Yesterday, Engineer Zero kindly brought his Grisbot back to the club for another Big-Brained Superhero challenge. The new feature he added—a light-chasing function—engaged our big brains on a whole new level. Watching our young BBSes get excited about their ability to direct Grisbot’s movements with light served to remind us that our brains don’t want to just sit and observe. They crave interaction and inquiry. Not to mention control, which is really what The Big-Brained Superheroes Club’s particular combination of superpowers and STEAM is all about. Helping us acquire and deploy the tools we need to control ourselves and as much of our world as we can manage. Even if the source of that control is little more than a simple flashlight in a dark place.
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.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Brown Paper Tickets and the incredible Kindness of amazing Maker Advocate Tamara Clammer, four of our finest Big-Brained Superheroes got to create their very own mouseybots at today’s Xbot Robotics workshop. On our walk down from Yesler Community Center (which opened early just for us!), we picked up trash in coordination with Nature Consortium for Earth Day. Once we reached the Inscape building, we bided our pre-workshop time by hanging out with the folks at Jigsaw Renaissance, checking out their Arduino library and other fun stuff. Whew! And we did it all before lunch.
When it comes to building robots, Big-Brained Superheroes jump right in…
Goodbye wire insulation…
Hello circuit creation…
It’s time to heat things up…
Or maybe fog things up?…
A flurry of activity…
And mission accomplished…
Thank you again, Tamara et al! We have to agree with one of our young big-brained superheroes…this was, indeed, the “funnest day ever!”
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…
Not only can hackers be heroes, they can be Big-Brained Superheroes!
See also: Big-Brained Superhackers.
So much has been going on here at BBSC HQ that we might as well just begin in the middle. Engineer Zero kindly stopped by on Monday to teach us about his Scratch-programmable Grisbot. We’ve been checking out our Anomaly graphic novel. And did we mention electronics? Lots and lots of electronics. Oh yeah…and of course there’s March Mathness:
Holy Mathness, Batman! Over 100 math problems solved in the halls of Yesler Community Center this evening! (bigbrainedsuperheroes.org/post/448282529…)
Maybe it’s a reaction to all the hustle and bustle, but rather than spending the bulk of our time this week documenting who did what and when, we’ve mostly been meditating on a larger, more abstract question: Just how does all this happen?
A March Mathness example:
On Monday, we encountered a free range (aka unofficial) big-brained superhero roaming the halls of Yesler Community Center and stopped to ask him to solve a few math problems for us. In the course of our brief discussion, we offhandedly mentioned that we were part of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club, which met on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 6pm. After a few more math questions and responses and thanking him for his time, he responded, “OK. I’ll see you on Wednesday!”
Huh. We were not expecting this. If we were planning to seek out new recruits to the club, “ask random kids to solve a bunch of complex math problems” probably wouldn’t have been our go-to course of action. And yet, recruit a new member we did as that particular young BBS proved when he exclaimed, “I told you I’d be here!”, when we met him for the second time on Wednesday afternoon. And he was actually just one of three new recruits (two boys, one girl) resulting from this week’s Hallway Math event so far.
So…ummm…What the heck?
Obviously, we’re still meditating…
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!:
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.
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?
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.
“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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Little Rascals aficionados may have noticed a vaguely familiar cadence in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club nomenclature. Some may consider our name silly. We, however, take it quite seriously.
One of the raisons d’etre of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club is to provide a place for those of us who don’t necessarily have a place. We sometimes affectionately think of ourselves as “the riffraff”. Consequently, there are no major signup requirements—no parental signatures needed—for admission to the club. The only real requirement is that we adhere to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club Oath at all times. And if any of us fails to adhere to the oath, we get expelled from that evening’s meeting. Expulsion can be a harsh sentence, as one of our young big-brained superheroes discovered recently (see the above artist’s rendering of real-life events). So, we try to avoid it at all costs.
Why we’ve devoted ourselves to this particular model has to do with the opportunity gap that others have studied (and that we, ourselves, have observed):
Wealthy families can and do spend more money on music and art lessons, tutors, and summer camp for their children that help them get ahead, while low-income kids often go home after school to unsafe neighborhoods, with little supervision and fewer positive outlets for their time and energy. The extended time movement is meant to correct those inequalities by offering the same diverse array of activities and adult mentors to disadvantaged children.
And while Yesler Community Center houses fabulous art activities for kids who wish to drop in (courtesy of The Nature Consortium), we see value and interest in throwing some science and superpowers into the mix. The challenges inherent in such an endeavor are vast and varied, but one of the benefits is that it forces us to exercise our superpowers in some fairly extreme ways. In particular, our Creativity and Sense of Adventure are constantly getting a workout while we’re searching for ways to tap into the hidden strengths that all (young) humans have.
In theory, it could work, she says, but it’s often resource intensive and takes the space and time for creative outside-the-box thinking.
Indeed. As observed in the above artist’s rendering of real-life events, we’re not always successful. However, in the rare moments we have considered ourselves successful, we’ve identified a few of our, what we in the big-brained superhero biz call, “assets”. So, in the interest of anecdotal science, here are some of the things that we think have helped us tap into some of those hidden strengths:
- We are where the young people want to be. When we were kids we probably would have rather shot our eye out than remain an extra second at school. And we consider it probable that our young big-brained superheroes feel similarly. Yesler Community Center is currently our home, and it’s a huge asset in that kids go there willingly. Because they want to.
- We are always trying to maximize opportunities. Recently, Yesler CC provided accommodations for a holiday party where hundreds of kids lined up in the hopes of procuring some loot from a jolly old fat man in a red suit. Lined up kids (and parents) = opportunities. So, while other (real) volunteers were handing out stickers and posing in Disney costumes, we riffraff were working the insanely long line administering “The Big-Brained Superhero Test”. It’s amazing how many varieties of math problems you can do without pencil and paper: “What’s 6 x 3? What’s 6+6? What’s 12+6? What’s 18/3? What’s 1/3rd of 18? What’s 2/3rds of 18?…” It’s also amazing what kids will do voluntarily in order to avoid staring blankly around them or talking to their parents.
- We are utterly shameless in our use of almost any motivational tool. Shop smart; shop BBSmart! And though we haven’t used food as a direct motivator (and have no immediate plans to do so), we do provide snacks.
- We are profoundly enthusiastic about what we’re doing. We are big-brained superheroes, and a big-brained superhero’s credo is to Always Be Superpowering. If we’re not living it, we’re not teaching it.
- We have a handbook. And handbooks are for heroes.
- We are them; they are us. It may be obvious by now that The Big-Brained Superheroes Club truly is a group endeavor. We the experienced (aka old) big-brained superheroes are there to provide opportunity, adventure, and minimal boundaries. When young ones come to us for help, we want them to do so mostly because they value our ideas and suggestions…not necessarily because we’re authority figures. And while we do drop the hammer from time to time (have we mentioned the above artist’s rendering of real-life events?), it’s only ever in the interest of the group. Trust and goodwill are our most valuable currency—we don’t squander those on delusions of grandeur.
Now, we’re sure there’s more where these six assets came from, but those will have to come in due time. Finally, here’s your reward for making it this far: