A few weeks ago, SparkFun gave a very generous gift to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. But the truth of the matter is that we haven’t even gotten to those boxes yet. We’ve been so busy soldering connections, stripping wires, and testing voltages with our new SparkFun tool kits that we haven’t yet made our way to the best stuff! Which brings us to the other gifts that SparkFun is giving us: the opportunity, motivational support, and tools we need to work our way toward harder problems.
In our experience, SparkFun is unique in how far it goes to put its tools and information into the hands of unlikely makers. And they do it with flair (and flare)! When we started excavating all the shiny red SparkFun boxes from our first delivery, word got around the community center rather quickly that something was up. Almost immediately we had more hands helping us than we knew what to do with. And even before our main electronics components had arrived, we were digging out of our stash a discarded CD player motor and other junk with which to play.
Since then, Big-Brained Superheroes have built 12 logic gate modules and a few soon-to-be revealed components of our emerging electric circuits lab. All using the many tools we were able to get thanks SparkFun’s educational discount and Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. The most exciting aspect of this project, though, is that it’s really just the beginning of something even greater. Each new tool we figure out how to use, each new part we learn about, and each new circuit we build makes our world just a bit more accessible and equally more fun. And all those shiny red boxes waiting for us on the shelf serve as an excellent reminder that we’re just getting started.
Thank you, SparkFun, for helping make it all happen!
He comes back in the room, slaps his half-done homework onto the table in front of him, and puts his head down. It doesn’t take much Empathy to see that he’s feeling defeated, disenfranchised, downtrodden. So, what do we do? Do we reinforce his hurt and insecurities by criticizing him? Tell him to: Suck it up, kid, because learning how to multiply is way more important than whatever is going on in your brain right now?
Big-Brained Superheroes fight epic battles every single day. Some of the battles we all fight every now and then; some of them are fought relentlessly—without truce—by a precious few. Those Big-Brained Superheroes get dispatches, overt and covert, every single day telling them who they are and who they are not. Telling them what they are and are not capable of. And mostly, what they should and should not expect from a world that doesn’t always concern itself with tapping into their hidden strengths. Like the Avengers and like the X-men, they get it. It takes superhuman strength to fight for a world that doesn’t seem to fight so much for you.
Which is why sidekicks exist. Sidekicks may not have all the answers or know exactly what to say or do to defeat the villainy. We may even get distracted from time to time with our own battles. But, by default, we always come back to knowing who our priorities are. And no matter what, when we see a Big-Brained Superhero losing the battle, we know our job is to fight alongside—not against—him. So that when he raises his head, both victory and completed homework in hand, we can be there too. Right by his side. Helping show the world all the amazing things Big-Brained Superheroes, when we work together, can do.
Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey
OK. We were going to take a bit of time to talk about how busy we are, but we don’t have any time to talk about how busy we are. So, here’s the deal:
Sunday, June 8th, at 5pm: You should come to Judkins St. Cafe to eat and drink, play games, build stuff, and support The Big-Brained Superheroes Club! We were going to regale you with exclamations about how excited we are for this—our first ever fundraising event—and how it’s going to be an amazing time, etc, etc…Whatever. Just come. You’ll love it.
Digital Logic:Still happening. The exciting news here is that we’ve decided to open up at least one of the later series to the general public with our young Big-Brained Superheroes leading those workshops. If you (or people you know) want a fun, hands-on environment in which to discover the basics of how computers think (which is actually everyone, even if you don’t know it), prepare to sign up. You’ll love it.
Big-Brained Superheroes Club Meetings: Oh yeah. We’re still doing those. Though now we’ve moved into a special room in Yesler Community Center (currently known as “the art room”). There are actual cabinets for us to store materials in. This is very exciting. If you want to join any of our Monday or Wednesday meetings, show up from 5-7pm. Volunteer an evening or two. Just for fun! You’ll love it.
There’s so much more to announce (some big stuff, even!), but that’s all we have time for now. In summary, the current state of Big-Brained Superherodom in a single photo:
Coming Attractions: Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Digital Logic
Hooray! Hooray! Digital Logic is on its way!
That’s right. Remember all that partying we did oh so many months ago? Of course you do. Well, we’re finally preparing to get our digital logic on and are furiously finalizing our workshop plans.
The Big-Brained Superheroes Club will be offering four series of four (4x4) very hands-on workshops open to anyone and everyone who wants to learn the basics of how computers “think”. Each series will comprise four mission-oriented workshops:
Mission 1: Have fun with Electric Circuits
Mission 2: Have fun with Logic Gates
Mission 3: Have even more fun with Logic Gates
Mission 4: Complete the Logic Gate Challenge!
Workshops will be on Mondays at 6pm at Yesler Community Center starting on these dates:
Series 1: April 28th
Series 2: June 2nd
Series 3: July 21st
Series 4: August 18th.
(More details, including sign-up information, to follow. To get it in your inbox, join our e-newsletter list in the sidebar over there!) —>
Big-Brained Superheroes vs. Code.org’s #HourOfCode
Around this time last year, our young BBSes spent some time developing Codecademy’s web holiday cards. How did it go? Well…it could have gone better. This year, we spent time with Code.org’s Hour of Code. How did it go? Well…aside from a lack of headphones for every BBS coder, it couldn’t have gone better. It went so well that several of our young Big-Brained Superheroes are choosing to go Beyond One Hour. Even without BBS sidekicks around to help them!
And now, for the breakdown. Our BBS population for this exercise was fairly similar to that of last year’s Codecademy exercise, so we’ll skip that explanation and go straight into the review.
Like last year’s Codecademy exercise, this year’s Code.org Hour of Code is freely available to anyone with a computer and internet access.
Unlike last year’s Codecademy project-based exercise, this year’s Hour of Code was game-based. This particular game-based approach provided much more method to the madness and enabled a leveling up process that was significantly more logical and predictable than Codecademy’s project-based approach. Coders were more motivated to think problems through, and they seemed to grasp much more programming logic as a result of Hour of Code’s game-based approach.
The Angry Birds character set is a great example of how broadly inclusive design doesn’t have to be banal or vapid, and the use of Angry Birds in Hour of Code was an obvious draw for our young BBSes.
The instructional videos were exceptional in that they were explanatory but didn’t give too much away. They were timed well, and the diversity of the instructors was inspiringly inclusive. Apparently, when Chris Bosh speaks, our Big-Brained Superheroes listen. (When they have the technical capability to do so, that is.) And the written instructions that were provided for those without sound capability eliminated a big obstacle for us.
The completion certificate at the end of the game was a nice reward and motivator for some BBSes.
Once our BBSes got the auditory reward for completing a level, they tended to skim through the text that told them they might have completed the level using fewer lines of code. Making that information more prominent (at least the first time around) would have given them stronger cues that there was more learning to get from the level they just completed.
Also, it would help if the link to “Show Code” were more obvious or if the lines of code came up automatically in at least one level so coders wouldn’t unintentionally skip over it.
All in all, we are thrilled with how our coding exercise went this year, and we’re continuing to use Code.org in our BBSC meetings. For us, it was not just a method of learning some basic programming logic, but it also served as a welcoming, inclusive invitation to explore the world of computer programming. After completing their Hour of Code, several of our coders went on to build web pages using W3schools:
Or played with Tynker and other code-learning platforms directly available through the Code.org website:
In short, even though our coding exercise this year was not holiday-centric, Code.org’s Hour of Code provided us with some fine holiday (and beyond) fun!
DISCLAIMER: The BBSC is not affiliated with any of the code learning platforms or sites discussed in this post. However, one of our volunteer brain-hackers (Launchpad McD) does work for Facebook, which is somehow involved with Code.org (though we don’t know how, and we didn’t know this before we began exploring Code.org).
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.
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:
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:
A few young BBSes then expressed their appreciation for BBS Volunteer Mr. Measurement Man via whiteboard:
And also learned a bit of guitar and keyboard:
Much Persistence was exercised in the process of analyzing and deconstructing a broken cell phone:
Apparently, 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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
Finally, the process of doing homework rarely produces the feelings that we big-brained superheroes prefer to associate with learning. Feelings like these:
Oh, homework!…we totally get you. But you present quite a problem for us.