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.
On the evening of December 24th, about 12 big-brained superheroes (+a few interlopers) got together in the Yesler Computer Lab to put together a gingerbread house kit and create web holiday cards. Most of our ages ranged from 8 to 11, while there were some as young as 5 and some as old as 12 (not including two big big-brained superhero volunteers). Typically, most of us spend about an hour or two a day on the computer but do not have a computer at home. Much of that computer time is, apparently, spent killing our friends on the internet. Of this group, 6 succeeded in creating and sharing some version of a Codecademy holiday web card.
The project was freely available…no sign-up or other barriers to entry (just like The BBSC!).
The code card was a discrete and fairly relevant project that enabled BBSes to produce immediate results.
The card background and object graphics were varied enough that pretty much everyone in our diverse group could find something that didn’t repel them.
There were few prior knowledge requirements. If you could read english and had some familiarity with the computer and the internet, you could start producing cards.
Theoretically, the card you create is limited only by the time, effort, and creativity you put into it. While there are set pieces, the overall outcome is up to the individual.
The Less Good:
Browser compatibility was a challenge. For whatever reason, IE and Codecademy cards didn’t always get along super well in our lab.
The instructions and conceptual context were separate from the specific activity of creating a card. Beyond figuring out the cutting and pasting (a challenge in IE) and gaining some level of familiarity with the terms “CSS” and “HTML”, it wasn’t abundantly clear to our big brains how all the pieces fit together. (Even our big big-brained superhero technogeeks didn’t really get it.)
Once we got through the cutting and pasting of code for objects, we fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking). It seemed as if getting text onto the card was like entering a whole other world with virtually no transition from the object world into the text world.
All in all, we love the concept of this project, and our big-brained superheroes didn’t exactly despise it. And its open-endedness could have easily worked for our group of diverse ages and backgrounds. However, it seems that, if this project is ever going to be designed for kids (and us older volunteers, for that matter), it should be revised to incorporate more conceptual framework and process scaffolding into the actual activity of card creation. Audio explanation could be helpful here or maybe pop-up descriptor balloons that address specific processes and concepts. In short, the project would have worked better if users were constantly reminded where they were, where they were going, and how they were going to get there.
That said, creating these cards was still a mildly engaging experience for us, and at the very least, it gave us a break from killing our friends on the internet.
The Big-Brained Superhackers Club inaugural meeting may have gotten a late start last night, but that didn’t deter a few Big-Brained Superheroes from sticking around an extra two hours to see the inside of a computer tower for the first time ever. Our Sense of Adventure was all systems go!