Category Archives: Intern Program

The Story of Story Wall

by Emily Vallowe

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Story Wall started with petroglyphs and ended with soup.  I think that means that I did something right.

The idea for Story Wall grew out of my curiosity about how scholars interpret ancient rock engravings.  How could anyone in the year 2013 possibly understand the intent of an artist who lived and died thousands of years ago?  Navigating the swampy roads of intent and interpretation is, of course, a tricky business in any artistic medium no matter what the distance between the artist and the audience.  As an English major, I have spent so much time traipsing through bogs of ambiguous text that the ideas of interpretation and intent are probably never far below the surface of my conscious thoughts.  However, this question of petroglyphs threw the intent-interpretation relationship into my mind in a new and exciting way, and I wanted to explore it.

Oral storytelling was another source of inspiration for this project.  I could tell you that once this petroglyph question entered my head, I got the idea to explore it through storytelling, but that wouldn’t be quite the truth.  The truth is that if the museum was going to let me do a project, that project was going to involve stories…because there’s nothing else I could have done.  A side effect of being a writer is that you develop crazy notions about stories being the fibers of the universe, which leaves little room for other interests (such as finding a job that does not involve creating more universe fibers).  Yet, thinking about petroglyphs put me in a mindset of ancient things, and I found myself pondering one of the oldest forms of storytelling that grew out of cultures all over the world: the spoken tale.  In a world in which so many of our current modes of storytelling — film, television, and video games — combine multiple media, I wanted to get back to basics and focus on the power of a single human voice.

So those were my grand ideas.  Transforming them into something that could function as a drop-in workshop at a children’s museum was where things got tricky.

My original idea was to have kids draw pictures of whatever they wanted, post their drawings on a wall, and then interpret any number of drawings on the wall to tell a story.  However, after discussing and prototyping this idea with the museum’s education team and my fellow interns, it was clear the workshop needed a bit more structure.  The first step in building this structure was to challenge museum visitors to tell a story by using only five drawings from the wall.  Next, I needed to create some prompt cards that visitors could use as inspiration for their drawings, a task which proved to be more challenging than I had expected.

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Because the drawings were meant to serve as inspiration for stories, I figured that the prompt cards for these drawings should contain the building blocks of a narrative.  I therefore started brainstorming with the concepts of character, setting, and plot in the back of my mind.  My first draft of prompt cards contained topics such as “a school for pirates” and “a picnic for astronauts.”  These prompts were problematic for several reasons.  For starters, they were difficult to classify.  Did the school for pirates belong under the setting or the character category — or did the action taking place there make it a plot element?  While worrying whether classifying the prompts as one thing or another would limit visitors’ creativity, I realized a much bigger problem with these prompts: they were already limiting visitors’ creativity because they were too close-ended.  Visitors might have different interpretations of what a school for pirates might look like, but they would all be drawing pictures of schools and pirates.

For subsequent drafts of prompt cards I focused on narrative archetypes and tried to write about these archetypes in the most open-ended way possible.  For example, the prompt card that started out as “a new superhero” became “a hero,” then “someone brave,” and then “a brave character” out of concern that the word “someone” might lead visitors to only draw humans.  The “a school for pirates” and “a picnic for astronauts” prompts became the setting cards “a place to learn” and “a place to eat.”  I simplified my plot cards to things such as “a journey,” “a prediction,” and “a mix-up” and relabeled them “action cards.”  After realizing that it might be awkward and challenging to draw an action, I decided that these cards could provide inspiration when visitors began brainstorming their oral narratives.  Finally, I wanted a “stuff” category that would include important narrative elements such as magical objects and food.  A coworker suggested that I call this category “artifacts,” and this label had the added benefit of sounding super cool.

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With my prompt cards finished, I was ready to try out my workshop with the museum’s visitors.  However, even minutes before the workshop was about to start, I had no idea what was going to happen.  I worried that an activity that had started out lacking structure had become over-structured, and I wondered how kids would respond to the procedure of, “First choose a prompt card from one of these three categories, then draw a picture, then post it on the wall, then choose four other pictures from the wall, then pick another prompt card, and then tell a story. Oh, and let us record it.”  At that point, there was nothing I could do but wait and see.

Kids of course reacted to the workshop in ways that I never could have predicted.  I recorded two amazing stories, but each young storyteller created about ten drawings and then used only his drawings to tell a story.  The rest of the participants added drawings to the wall but were not interested in using other people’s drawings to create a narrative.

Not sure what to make of this information, I spent the next two weeks wondering how to revise the workshop.  The best I could come up with was to rethink the workshop’s physical logistics and reconsider how I would introduce its different steps.  Yet, with less than forty-eight hours before the second iteration of Story Wall was scheduled to start, I had a sudden idea: what if, rather than choosing four drawings from the wall, visitors picked four surprise drawings out of a hat?!  I snagged the black plastic cauldron that was sitting in the corner of the Innovation Lab and decided to test out this idea.

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The cauldron turned out to be just what my project needed.  Picking surprise drawings out of a pot was more fun and less intimidating than trying to choose drawings off a wall covered in other people’s artwork.  Having the pictures be a surprise also created a richer creative exercise by adding constraints and by challenging visitors to connect seemingly unrelated images. The cauldron also provided the element of collaboration that I had hoped to include in my project, as most visitors were happy to add their drawings to the pot after they had told their stories.  This new method of collaboration provided so much inspiration that visitors had no trouble coming up with narratives; I never even used my action cards!

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If I could do this project over from the beginning, I would probably name it Story Soup because that plastic pot was the spice and substance that I needed to hold this project together.  In the end, the wall became the least important element of Story Wall.  And that’s okay.  Like a story, Story Wall went through many drafts and revisions, and I had to keep chipping away at it until I dug out its core.  I hope that the online gallery of drawings and stories will encourage people to reflect on how different folks can interpret the same image in multiple ways, and I am thrilled that visitors had so much fun participating in this creative challenge.

Thus ends the story of Story Wall.  Remain calm!  More stories await you at www.creativity.org/story-wall.

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Critter Creation Workshop

by Emma Freedcritter creation poster

At the Children’s Creativity Museum, visitors are given many opportunities to be designers and storytellers. In the Animation Studio, children create their own characters to animate in imagined scenarios; in the Innovation Lab, they design homes for flowers, ways to breathe in outer space, and Tyrannosaurus Rex dentures. For my first solo workshop as a Creative Fellow, I wanted to give children a chance to be character designers, combining my personal interests in toys and character design with my desire to create storytelling tools for children.

IMG_1287I came to the museum with a struggle; I was interested in pursuing a career designing toys and media for children, but was frustrated with the idea of “selling” to kids. Why should I be the creator, and children mere consumers? The material culture of childhood is, in many ways, shaped and imposed on children by adults. While toys function as story props for children engaging in narrative fantasy play, over-determined toys are actually influencing the stories and robbing kids of character design opportunities.

IMG_1370Children have a strong grasp of character, as they have been exposed to dozens of archetypes in fairytales and children’s literature and television programming from a young age. Character traits across media, (such as film, animation, and computer games), are presented visually, audibly (through voice acting) and physically, something that is often exaggerated when marketed to children. Toys such as dolls and figures often come with inherent personality traits that kids intuitively pick up on; slanted eyebrows with a smile evoke mischievousness, soft flowery colors evoke sweetness, and a muscular build with bold, primary colors evoke a heroic personality. Physical design elements of a toy character therefore influence the narrative in children’s fantasy play, and toys are becoming increasingly authored: “Toys today are a mass medium, a channel where stories get published in parallel to film, comics or computer games…(there is) a cross-breeding between the stories inscribed in toys and the stories invented by children during play” [1].  Although a toy with a strong personality can inspire and prompt fantasy play, there is a risk that a toy’s narrative is so determined that it dampens creativity. 

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The point is that adults interpose themselves in questions of character by conceiving, designing and making choices for children. This idea of determinism in toy design is something that CCM’s educational philosophy actually addresses; at CCM, the idea of “20% inspiration” is essentially a way of avoiding under or over-determined design. Providing just the right amount more than a blank canvas can unlock creative potential in children.

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With the goal for my workshop clear, (to give children a chance to design their own toys), I had the following three things to work out; 1) What is my 20% inspiration? 2) What materials and tools can I use so that children can do a maximum of the designing and making, independently from adult assistance? 3) How can I formalize character creation?

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The answer to the first question came easily. What better inspiration for character design than the museum’s own Creativity Critters? As for materials, I chose based on safety and universality; using felt, yarn, and craft fluff to create plushies meant that kids of all ages could safely participate and I could avoid the gender bias that comes with dolls.

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Finally, for the question of formalizing character design, I thought back to my scriptwriting class in college. My professor would constantly remind the class, “You must know your characters, inside and out!”, and catch students off guard by asking what their protagonist’s favorite fruit might be, how many siblings he or she had, or what his or her pajamas looked like.

I realized that it didn’t really matter what character traits kids were asked to come up with, as long as they were encouraged to think about the individual personality of the critter they created. I designed a name tag that kids could fill out when they finished making their plushies, asking for the critter’s name, current mood, habitat, favorite food and hobbies.

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I had the workshop set up so that kids would draw and cutout a shape on two layers of a felt of their choosing, which they would then sew along the edges and stuff with fluff. (The really young kids could select a prepared plush to decorate). Kids could then decorate their plush shape with googley eyes, yarn, fluff or felt cutouts, and then take their critters to the photo booth area where they’d fill out the name tag.

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After five months at the Children’s Creativity Museum, I have come to expect being blown away by kids’ reactions to workshops. I was thrilled with how enthusiastically they responded when prompted to come up with names for their critters, how patient even the young ones were with this tricky new sewing skill, and, of course, with their remarkable ability to cover anything and everything with googley eyes.

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Although at the end of the day it was just a simple craft project, I accomplished my goal to provide children with tools for character design. A few days after my workshop, Hugo, (a regular visitor at CCM), brought in plush characters that he made on his own at home using the sewing technique he learned at the workshop. Mission accomplished!

Lessons learned:

  • Never underestimate a child’s creativity
  • 20% inspiration is enough
  • You always, always need more googley eyes

[1]  A. Harvard and S. Lovind “Psst”-ipatory Design: Involving artists, technologists, students and children in the design of narrative toys. Participation and Design: Inquiring Into the Politics, Contexts and Practices of Collaborative Design Work 2002. Proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference, Malmo. 2002

The Most Useful Internship in the World (this is not sarcasm)

by Rachel Levinson
Education Intern

“The idea of being a teacher is that you’ve gotta pass it on. You learn something. You develop some insights. Your experience can be transmitted and that is the nature of civilization.”
– Milton Glaser

Let me start off by saying that I have a passion for education, art, and technology that built me into a strong enough candidate to score the opportunity to be an education intern this summer. The museum drew me in with their San Francisco vibe of forming an open creative community for visitors and staff alike. I am a local student majoring in Art History with a specific interest in museum educational programming. I think  that technology has a way of engaging visitors on a higher level than normal, even if said visitors aren’t as twitter-savvy as the high school tour group in the next gallery. It is hard to know where to start in educational programming, but the CCM internship program gives us the Intro 101 course.

Basically, we are tasked with the duty of creating workshops for visiting groups each week. A workshop is normally held in our Birthday Party room and is an activity that can easily be done within 30 minutes by someone five-years-old and under. Give them a coloring book, you say? Sure we could do that. But how is that activity engaging and challenging enough to push their creative ideas into a new realm? See, this is the programming that I vastly underestimated when I took this internship on.

I have never had to even think about writing a lesson plan before, especially with material and time limits. It is intimidating to tackle these workshops without any previous experience. I applied here in order to get a better grasp on these issues and I want to share some of the main obstacles we face weekly during workshop planning.

One of my favorite workshops (workshop being a group activities station for visiting summer campers 1st grade and under) would have to be the Animal Mix-up. The basic idea is to do a modified Exquisite Corpse by having the kids draw a full animal upon a template, then cut it up into three pieces, and lastly, tape three pieces together to make a new mixed-up animal. Our goal was to help kids focus on fully creating a single creature and then use the mix-up as a way to physically see the benefits of collaboration (even if the collaboration is not direct).

Even though every visitor had a blast drawing and mixing up their animals, there ended up being four distinct problems to our workshop:

  1. Trouble viewing project through to the end: Many times the visitors would not want to cut their animal up show it to others. They still wanted to make a mixed up creature, but did not enjoy the idea of trusting their group members to provide an awesome animal section. This could be attributed to age, but also has ties to the fact that our workshop has more parameters than normal. Throughout the weeks I’ve learned that the less steps in a workshop, the better.
  2. Overwhelmed/Intimidated: We thought that we had planned enough for this problem by doing “ten second animals” three times before introducing the project. Ten second animals is, for example, when you tell them to draw a Buffalo and then they only have ten seconds to achieve a doodle that looks like a Buffalo. It was helpful to show by example rather than sitting around waiting for them to become comfortable with an idea.
  3. Comprehension: It wasn’t too complicated of an idea (from our perspective) since the worksheets we handed out had predesignated thirds with guidelines on where to fit your animal. Wrong again! Drawing an animals body to fit certain points was a hard concept to grasp. Overall I learned, the more freedom with a project, the better.
  4. Organization from Staff: This one is completely on our side (as were the previous three). We had figured it would be easy to switch the heads, middles, and ends but not when the kids decided to switch all at once! This was more of a “Logistics with Children 101” moment that we learned from each time a new group came in.

I realize that some of this blog’s readers are educators and parents, so all of these revelations come to no surprise to you. I, on the other hand, have almost zero experience with educating children and have found each day spent at the CCM as an enormous learning experience. There have been learning moments in educational programming, interacting with visitors, logistics, and professionalism that I would be hard pressed to find in any other type of institution. I almost wish it would be mandatory for business majors to spend a summer doing this kind of work in the same way that I should spend a summer learning accounting as an art history major.

I am truly starting to appreciate not only the amount of work that the education staff does every day but also the work of every teacher/professor I’ve had before.  Basically, my point is that teaching anyone something takes a lot of effort that goes beyond the specific time you spend with them. As with everything, we get better when we learn from our mistakes and I cannot wait to see how my experience here will shape my projects in the future!

A touching visit with the Ronald McDonald House

By Heather Lee
Education Intern at CCM

Last week the Ronald McDonald House spent an afternoon at the museum. I had the pleasure of introducing and guiding them around the museum and as a fairly new education intern I did not know what to expect. It turned out to be the most touching and personal group visit I have ever had and I do not think there is a better way to experience a group of kids with illness. They are braver and more courageous than most kids and adults combined. What we forget is that kids with illnesses are still kids first and foremost. They become this symbol of fragility that we have to pay attention to and that we have to compliment in order to make them feel good about themselves. Really what I have learned is that all they want are the same things as regular kids.

Parents of sick children are strong. They are worrisome, and sometimes they might feel inadequate or weak but I see them as beautiful and capable.  Their children teach them to be emotional and understanding. They teach their parents to treat them with the same amount of discipline and with the same amount of tenderness. Surprisingly and beautifully, these kids don’t request for extra attention because of their illnesses. Discipline and tenderness are key factors for parent’s sanity. One amazing parent discussed with me the heroism he found in his son because he was able to withstand multiple kinds of cancer before the age of 10. A girl can have multiple heart transplants and not be affected by the amount of sadness around her. I found it astonishing, surprising and eye-opening that these kids do not ask for more attention. They enjoy the little things like making a mask out of felt, or making a clay figure, or just how marching up the stairs makes them laugh and giggle. These are the rewarding moments that make the staff at the Children’s Creativity Museum want to come to work everyday with smiles on our faces.

Almost every week I get asked by a parent or guardian if I enjoy working here. I always say yes and smile with enthusiasm but then we go into discussion about the pay, the benefits and the experience. Most parents are surprised when I tell them that I am not being paid and that I volunteer my time to be here because I believe that it’s worth the experience. They also ask me what kind of benefits we get from working here and I have never been able to pinpoint the benefits but at a certain point it just becomes overall enjoyable and rewarding. Some days are more rewarding than others. Some days are faster and slower. Sometimes kids touch your heart in a figurative way. Enjoyable and rewarding are the only benefits I’ll be happy with. If I happen to pick up any others than that is rewarding as well.

Experiences like these do not come everyday and most people do not get to work with kids like these but when you do it becomes the only thing in your day that makes you feel like you did something worth while.

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Rube Goldberg Workshop – CCM Spring Break


By Tomas Durkin

Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, and inventor.  He is best known for his cartoons depicting complex machines and devices that perform simple tasks in an overly elaborate manner.  While he never physically built any of these machines, his cartoons have inspired countless numbers of engineers, inventors, and dreamers to come up with their own machines to accomplish simple, everyday tasks.

So our CCM Rube Goldberg Machine didn’t actually perform much of a task. I actually struggled with the what the “task” would be that our machine would accomplish since JP and I came up with the idea for the workshop. Furthermore, charged with the task of designing a workshop for kids on Spring Break, how would we set up such a complicated machine while still leaving kids the freedom to devise the solutions. Rube Goldberg machines are complex and fragile. The challenge was, and always is here at CCM, how to provide kids with just the right amount of inspiration and instructions so that they could feel free to be creative within the context of our workshop. Then sometime on Friday it hit me. Look at how creative the solutions were that the kids came up with, even with no actual goal in sight! I was frantically trying to come up with an ending, when in the end the kids never cared about the ending in the first place. I have never had so much fun, stress, and inspiration packed into a single event. Watching kids problem solve with a room full of materials at their disposal is one the true pleasures that I have working at CCM. Kids figured out innovative solutions to send marbles and dominoes around the room in ways that I never could have imagined. I guess it’s just another reminder that you’re never too old to learn something new, especially from unexpected places. In the end, Aha lost his marbles and we helped him find them. Thanks so much to the visitors, interns, and staff who helped make this workshop possible.

Have you ever worked with kids on a complicated project before? Tell us how you balanced the kids’ imagination and freedom to be creative with your own guidance and help.

The Creative Community Council by Tom Durkin

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It happens to everyone.  Whether it’s a big essay, art project, or budget report, there’s work to do and we’ve got to get it done.  We get our cup of coffee ready (ALWAYS Step #1), review our notes and brainstorms if we have any, complete any other prerequisite procrastination rituals, and sit down ready to make magic happen.  Buzzing with anticipation, we reach into our mind expecting it to pop like a water balloon filled with pure brilliance.  But no pop comes.  Our ocean of ideas is drier than the Sahara.  Perhaps we’re not quite as prophetic as we thought.  Even after coffees #2 and #3, still nothing.  Our optimism fades to anxiety or worse.  Whether you’re a stockbroker, journalist, artist, or student, the blank canvas can be one of the most intimidating things to face.  And we face it all the time.  Sometimes thoughts flow seamlessly from mind to canvas, but more often than not we hit a road block along the way.

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The best way to stimulate a difficult task or stagnant project is to ask for a fresh perspective.  We all come from different social, cultural, and economical backgrounds and, as a result, we all see the world a little differently.  As a result, we also solve problems differently.  My oldest friend and I have known each other since kindergarten and we’ve always worked well on projects together.  We attended the same schools together all the way through community college, but even after I went on to UCSD, I still would occasionally call him for help.  Our ideas were usually different, but they often complemented each other.  In my opinion, this is the greatest strength of the Creative Community Council.  The CCC is a group of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds working together to bring The Children’s Creativity Museum and its education philosophy to communities in the Bay Area that wouldn’t otherwise have access.  The Council realizes that if the goal is to outreach to different communities, than representatives of those communities absolutely must be involved from the beginning.  It also realizes that the C.I.T.Y. Teens have an important first-hand role in facilitating the museum’s exhibits during its busiest days.  Who better than them to inform us on what the museum is actually like on the floor?   Instead of a committee of uninvolved people hypothesizing about what the museum needs or what the target community needs, the CCC comprises itself of members who are directly involved with the museum and these communities on a day-to-day basis.  They take this wealth of experience and direct it towards the different speed bumps that the museum faces in outreaching to and engaging with different communities.  This task would be far too great for one person, no matter how talented.  Luckily, the Council is many talented individuals working together.  During the Council’s afternoon meetings, members constantly bounce ideas back and forth.  The emphasis is always on discussion, never monologues or presentations.  When the Council finds solutions that they’re happy with, they present those ideas to the rest of the museum staff for even more feedback.  Everyone’s ideas are equally listened to, which makes participating in the council as inspiring as it is refreshing.

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When you’re surrounded by something everyday, bigger social implications and even clever metaphors can sneak their way into your brain.  That being said, we see a lot of Angry Birds here at the museum.  Now, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Angry Birds.  Yes, I have the app on my phone and occasionally play it, but the craze surrounding the game is a bit lost on me.  For whatever reason, kids are absolutely obsessed with this game and have helped drive it to become the best selling app of all time.  The Birds are also one of the most popular characters to make in our Animation Studio.  One of the most entertaining parts of playing Angry Birds is getting to use the different kinds of birds.  One bird is a straight shooter, one drops an egg bomb, one flies like a boomerang, etc.  We learn how to use these birds individually level by level, but without a doubt the best levels in the entire game are the ones where we get all the birds.  We get all the cool moves and powers at our disposal, but we have to think strategically about how and when to use them.  After taking the above picture of a visitor’s clay rendition of the entire Angry Birds cast, it struck me.  The CCC are the museum’s cast of Angry Birds.  The Council isn’t a single trick up the museum’s sleeve, it’s a whole collection of tricks and powers, experiences and backgrounds.  Just as we break down the pig’s obstacles and strategically assign our birds to take it down, the Council helps to identify the museum’s outreach needs and assigns the best combinations of members to create solutions.  The Council broke down the museum’s core group of visitors into different age brackets, and collaboratively conceptualized different strategies that would be best tailored for each group.  The potency and variety of proposed community engagement strategies that the Council created speaks to the special blend of people working together towards a common goal.  We all may wish we were all-in-one super heroes, autonomous entities that can solve business and creative problems without ever needing assistance.  However, the sooner we all realize that we’re not “The Mighty Eagle” bird and call the rest of the gang for help, the better off we’ll be.

A Day in the Life of an Educator: The Creative Triple Play