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Zooming Through April Break

April 29, 2020

826 Boston just wrapped its first-ever remote workshop week—six virtual workshops for April break, which saw 86 students register and logged almost 100 hours of student learning!

Our fearless workshop leaders quickly adapted their original in-person ideas, updating their activities to utilize online features. Video tutorials led to best-practice guidelines and Zoom test-runs, all in an effort to answer the overhanging question: “How can we keep the students engaged?” 

The weeks of research resulted in diverse workshop offerings, including a virtual tour of the Waterworks Museum, puppet theater, and zoo animal stories. 

Before workshop week, Professor Wyatt Bonikowski and his Suffolk University students spent their spring semester learning about creative writing and literacy. The undergraduate class worked as co-teachers as they prepared the lesson plan for their workshop, “My Pet Zoo Animal.” Beckoning the students into the jungle with nature sounds and hand-binoculars, the Suffolk students guided the younger group as they chose their animals and the obstacles that faced them outside of the zoo. “I have a pet lion and it eats everything and that’s a huge problem,” Imram, age 7, wrote. “And my lion once tried to eat the earth which is a huge problem.”

In “Things That Go ‘Bump’ When We Write,” workshop leader Emily Duggan guided thirteen students (dressed to impress in witch hats, costume masks, and even face paint) through the fundamentals of effective horror writing. Students drew inspiration from the chilling and unusual parts of everyday life in order to write their own spooky stories. “I heard a little boy running and laughing,” wrote Ibrahim, age 12. “I only have daughters.” 

On Tuesday afternoon, students joined Waterworks Museum’s Manager of Educational Services, Tracy Lindboe, on a virtual tour of the monumental machinery inside the Beacon Street building. Equipped with an introduction to engineering, the first and second graders were challenged to design their own machines out of materials like cardboard, bottle caps, and paperclips—with great success! 

In “Puppet Theater,” led by Claire Brislin, eight students used household materials such as socks, buttons, construction paper, popsicle sticks, and pipe-cleaners to construct their own puppet characters. Throughout the session, the group (and their puppets!) learned that storytelling can take many different forms, and that sometimes, all you need is an old sock to bring a character to life! The workshop ended in a few epic puppet lip sync battles and some show-stopping skit performances.

During “Making Real Characters,” Kristen Saransin demonstrated how to delve deeper into character development. The workshop began with group discussions about memorable character traits and ended with Zoom performances of the middle schooler’s monologues. Kristen’s writing activities inspired Mattea, age 11, to focus on the backstory of her character: “I am always asked about the story of my last name because anyone who speaks Hebrew knows it means shame.”

On Friday, students logged onto “Squad Up! Storytelling Edition,” a collaborative writing lab created by 826 Boston’s Publishing & Programs and Out of School Time team members. Students worked together to write a story about a young superhero named Dawn and her radioactive feline sidekick, Poochie, before crafting their own alternate endings. Together, the storytelling squad explored how, even in this time of social distancing, the best stories are the ones we tell together. 

Our first remote workshop week wouldn’t have been possible without our 826 team, including the volunteer workshop leaders, students, and their families. Thank you for your creativity, flexibility, and patience during this new era of remote learning. We’d also like to thank 826 NYC for their guidance and encouragement—we learned so much from joining your virtual workshops. We’re looking forward to the next opportunity to connect and write together!

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