THE BIG-BRAINED SUPERHEROES CLUB
A Tower of Teamwork Power

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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!

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Big-Brained Superheroes on Ice

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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: image

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:

  1. "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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Problem-Solving

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.

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Watch an amazing 2nd-grade big-brained superhero work hard to explain how electricity flows through the circuit she created. Not shown here is the moment she exclaimed, “I want to make one on my own!”, before she then proceeded to, essentially, make one on her own. Empowerment superpower is in effect!

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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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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Negativity

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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?

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Tapping into the Hidden Strengths that All Humans Have

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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.

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Write Like a Big-Brained Superhero

BBS Writes

Here’s a good way to exercise our Empowerment superpower:

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

The exercise is designed to affirm a person’s values, boosting their sense of self-worth and integrity, and reinforcing their belief in themselves. For people who suffer from negative stereotypes, this can make all the difference between success and failure.

Closing the achievement gap a few sentences at a time!

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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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