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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
Coming Attractions: Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Digital Logic
Hooray! Hooray! Digital Logic is on its way!
That’s right. Remember all that partying we did oh so many months ago? Of course you do. Well, we’re finally preparing to get our digital logic on and are furiously finalizing our workshop plans.
The Big-Brained Superheroes Club will be offering four series of four (4x4) very hands-on workshops open to anyone and everyone who wants to learn the basics of how computers “think”. Each series will comprise four mission-oriented workshops:
Mission 1: Have fun with Electric Circuits
Mission 2: Have fun with Logic Gates
Mission 3: Have even more fun with Logic Gates
Mission 4: Complete the Logic Gate Challenge!
Workshops will be on Mondays at 6pm at Yesler Community Center starting on these dates:
Series 1: April 28th
Series 2: June 2nd
Series 3: July 21st
Series 4: August 18th.
(More details, including sign-up information, to follow. To get it in your inbox, join our e-newsletter list in the sidebar over there!) —>
It’s no secret that without our superpowers The Big-Brained Superheroes Club would not exist today. Why does this matter? Because superpowers beget superpowers. For instance…
Yesterday, one of our beautiful Big-Brained Superheroes went from stagnation to meltdown when it came to getting her homework done. It was NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. And while we are officially on record as being homework-ambivalent ourselves, sometimes a superhero’s gotta do what a superhero’s gotta do. In steps a fellow young BBS with her healthy dose of Empathy, Leadership, and Teamwork—not to mention a small arsenal of peanut butter crackers. Less than an hour later: crisis averted, mission accomplished, Empowerment superpower activated. Go Team Big-Brained Superhero!
The BBSC recently rolled out a prototype field trip request form, which asks our young BBSes what they want to learn on their desired field trip. Our very first question comes from a 10 year-old BBS: “How does science work?”. The very second question from a 12 year-old BBS: “How do science and math work together?”.
This is what the kids these days are asking. And sadly, while the places we go may be equipped to effectively communicate some science facts, science processes are another matter entirely. Making our field trips yet another way in which we’re reminded that focusing on process (a true Big-Brained Superhero imperative and moving up our priority list almost daily) is still a fringe ideal. Hopefully, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot will help us out:
In the meantime, Hank Green can lay down some scientific method on us:
If Persistence is a Roller Coaster, Adaptability is definitely a helicopter—uniquely capable of getting us into and out of tight spots. This helicopter, started over the holidays, is a perfect example of how Big-Brained Superheroes can build cool stuff through a variety of challenges, including missing parts. And with our helicopter finally complete, we now get to take it back apart and build another machine—maybe this time an airplane or even a hovercraft. If we become experts at Adaptability, our choices are practically limitless.
We talk a lot about superpowers in The BBSC, and we recognize that our dictionary of superpowers isn’t the most conventional or widely adopted. But it seems reasonable to ask: Which superpower would you, in the long term, prefer to master: Flight or Adaptability?
As much as we love hanging out at Yesler Community Center creating cool stuff, there are just too many superpower-building opportunities available out in the world for us to stay cooped up for too long. And thanks to a thoughtful holiday gift from a member of our extended Big-Brained Superhero community, we were thrilled to exercise our Sense of Adventure, Teamwork, Kindness, and other superpowers on the ice rink at seattlecenter this Winterfest! (We even got in some brief discussions of the principles of inertia and ice formation in the process.) At one point in the festivities, a young BBS wanted to stop and “admire the talent” of one exceptional skater:
So, we did stop and admire her talent. And then, we stopped her to ask about her experience and how much Persistence she puts into learning the skill of ice skating. It turns out that this exceptional skater began skating relatively late in life after she immigrated to the US from Okinawa in her twenties. Since then, she’s practiced as often as five times a week, depending on her scheduling priorities. Though our interaction with her was brief, this obliging ice skater provided more real-life supporting evidence for a few of our basic BBS assumptions:
"It all begins with a Sense of Adventure.” If we adhere to preconceived notions or rules for when and how we should learn new things, we are likely to fail at the goal of tapping into all of our hidden strengths.
“Persistence is a roller coaster.” Sometimes our Persistence is powered up, and sometimes it’s powered down. There are many potential explanations for this variability. The only constant here is the fact that we need our Persistence superpower in order to tap into all our hidden strengths.
“Empowerment is the one superpower that rules them all.” Tapping into your hidden strengths makes you a model—someone whose talent others will want to stop and admire. Taking the time yourself to stop and make those hidden strengths accessible to others makes you a big-brained superhero.
Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Code.org's #HourOfCode
Around this time last year, our young BBSes spent some time developing Codecademy’s web holiday cards. How did it go? Well…it could have gone better. This year, we spent time with Code.org’s Hour of Code. How did it go? Well…aside from a lack of headphones for every BBS coder, it couldn’t have gone better. It went so well that several of our young Big-Brained Superheroes are choosing to go Beyond One Hour. Even without BBS sidekicks around to help them!
And now, for the breakdown. Our BBS population for this exercise was fairly similar to that of last year’s Codecademy exercise, so we’ll skip that explanation and go straight into the review.
Like last year’s Codecademy exercise, this year’s Code.org Hour of Code is freely available to anyone with a computer and internet access.
Unlike last year’s Codecademy project-based exercise, this year’s Hour of Code was game-based. This particular game-based approach provided much more method to the madness and enabled a leveling up process that was significantly more logical and predictable than Codecademy’s project-based approach. Coders were more motivated to think problems through, and they seemed to grasp much more programming logic as a result of Hour of Code’s game-based approach.
The Angry Birds character set is a great example of how broadly inclusive design doesn’t have to be banal or vapid, and the use of Angry Birds in Hour of Code was an obvious draw for our young BBSes.
The instructional videos were exceptional in that they were explanatory but didn’t give too much away. They were timed well, and the diversity of the instructors was inspiringly inclusive. Apparently, when Chris Bosh speaks, our Big-Brained Superheroes listen. (When they have the technical capability to do so, that is.) And the written instructions that were provided for those without sound capability eliminated a big obstacle for us.
The completion certificate at the end of the game was a nice reward and motivator for some BBSes.
Once our BBSes got the auditory reward for completing a level, they tended to skim through the text that told them they might have completed the level using fewer lines of code. Making that information more prominent (at least the first time around) would have given them stronger cues that there was more learning to get from the level they just completed.
Also, it would help if the link to “Show Code” were more obvious or if the lines of code came up automatically in at least one level so coders wouldn’t unintentionally skip over it.
All in all, we are thrilled with how our coding exercise went this year, and we’re continuing to use Code.org in our BBSC meetings. For us, it was not just a method of learning some basic programming logic, but it also served as a welcoming, inclusive invitation to explore the world of computer programming. After completing their Hour of Code, several of our coders went on to build web pages using W3schools:
Or played with Tynker and other code-learning platforms directly available through the Code.org website:
In short, even though our coding exercise this year was not holiday-centric, Code.org’s Hour of Code provided us with some fine holiday (and beyond) fun!
DISCLAIMER: The BBSC is not affiliated with any of the code learning platforms or sites discussed in this post. However, one of our volunteer brain-hackers (Launchpad McD) does work for Facebook, which is somehow involved with Code.org (though we don’t know how, and we didn’t know this before we began exploring Code.org).
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. This is hardly a new or unusual phenomenon. 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.