THE BIG-BRAINED SUPERHEROES CLUB
Adaptability is a Helicopter

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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?

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A Room with Adaptability

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.

-EM Forster

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…

We soldered:

We K’Nex’d:

We LEGOed:

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.

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Some days, in spite of all your best efforts, you just can’t seem to hit your stride. When that happens you do two things:

  1. Exercise your Adaptability superpower
  2. Blow stuff up

In that order.

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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Structure

imageWe 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:

  1. Peter is fantastically generous with his time, and we were anxious for him to feel that hanging out with us was time well-spent;
  2. 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;
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. Finally, it appears that our young Big-Brained Superheroes self-selected into this event, so the preponderance of the energy in the room belonged to the Scratch-curious (or at least to those who didn’t feel absolutely compelled to be running around outside on a beautiful afternoon).

All in all, this event was a hugely empowering experience for us. We all learned something useful and demonstrated that we can manage more structure when called upon to do so. How far we will take this awareness is yet to be determined. We’re still holding out hope that our young Big-Brained Superheroes will eventually perform a coup and take this club for their very own. In the meantime, however, periodically interrupting our normally scheduled pandemonium with a little bit of structure is a good thing. At the very least, it proves we can meet a serious challenge. With quite a bit of help from our big-brained superhero friends, that is.

Many thanks to Peter at SDKBridge for the help!

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If you’ve been keeping up with us on Twitter, this video will come as no surprise to you.

Want to freak out some big-brained superheroes? Hand them a motor, a battery, and the head of a toothbrush, and say, “Make it work.” And yet, work they made it!

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The hands seen here adding up 0s and 1s* belong to one of our big-brained superhero 4th-graders. We love to see how this particular BBS recovers from her mistakes. Rather than getting flustered and frustrated, she remains calm, cool, and Persistent to the end. All the way up to a hundred.

* = This binary counter was designed and developed by one of our big-brained superhero volunteers who received high praise yesterday when one of our young BBSes, after a scrupulous examination of the apparatus, earnestly pronounced said volunteer to be “really good at electronics”.

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The Kids in the Hall Do Math

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"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.

Why do we love this question so much? Well, we know that number talk is important in our early years, and apparently, ready access to basic math knowledge correlates with success on the PSAT. But our love of this question goes much deeper than that. This question, for us, is all about our superpowers:

  1. 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.
  2. 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). 
  3. 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.

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Big-Brained Superhero Designs: Part 1 of X

wonderful watch

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.

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Adaptability v. Persistence

Adaptability and Persistence Superpowers

As anyone familiar with The Big-Brained Superheroes Club knows, we’re big on exercising our superpowers.  And yesterday, our primary focus during our juggling lesson was supposed to be on employing our Persistence superpower.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again?

We started out yesterday morning with juggling pins in our hands and Persistence on our brains. We ended yesterday morning with those same juggling pins used as tennis ball bats and as microphones for impromptu interviews.  Apparently, Adaptability was going to be the order of the day.  But why?  How?  Were we not persistent enough in our struggle to deploy our Persistence superpowers?  Well, without a parallel universe in which to run simultaneous experiments and observe relative outcomes, it’s hard to say.  But here are some of the results we got out of adapting:

One of our little Big-Brained Superheroes wanted a giant sheet of drawing paper (the reverse side of construction plans that we had found in a recycle bin in an alley), but we were out. The only paper we were able to scrounge up was a partial sheet that had already been turned into what we might simply title “Meditation on a Single Circle”. We then discussed deploying our Adaptability superpower to make do with the materials we had available. Without so much as a grimace, our little Big-Brained Superhero took that Meditation in hand and went to work on it.

Several minutes later, a few other Big-Brained Superheroes were arguing over the use of a toy.  Adaptability superpowers engage!  ”What’s ‘adaptability’?”  ”Adaptability is the ability to adjust new situations,” etcetera, etcetera.  Almost as if on cue, our little creative Big-Brained Superhero with the partial sheet of paper came over to show off her work.  It was amazing!  Not only did our little Big-Brained Superhero make use of leftover materials, she incorporated the art that was already on it into her own creation.  She remixed it, if you will.  We held up her work as a brilliant example of Adaptability, and within minutes, our obstinate group of squabblers had adapted to their constraints and resolved their argument—even engaging their Teamwork superpower in the process.

It’s easy to look back on yesterday and view it as a failure of Persistence.  Maybe we should have worked harder…been more disciplinarian…argued/cajoled/dominated our Big Brain Superheroes into sticking to our original goal.  Or maybe, in doing so, we ourselves would have been seen as obstinate.  If only we had that parallel universe…

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Our Shared Superpowers

One of the primary missions of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club this summer is to help our Big-Brained Superheroes clearly see themselves as positive actors in the world—to help them realize and build on the best parts of themselves. Along those lines, we’re going to focus on solidifying a language for and an awareness of our superpowers, such as leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking, while we draw, write, invent, and perform.

Our Official Dictionary of Superpowers:

  • Teamwork: joining together to accomplish our mission
  • Leadership: inspiring, encouraging, and being an example to those around us
  • Kindness: being thoughtful and considerate
  • Empathy: feeling/thinking what someone else is feeling/thinking
  • Sense of Adventure: desire to try new things and make mistakes
  • Critical Thinking: questioning our assumptions
  • Adaptability: ability to adjust to new situations
  • Persistence: sticking to a goal
  • Empowerment: feeling confident in ourselves
  • Respect: having regard for others
  • Willpower: being able to intentionally control ourselves with our brains
  • Creativity: giving our brains the freedom to connect things in a new way

UPDATE: Curious about where our particular concept of superpowers came from? Check out our Origins Story Part 1 of X.

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