Binary began in The BBSC as simple 0 and 1 flip cards:
Our interest in binary was threefold:
As part of our interest in Critical Thinking, we like to explode standard concepts and ways of looking at the world. As many of our Big Brains had never before questioned the foundations of base-10 as a number system, we figured we’d challenge their assumptions of its normalcy by introducing them to a new number system. Through this process, we gain a method of distinguishing the role of a number system’s symbols from that of its structural rules.
Exploring binary is another way for us to explore switches and digital logic.
Learning binary as a number system is helpful in case we ever want to delve into binary code.
After the flip cards, one of our sidekicks decided to build a binary counter and bring it in for Brains to play with, turning binary counting into a bit of a competitive sport in The BBSC:
From there, Big Brains built our own prototype binary counter using standard light switches, arduino, and giant 7-segment display panels:
Once we had our functional prototype, Google Foundation was kind enough to grant us the funds for a whole team of Big Brains to design, code, and build a full version of the binary counter on which Big Brains continue to learn and teach binary within the Yesler community and throughout Seattle:
Cardboard Godzilla’s humble origins date back to late 2015, as we were nearing the end of our second or third stage of development on our City of Light, when one (or more) Brains suggested the need for a villain. A complexly powerful symbol of the folly of men, Godzilla was the obvious choice. So, on December 31st, Big Brain Buddy Eva deftly made the first cut of what, so far, has been a year-long intermittent creation of several Brains.
Through Godzilla, Brains have explored and explained the fundamental concept of input, process, output:
Brains have learned about and played with servos:
And Brains have developed a bit of hardware and software in the process:
But mostly, through Godzilla, Brains have exercised Persistence and Adaptability. Poor Cardboard Godzilla has been up and down, on and off his S-hook, at least ten or fifteen times over the last year. His first animation involved his LED eye and “roaring sound” that initiate when the door to The BBSC Lair is open. Then, came his “fire breath”, which happens next in the loop. Finally (so far), his back arm also moves up and down in the process. In that sense, Cardboard Godzilla is our first home-made robotic platform—a tool for exercising all the superpowers as well as helpful motivation for developing new skills.
We want Godzilla to declare, “I’m going to destroy your city!”? Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to do that.
It’s this almost magical ability to inspire and facilitate iteration that makes art, specifically art made by Big-Brained Superheroes out of real-world junk, so valuable to The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. It’s a special kind of burden for a giant piece of cardboard to serve as an outlet for so many different Big Brains imagining, making, breaking, reimagining, and making again, but somehow, Cardboard Godzilla has managed to carry it for a little over a year now. If he weren’t such a complexly powerful symbol and quirky labor of love, it’s unlikely he would have been able to handle it. And in spite of all the ups and downs, he hasn’t even neared his half-life yet. Go Go Godzilla!
Bonus: Cardboard Godzilla has also helped introduce a whole new Big Brain generation to a cult classic:
I was in need of some serious help. It was a Wednesday afternoon around 7 pm. It was dark outside and cold and I had to go home soon, but that was the least of my worries. I had a physics project due the next Friday, and I didn’t even attempt to start it yet. Until Thom McDonald came to the rescue. Thom (Big Brain Sidekick), Meredith (Big Brain Sidekick), and Charles (Big-Brained Superhero/Buddy) all came together for me after cleaning up the mess of the children’s creative thinking. We chatted about many things to do research on, and Thom, after giving me many choices, finally gave me one that caught my attention.
Nukes. Who doesn’t want to research nuclear weapons, right? So then after I received the basic information of how nuclear weapons came to the world and what they actually do, I was ready to research more information on them. Time went on, and on Monday, Thom came to me and asked me what I knew so far. After I told him, he not only listened but he added on, which later on helped me even more.
After I got the additional information I was ready to put it all in a PowerPoint. By Wednesday, Thom came to me and looked at my PowerPoint and again gave me more information along with links to do the research on. We then texted back and forth about it while Thom was out to dinner. After I finished editing and before I knew it, I was ready to present to my physics class. Which went well to my surprise. After I thanked Thom for helping me, he said that it was no problem and asked me how it went, which made me see how much he actually cared about me accomplishing my goal.
There are lots of reasons why The Big-Brained Superheroes Club isn’t just one thing but many. This story, in which everybody involved gets the best end of the deal, illustrates one of those reasons.
You should donate because this isn’t any standard program. This program it is not run by adults. The kids run the program, and this is good because this shows the kids how it is in the real world. We also teach S.T.E.A.M, and we teach the kids to ask specific questions. “I need help!!”, you can say it, but you got to be specific.
This is an important program for me because it shows girls that S.T.E.A.M is for all genders. I didn’t believe this till i came to Big Brains.
In the beginning, it seems simple and straightforward enough. You see a bunch of kids doing not much of anything fantastic outside of school, and you ask them what it would take to get them doing something fantastic. They tell you. You then bring your own interests and caveats to the table. Negotiations ensue. Fantastic stuff starts to happen. Done and done.
Or so it seems.
Starting off this thing as an all-volunteer endeavor—everyone pitching in their own time and resources—is what made it possible in the first place. We were lucky. But luck doesn’t necessarily last. Or scale. So, off we go in search of outside resources.
Lucky again, the first grant application we had ever written was approved by Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. Of course, this isn’t money to just make fantastic stuff happen. This is money for a project, planned out a year in advance, with outcomes specified a year in advance. Money that we needed to match with our own time and resources. Still. Money!
Thanks to the City of Seattle Community Technology Program (and SparkFun and Google and Blucora and several other places) for tools and materials and to Yesler Community Center for program space, we started to build our STEAM lab. Still all volunteers, still all doing fantastic stuff outside of school.
And apparently, in this case, “if you build it, they will come,” is for real. More and more Big-Brained Superheroes were coming to do fantastic stuff after school. The extent of our outreach was showing up and talking to the kids in the hall. Mostly asking them math problems. That’s it.
As demand grew, our search for resources grew more intense. We formed a board full of Yesler moms and BBSC volunteers. We checked all the items off the list: 501c3 status—check, Washington State business licenses—check, insurance and bookkeeping services—check and check. And all that stuff required was more time and money. Money! Thanks to the Satterberg and Norcliffe foundations, we got that stuff done.
But we still need to run a program four days a week.
So, off we go in search of more resources. And the more we search, the more we fully realize why there aren’t more Big-Brained Superheroes Clubs throughout the land. It’s not as if no one’s thought of this before. Problem: not enough fantastic stuff happening. Solution: Talk to people, make fantastic stuff happen. Achievement unlocked. Ironically, that’s the part that seems the most obvious to everyone. The part that few seem to get down is finding the resources to keep it going.
And our first successful grant yields a clue: project. Project project project. Everyone loves projects! We’ve done lots and lots of projects. Projects planned years in advance even. With outcomes set years in advance even. But when we go back to what Big-Brained Superheroes like Muz love best about The BBSC, it’s:
This program it is not run by adults. The kids run the program, and this is good because this shows the kids how it is in the real world.
Muz is eleven years old. The thing that, to her, makes The BBSC special is that eleven year-olds like her get to come in and, through various negotiations and caveats, make their own decisions about their own fantastic projects. Any eleven year-old that can meaningfully define a project and set outcomes a year in advance is an eleven year-old that has no need for The Big-Brained Superheroes Club. Muz’s independent projects are not getting supported by project grants anytime soon.
And that, among many other reasons, is why Big Brains like Muz need you! Muz’s radical agenda is to have the tools, resources, and support she needs to pursue her interests and develop her superpowers. She’s not in The BBSC to raise her grades or gain workforce skills (though she may be doing those things, that’s not her agenda). She’s in it to do fantastic stuff outside of school. And we’re in it to help her do fantastic stuff outside of school.
We’ve been lucky to find a few organizations (yay BECU!) that support a ‘do fantastic stuff’ agenda. But those are few and far between. And the paradox is that, without this underlying baseline of support, the projects that everyone else wants don’t happen. Our agenda may be radical, but sometimes, being radical is the only way to get the job done.
Please consider supporting The BBSC this holiday season! We promise to make lots of fantastic stuff happen outside of school.
The BBSC is really a study in the art of “just go with it”. All the best bits are totally instigated by our young Big-Brained Superheroes with our volunteer sidekicks just helping nerd it up. Tapping into hidden strengths!
“Being interested and engaged in life is the single most important pathway to success.” -President Barack Obama
Let’s be honest: sometimes you simply just don’t want to do the things you probably should do. Such was the case for us when we learned about the White House National #WeekofMaking happening in June. Our reluctance to engage in this initiative may seem paradoxical given our obvious predisposition toward everything the event was about. But exactly because every week is a week of making for us, making a big deal out of one week just seemed…unnecessary. That, combined with the event’s scheduling conflict with Yesler’s Juneteenth celebrations, inspired little more than hesitation in us. However, the persistent dedication to the event shown by Andrew Coy and the rest of the Making team in OSTP finally compelled us to get over ourselves and get the job done.
In our experience there are two main methods for getting a job done. In one way, Willpower and Persistence are the primary mechanisms for accomplishing the goal, and you just suck it up and do what needs to be done to get through it. We call this “the box-checking method”. The other main way primarily requires Sense of Adventure and Creativity, and rather than simply powering through all the job’s attendant complexities and discordances to find the most direct path to the checked box, you embrace those complexities and discordances and zigzag between them until the box becomes something of actual interest to you. We call this “the fun way”.
(Obviously, jobs can involve both methods to different degrees at different times, but many influencing factors—the type of job, the amount of time and other resources you have to do it, the constraints involved, and your own interests and motivations—can make a huge difference in which method predominates.)
Big Brains generally spend a huge portion of their young lives checking boxes. Go to school; do your homework; read this book; etc. They have tons of experience in that particular method of getting the job done (and often failing to get the job done). Consequently, The BBSC is necessarily designed around doing things “the fun way”. It takes significantly longer and involves way more work, but we, like President Obama, find that learning to do life the fun way is the single most important pathway to success.
For us, doing National Week of Making the fun way involved exploring the unique history of Juneteenth and illustrating the connections between the events and people that eventually made it happen. And so we put together a bunch of materials we had lying around to make an electric circuit out of history:
This is the kind of project that, as one Big Brain succinctly put it, “makes nerdiness cool.” Nearly every Big Brain had a hand in its development and, therefore, had an investment in its outcome. And by viewing the National Week of Making through the Juneteenth historical lens, we not only came away with a more complex understanding of our history, we now have a new (for us) platform for storytelling that we’re already deploying in other contexts.
So, for being an instigator and determined supporter of making, Big-Brained Superheroes would like to earnestly say, “Thanks, Obama!”
When discussing how we should organize our materials, a Big Brain suggested the old “art materials over here and electronics parts over here” approach. To mess with her brain, we gave her team a box of old circuit boards given to us by Interconnection and asked them to do something with them. So, they went ahead and discovered Planet Technology.
We may talk a lot about our big nerdy projects and heady ambitions, but in many ways, the heart of The Big-Brained Superheroes Club is play. Super Shortie Corner was created in a small corner of the lair during our recent clean (and build) week for the express purpose of encouraging imaginative and educational play in the five-and-under set. It’s been a surprise to see the space being used by Brains of all ages for playing, inventing, and creating entire imaginary universes and scenarios to wrap around their activities. Any phony toughness or competitiveness here gets quickly rebuffed because Kindness and Teamwork are the minimum requirements.
We don’t talk much about “discipline” in the Big Brains for the simple reason that we’re not looking for discipline (in the usual sense of the word) from the Brains. It’s not enough for our Brains to just gain the capability to refrain from hurting each other or themselves with their actions. To realize their full potential, Brains must also gain that feeling of liberation that comes from cooperation and collaboration. Willpower and Respect—our version of “discipline”—are only two of the twelve superpowers that can help them gain that liberation. For all the rest, they need motivation and permission, both of which they are somehow getting in this teeny tiny corner of the room. Such a pleasant surprise!
This airplane was a Big-Brained Superhero reward that got its original wings and tail mangled and, consequently, ended up in the project pile. It’s now on its fifth or sixth set of prototype wings/tail thanks to the singular interest of one young BBS, who, every time he walks through the club door, heads straight to the plane and keeps trying new design combinations until he has to go home. Once it flies again, it’s his to keep, but that seems to be only part of his motivation.
We’d love it if the process of getting Big Brains independently, deeply involved in relatively complex projects were as simple as defining objectives and supplying materials and rewards. But Big Brains just don’t work that way. In fact, for a very long time, this particular Big Brain had been obsessing over finding a way to earn an iPod. His single-minded devotion to the subject gave us a whole new appreciation for his Persistence superpower. However, it seems that finally feeling secure that he has a way to achieve his iPod goal has given him the freedom to passionately pursue other, more remote, interests. Flights of fancy first—all else can wait.
We spend quite a bit of time in The BBSC trying to figure out how to create this exact scenario—a Brain relentlessly exercising all of its superpowers for a creative purpose. And while we are still at the stage in which we just feel lucky when it happens, here are some of the things we know we need to have in order to make it possible:
An environment that feels reliable and secure—Big Brains must know that they have the power to get all of their basic needs, perceived or otherwise, met. This sounds simple, but the standards for physical and emotional security seem to vary pretty dramatically from Big Brain to Big Brain, so meeting all of them sometimes feels like an impossibility. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve in this area, but we’ve got the basics (food, meaningful boundaries and expectations, laughter, etc) down well enough to satisfy a reasonable number of BBSes to varying degrees. We have a dream that, one day, we’ll be able to design for the toughest Brain out there, meet all of our goals and objectives, and bring everyone else along for the ride. Still working on it.
All kinds of weird stuff lying around—While our Big Brains definitely need their comfort zones, in order to create, they also need inspiration and opportunities to get out of those comfort zones. We have yet to find a better way to provide that inspiration and opportunity than through stuff. Preferably weird stuff that they don’t see everyday. That can be broken. And maybe put back together.
Ways to connect the dots—Internet, books, tools, humans. Our Big Brains need to have ways to learn what they don’t already know and colleagues to bounce ideas off of. For general purposes, we probably use our tiny book library more than our Internet, but that may be because our wireless is flaky and our devices are fragile. For technology purposes, we tend to use our devices. Regardless, just having a resource collection creates possibility.
Magic—Call it Dark Matter, the Force, whatever. This is the placeholder for all of the needs we have yet to specifically identify but have seen impressions of. At the moment, there’s a bit more of this than we’d care to admit.
Regardless of where we are relative to where we want to be when it comes to providing all the things a Big-Brained Superhero needs, there’s one thing we’re pretty sure of: If we can make it possible, our Big-Brained Superheroes can make it happen.
Not only did we finally find a use for our tree, we found unexpected value in our bag of donated jellyfish.
Which, of course, only increases the pun potential (puntential?) of this project.
So there we are. A little Creativity, some Critical Thinking, Persistence, and Teamwork, and then there was (more) light.
Best project takeaway: We know we’re very much on the right track when the most common response to seeing a club member standing on a table wrapping a tree in copper tape isn’t, “What the heck are you doing?”, but rather, “Can I help?”.
Thank you again to Ballard Reuse and all Big-Brained Superheroes Club supporters who help make these randomly invaluable projects possible!
If you’ve been keeping tabs on our Facebook page, then you know that we’ve been working on our City of Light on and off for a while now. Once we got proof-of-concept with the basic buildings and determined the resistance level needed for our LEDs, we turned our attention to constructing our Space Needle.
And that’s where we are.
Of all the factors related to our Space Needle’s design and construction—determining dimensions, features, materials, etc—finding a way to achieve basic structural integrity (ie, sticking the parts together) has been our toughest challenge so far. Some of that is just the nature of this particular beast: it has to be both strong and extremely lightweight so as not to break apart or cause injury should it come un-velcroed from our felt wall. Some of that is just the nature of The BBSC: our repertoire of materials for sticking stuff together has been mostly limited to glue (hot and not), tape, and solder, none of which have been particularly useful for our Space Needle yet.
To meet our requirements, given our constraints, we have used our development time to exercise our Persistence and Adaptability. The joints of our Space Needle “legs”, for instance, have undergone at least four iterations:
Soldering was no good as the large swaths of aluminum just sucked up the heat.
We tried a cold weld two-part epoxy on its own at each joint only to have them all break. One by one.
We then cut some thin metal rectangles and epoxied them to the backs of the legs to hold the joints together, but the bends in the legs made it difficult to get anything with a straight edge to hold to both sides of the joint equally well so failure inevitably ensued.
Our final (so far) solution: Pennies*. Not as lightweight as we’d like, but they’re the right shape and seem to get the job done.
It’s tempting here to start spouting pithy quotes about failure and how it’s just a point (or several points) on the path to success etc etc etc. But what’s more interesting to us is understanding just what enables us to keep going through our failures to find, even momentary, success. We see failure, like we see Empowerment, as a luxury good:
For starters, we need Brains. More than one, in this case, with diverse sets of knowledge and abilities.
Second, we need time. We’re constantly learning as we go, and consequently, our iterations often require time for us to confer, casually ponder, and enable our Creativity superpower to do its job.
Third, we need capital resources. Tools, materials with which to experiment, and money with which to acquire supplies as we go are all essential even for the most minimal of projects, such as this one.
Finally, we need motivation and Empowerment. Not only do we need to want to do it, we need to feel like it’s at least possible. Not surprisingly, it helps when the complexity of a project is somewhat obscured from the outset so as to enable escalation of commitment.
Simple? Maybe. Obvious? Probably. And it doesn’t take very much reading between the lines here to glimpse at least a few of the social, cultural, and economic underpinnings needed to achieve even the teeniest tiniest of successes. These are the real legs on which our Space Needle is built. So, where does that urge to spout the pithy quote even come from anyway?
* = That’s right. We’re literally building our Space Needle out of money. Symbolism aside, just don’t tell the US Treasury, please.
So, in February, we hosted this great Re-Maker Fest, which was inspiring and informative and all kinds of brain-embiggening, and, not coincidentally, has us reconsidering failure (again). In the course of that event, we made a challenge for ourselves to see how many things we could remake before the end of the month (in this case, it turned out to be within the next three BBSC meetings). The results:
We started off strong—taking apart this doll in the hopes of turning it into something new. And we did turn it into something new: a collection of doll parts. That’s something.
And then, as we mentioned in our previous post, we attempted to turn some broken crayon bits and leftover cardboard into artwork. In summary: If you’ve ever wondered what happens when you try to put a new spin (literally) on melty crayon art, now you know.
Finally, we combined our magnetized electronics, a metal vent thingy, some vellum paper and tiny clothespins (all of these items are used items) with a bunch of shapes we had lying around to make a light play box. The takeaway: Add some magnets and a bit of string and maybe we’ve found a new crazy/creepy use for that doll parts collection.
From our point-of-view, these remaking experiences are just part of the process. A process that some might look at and think is a waste of perfectly good broken dolls, crayons, and random parts. And if the remaking process ended here, we would probably agree. But it doesn’t and it won’t. Which is why this is just part 1 of x of our Remaking Failure.
This inherited tree has been a point of contention in The BBSC for a while now. At first, we thought we’d manage it by decorating it with squishy shapes:
Not bad. But the leaky sand box in which it stood was eternally messy, and the groovy shapes kept falling off or getting repurposed elsewhere. What to do?
Since the sand was the biggest issue, we dealt with that first. Several Big Brains took it outside and held a fairly extravagant de-sanding party (i.e., they dumped the sand onto the ground, played in it for over an hour, and finally swept it away). From there, we just shuffled the precariously perched naked tree around the room until we could settle on a plan.
“Burn it,” was one Big Brain’s suggestion. Not really an option since the tree had a history and sentimental value for some of our Big Brains.
After bandying about a string of ideas of what to make it—an evolutionary tree, a bunch of branches, etc—we decided to table it. Literally, we decided to put it in the middle of the room’s biggest table. But first, we needed to make a sturdy stand for it (and thanks to a generous gift certificate from Ballard Reuse, we were able to do so):
Once we figured out where and how to put up the tree, the rest of the plan fell into place.
Another issue we’ve had for a while is that we’ve wanted more diverse lighting sources in the lair. Especially in the winter when the coldness of the overhead fluorescents becomes particularly apparent. Combine that need with a pretty decent supply of wired LEDs, copper tape, and silicon jellyfish, and the result is somewhat obvious:
We know. It’s been over a month since our Holiday Fund for the Nerdy drive ended (for us, the holidays go through February). So, let’s see where the Big-Brained Superheroes are now, shall we?
BBS Accelerator is actually happening! By popular demand, we’re experimenting with opening up the lair on Friday evening so that Accelerator members can work on their projects. While regular club meetings are still holding strong on Mondays and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are when the nerdiness goes to eleven.
Re-Maker Fest happened and we are still working on posting all the things we remade in February. Oh wait, here’s a thing:
Yeah. Remaking. If it’s being done well and in an innovative way, it takes time and care. And experimentation. Which also takes time and care. In short, a lot of time and a lot of care. And, of course, this means that remaking is an excellent way for our Big Brains to exercise their superpowers. Because sometimes the only thing we can learn to expect is the unexpected.
We’ve also just started a gardening program, in which Seattle Parks provides the seeds, and we design and maintain two planting beds out back of the community center. So far, Jack, our lead gardener sidekick, has worked with Big Brains to weed, fix the beds, and plant some sort of bean. User-centered designed birdhouses and bird feeders are also in-progress for the garden.
Those tiny tombstone-looking things in there are popsicle stick plant markers. We’ll be posting updates on how our garden grows.
Now that we’ve mentioned some of the Brain building, let’s mention some of the builders. None of these activities would happen without these organizations:
And then there’s people like you! All the individuals out there who help make our Big-Brained Superheroes grow. Thank you for all you do!
Thanks, in part, to a generous laptop discount from Interconnection, one superpowerful Big-Brained Superhero had the tools he needed to both begin development on his Arduino-driven video game and work on his Powerpoint presentation for his science class, making this Superhacker Saturday one for the record books! Let the games begin.
Re-Maker Fest was great last night, largely because the panelists and attendees were so motivated and inspiring. A commitment to re-making was broad and deep in this crowd, and as such, many thoughts were provoked. When an amazing event participant asked one of our Big Brains what interested her most, that Big Brain’s response surprised all of us BBS sidekicks: she was most interested in turning our defunct Power Wheels into power racers. This response was then echoed by another Big Brain at the event.
Why is the Big Brain power racer enthusiasm so surprisingly relevant? At various points throughout the evening’s discussion, a certain nostalgia about remaking threatened to creep in. Allusions to the past and loss (of skills, reverence, etc) periodically resurfaced in mildly melancholy ways. But our Big Brains aren’t much influenced by nostalgia. Their goals aren’t necessarily to bring something back but to make something new. It just so happens that their default starting point for this endeavor is, thanks directly to one Tamara Clammer of BPT (among others), something old.
In this scenario, the path of least resistance to our Big Brains getting to build a brand new car starts with a used, non-working car. They don’t want to reinvent the Power Wheel, as it were. They want to get from point A to point B in the funnest, most direct, way possible. For them, at this moment, remaking has very little to do with a misty past and everything to do with a bright and shiny future. It’s the small step for one Big Brain that leads to the giant leap for Big-Brained-kind.