged from 8 to 11, while there were some as young as 5 and some as old as 12 (not including two big big-brained superhero volunteers). Typically, most of us spend about an hour or two a day on the computer but do not have a computer at home. Much of that computer time is, apparently, spent killing our friends on the internet. Of this group, 6 succeeded in creating and sharing some version of a Codecademy holiday web card.
The project was freely available…no sign-up or other barriers to entry (just like The BBSC!).
The code card was a discrete and fairly relevant project that enabled BBSes to produce immediate results.
The card background and object graphics were varied enough that pretty much everyone in our diverse group could find something that didn’t repel them.
There were few prior knowledge requirements. If you could read english and had some familiarity with the computer and the internet, you could start producing cards.
Theoretically, the card you create is limited only by the time, effort, and creativity you put into it. While there are set pieces, the overall outcome is up to the individual.
The Less Good:
Browser compatibility was a challenge. For whatever reason, IE and Codecademy cards didn’t always get along super well in our lab.
The instructions and conceptual context were separate from the specific activity of creating a card. Beyond figuring out the cutting and pasting (a challenge in IE) and gaining some level of familiarity with the terms “CSS” and “HTML”, it wasn’t abundantly clear to our big brains how all the pieces fit together. (Even our big big-brained superhero technogeeks didn’t really get it.)
Once we got through the cutting and pasting of code for objects, we fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking). It seemed as if getting text onto the card was like entering a whole other world with virtually no transition from the object world into the text world.
All in all, we love the concept of this project, and our big-brained superheroes didn’t exactly despise it. And its open-endedness could have easily worked for our group of diverse ages and backgrounds. However, it seems that, if this project is ever going to be designed for kids (and us older volunteers, for that matter), it should be revised to incorporate more conceptual framework and process scaffolding into the actual activity of card creation. Audio explanation could be helpful here or maybe pop-up descriptor balloons that address specific processes and concepts. In short, the project would have worked better if users were constantly reminded where they were, where they were going, and how they were going to get there.
That said, creating these cards was still a mildly engaging experience for us, and at the very least, it gave us a break from killing our friends on the internet.
"Can I have a math problem?" is, as we mentioned on Twitter recently, probably our favorite big-brained superhero FAQ. How this tradition got started we don’t recall, but we’ve pretty much given up on making it through the halls of Yesler Community Center without being stopped by this question at least once (mostly at least thrice). And having zero interest in looking a gift horse in the math, roll with it we do. Even if it means scheduling an extra 20 minutes for a trip to the bathroom.
Sense of Adventure: Anytime big-brained superheroes are eager to solve a problem, they’re exercising their Sense of Adventure. And it all begins with a Sense of Adventure.
Kindness, Empathy, Teamwork: Somehow some way we’ve learned to use math as a means of communication. A point of connection. Contra approaches like this one, our hallway math is a group effort. We suspect this cooperative approach may be good for all our big-brained superheroes but most especially for our girls (who, BTW, are our most frequent inquisitors by far).
Critical Thinking, Creativity, Adaptability, and Persistence: Hallway math, sans pencil or paper, creates an interesting challenge for us. How difficult can we make it for our big brains and still keep it achievable? How far can we test their boundaries and even their sense of themselves? How can we, ever so briefly and subtly, blow their minds? While it may sound ridiculous, these really are the questions we ask ourselves. All in this quintessentially transitory space.
We love these indisputable reminders that thinking, learning, and connecting can and should be happening everywhere, maybe even especially on the way to the bathroom.
This drawing of a “holographic chat watch” was created by one of our big-brained superheroes after a meeting in which we focused specifically on exercising our Creativity superpower. Although that meeting was at least a couple of months ago, we hadn’t seen this drawing until last week. That’s because the big-brained superhero to which this homework had been assigned had gone missing from club meetings throughout all that time. Nonetheless, he carried this drawing around in his notebook until he was able to return. We’re hoping this means he’s serious.
Part of our mission to “tap into the hidden strengths that all young people have” involves helping our big-brained superheroes turn their big ideas into reality. The above drawing represents one big-brained superhero’s idea. That’s a huge first step! And if he’s serious about his idea, our goal is to help him draw up design and requirements documents for a prototype that gets him as close to his design as he can get. From there, we plan to help him find the resources to create his prototype. And finally, we hope to help him build and test it.
Obviously, this project presents a huge test for all of our superpowers—Persistence and Adaptability, in particular. One big challenge will be getting us through the “boring” parts. To that end, we’ll be deploying all of our Leadership and Teamwork superpowers for keeping everyone maximally motivated. Another exciting question we’ll be exploring is how well we are able to adapt our design to fit within price, materials, and engineering constraints. We have no idea whether or not we’ll be successful in this endeavor. But luckily, we have our Sense of Adventure. And that’s a start.