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!
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).
Unsurprisingly, today was a busy day in The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. And yet, it was all surprisingly simple. Strangely self-organized, even. Our big-brained superheroes showed up and just…kind of…did stuff. Such as…
And such. Microscopes and other miscellany even made their appearances. And while nothing necessarily noteworthy or grandiose happened, today left an unusual impression. Sometimes simplicity is sublime.
We 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:
Peter is fantastically generous with his time, and we were anxious for him to feel that hanging out with us was time well-spent;
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;
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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”.
What is math? Why does our current number system only go up to 9? Is zero really our hero? Last night, in service of The Big-Brained Superhackers Club, we learned to count in binary. Little did we know that, through such a tiny number system, we’d be re-exploring these kinds of ginormous questions!
Oh, Schoolhouse Rock, your profundity never ceases to amaze.