August 07, 2012

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What Happens When Science, Story & Superheroes Collide?

In June, at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI America) meeting in Chicago, we announced a new Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) partnership with 826 National. Co-founded by educator Nínive Calegari and author Dave Eggers, 826 National is a network of non-profit centers that work with more than 29,000 low-income students to improve their writing skills.

Through the partnership we funded the development of an innovative workshop series for ninety students in 826’s NYC, LA and San Francisco locations.  Thanks to curriculum from our partner Coalition for Science After School (CSAS), these workshops incorporated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles into 826 National’s proven creative writing model. Mixing science with story resulted in some engaging, hands-on activities like:

Science Club Ice Cream: Kids make ice cream from rock salt, milk and ice and learn how different types of matter behave and interact with other substances.

Space Exploration for Beginners: Kids document what a voyage to outer space could be like and concoct gak and oobleck — NASA-like fixatives — from household items.

Being an avid writer, reader and McSweeney’s fan, I needed to see what these workshops were all about.  So last Thursday Jeff, Public Affairs Manager Leah and I joined the”wrap party” for the workshops we funded in NYC.  I knew the party was off to a great start when we walked into the 826 NYC tutoring center.  The center is fronted by a “Superhero Supply Store” retail store — home to capes, gallons of gravity and secret identity aids.  Similarly, 826’s San Francisco location is fronted by a “Pirate Supply Store” and Los Angeles’ 826 center by a “Time Travel Mart.”  What kid wouldn’t get a rush of creativity and inspiration walking through these doors — its like opening the gateway to Marvel Comics’ version of Narnia.

By the end of the party, I was totally inspired.. and completely jealous of these kids.  Not only had they learned how to collaborate and think creatively when developing stories, but the STEM activities had also familiarized them with experimentation, problem solving and observation. One young man showed me not only how to make oobleck but explained its many applications.  He also had some good ideas for how to handle an alien encounter if one were to happen at zero gravity.

I think, if this program had been around when I was little, I could be so much more awesome.  I sense that Jeff would have been a willing student too, since the moment the workshop began he bolted around the room, a big kid in a literary candy shop, conversing easily with young students about storytelling and non-Newtonian fluids.

Follow our adventures with 826 National, including coverage from our upcoming wrap party in Los Angeles, on Twitter: #STEMandWriting.

At the wrap party, kids received a published booklet of the stories they wrote during the summer workshops


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