Powered by Willpower (and You!)

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…


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Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Pandemonium


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!:


…Or learn how circuits work using the Electronics Playground kindly lent to us by Jigsaw Renaissance. More 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.

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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.

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A Series of Tubes

totally tubular

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?

Seriously, though, care to donate your discarded cardboard tubes for re-creational purposes?

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It All Begins with a Sense of Adventure…

A BBS Precipitates

So, in early October—in spite of extreme busyness—a couple of us exercised our Sense of Adventure and attended a talk by math wizard Steven Strogatz at Seattle’s Town Hall. Toward the end of the talk, our Empowerment superpower was revved up enough for us to be the first at the microphone to ask Mr. Strogatz for his opinion on the state of math education in the US today and whether he had any good resource suggestions for our young Big-Brained Superheroes. After a lengthy, vigorous, and thorough condemnation of current common practices, he mentioned that, sadly, he did not have any alternative resource suggestions. However, at the conclusion of the scheduled event, an attendee seated in front of us turned around and gave a lengthy, vigorous, and thorough commendation of a program we had never before heard of: JUMP Math.

At this point, contacting the folks at JUMP Math was a no-brainer. Our Sense of Adventure and Empowerment superpowers had already been developed enough to enable us to put finger to keyboard and shoot off a simple email: Can you help us?*. Apparently, yes, yes they could. The JUMP Math staff connected us with a Seattle-based donor who would generously fund JUMP Math’s introduction into The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. Because math is a core subject for us and one with which many of our BBSes seem to struggle, this development is indescribably momentous. In short, we’re so excited that we’re feeling punny enough to JUMP for joy!  Thank you, Steven Strogatz, Lara who sat in front of us, folks at JUMP Math, Seattle-based donor, and of course, Sense of Adventure, Empowerment, and as always, Kindness!

Obviously, our next challenge is determining which Pointer Sisters song is more appropriate for this occasion: I’m So Excited or JUMP for My Love?…decisions decisions…

OK, puns over. Here’s an excellent JUMP Math video as some small recompense:

* For some of us big-brained superheroes—big and small—asking for help is one of the more daunting challenges in life. We see this every day in our young BBSes, and we see it in ourselves. So, be prepared for it to become a bit of a recurring theme around these parts.

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Holiday Shopping Guide: Big-Brained Superhero-worthy Enterprises

View Oh the Places Big-Brained Superheroes Go! in a larger map

We in the Big-Brained Superheroes Club have two great loves: our ability to think spatially and our local donors. (Not necessarily in that order.) In that spirit, we’ve created this lovely map of Seattle Big-Brained Superhero-worthy enterprises (along with our comments!) to help make your local holiday shopping easier this season.  Don’t just shop smart, shop Big-Brained Superhero smart!

And if you own or patronize a local business/project/organization that you consider to be a Big-Brained Superhero-worthy enterprise, please either make or encourage your favorite entrepreneur to make a donation to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club so that we can check it out!  Here are just some of the things we would highly value right now:

  • Tasty, healthy snack foods (we’re a growing bunch)
  • Club t-shirts (we have the design—we need the shirts and printing)
  • Letter tiles (a la Bananagrams or Scrabble)
  • Number tiles (the cleaner and simpler the font, the better)
  • Magformers (tons of them—we want to build build build!)
  • Chess games (no matter how many chess games we get, it never seems to be enough)
  • Office supplies and printing services (all different kinds of papers, pencils, pens, markers, stickers, glues, etc, etc)
  • Your time (seriously, The Big-Brained Superheroes Club is in demand!)

And here’s just one of the many reasons you should donate to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club:image

Happy holidays to all the big-brained superheroes throughout our fair city and beyond!

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In Search of…Big-Brained Superheroes

Until Professor X’s Cerebro patent expires, we’re forced to resort to more conventional methods of finding Big-Brained Superheroes to help us out during this upcoming school year.

If you have the means, we hope you will Facebook Favorite/twitterify/share via carrier pigeon our VolunteerMatch and Idealist Big-Brained Superhero Mentors Wanted ads!  Or, you can just send potential parties of interest to this very blog post…

BBSC Flier

Big-Brained Superhero Mentors Wanted

At Yesler Community Center, The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, in partnership with RecTech, is working to teach, learn, and hone superhero skills throughout the school year. Your mission is to help kids ages 5-15 improve their academic abilities while developing a language for and concrete awareness of some of their superpowers (aka “soft skills”), such as Leadership, Teamwork, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.

Your immeasurable moxie and big brain are needed at official Club meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4pm to 6pm, starting October 1st at Yesler Community Center.  But, if you want to inject your own superhero talents into Club development, we can use your help now!

Smarts in language/art/math/science/etc…
+ A do-goody two-shoes attitude perched atop a pile of perspicacity

Big-Brained Superhero Mentor Oath: “Big brains don’t think small. I’m prepared to give these kids my all!”

Admittance to The Big-Brained Superhero Club mentorship program is competitive. Send whatever displays of skill and merit that you deem appropriate, along with your time commitment and schedule availabilities, to:  Or just let us know if you have any questions.

To learn more about The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, visit our website and blog at:

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