THE BIG-BRAINED SUPERHEROES CLUB

Thanks so much to Seattle Met Magazine for granting The Big-Brained Superheroes Club their Light a Fire “Purely for the Love” award!

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The Willpowerometer lives! Thanks once again to the superpowers and Propeller prowess of BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man, we now have a graphical representation (version 1.0) of how well we’re exercising our Willpower as it pertains to sound production. The closer that we—as a group—get to our desired decibel level, the more green the display and the higher the point count. The farther we get from our preferred decibel level, the more red the display and the lower the point count.

In this video, our Willpower goal was to reach a count of 50. SPOILER ALERT: We did it. And in the two weeks since the Willpowerometer was rolled out, we’ve come to love it tremendously.

Technology! Who knew?

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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. the Rain

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:

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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:

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A few young BBSes then expressed their appreciation for BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man via whiteboard:

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And also learned a bit of guitar and keyboard:

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Much Persistence was exercised in the process of analyzing and deconstructing a broken cell phone:

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World Pizza also made a delicious appearance.

Big-Brained Superheroes definitely know how to make the best out of a torrential downpour!

* Thanks to BBS Volunteer, Launchpad McD, for compiling this post! *

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Big-Brained Superheroes from Blucora

imageApparently, 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!image

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!

Many thanks to Blucora and United Way of King County (not to mention BBS Volunteers: Launchpad, Mr. Measurement Man, and Engineer Zero) for an excellent day of caring/hacking/making!

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A Homework Problem

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Finally, the process of doing homework rarely produces the feelings that we big-brained superheroes prefer to associate with learning. Feelings like these: image

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Oh, homework!…we totally get you. But you present quite a problem for us.

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The circuits. They are squishy. His sharing these materials with us is reason # 3,141,592 why we <3 Engineer Zero.

The circuits. They are squishy. His sharing these materials with us is reason # 3,141,592 why we <3 Engineer Zero.

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Persistence is a Roller Coaster

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…

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Funny Story

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From The Narrator:

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!

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Big-Brained Superheroes Invade Seattle City Hall

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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:

We came…

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We saw…

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We ate.

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Oh and there might have been some other stuff in there too…

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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).

A couple of other projects in the C.D. about which we’re super excited are: The Young Geniuses at UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center (we had serious nerd-envy over some of their work!) and Hollow Earth Radio. Check them out and see what serious nerds can do!

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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. The Filter

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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