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Challenging Coronavirus with Connections and Puppets

March 16, 2020

My school, just like every other school in the world, has told students not to come back from break, and asked faculty to begin to make plans for virtual school. If you check twitter, you’ll see it’s filled with plans and ideas for teaching virtually, and there are a ton of great resources there. More importantly, there’s a real community of people out there who are lend advice, listen, help out and so much more.

One idea that has stuck with me in the past two weeks is this one from Evan Weinberg, who’s been teaching online for the past five weeks:

At the moment, so much is uncertain about how our school is going to do virtual school—are we going to try to keep to our schedule? How can we teach students in 10+ time zones synchronously? I’ve decided to stop trying to think about possible lesson plans and just focus on thinking about how I will try to maintain those connections with my students. In that regard, this is one of the best things I’ve read on twitter (click through to see the amazing letter this professor sent to her students):

As my two daughters (now 9 and 5) have had their first day of no school, I was reminded just how important this was when we sent an email to a friend we made in Norway last year this morning. When we left last summer, we said we’d keep in touch–our daughters were best friends. But life got busy, and this was our first time reaching out. A few hours later, my 9-year-old, Maddie, and Barrett, her best friend, were taking on FaceTime.  While I was working on lunch, I was tuning in and out of their conversation—at first they were awkwardly asking each other questions, then being interrupted by little siblings, and then spending an amazing amount of time playing around with emojis, but soon Maddie was giving Barrett a tour of her house, and then they sat down and played Legos together. Barrett aimed the iPad at her lego set, and asked Maddie which lego character she wanted to be. Then what did she want the character to do, and on and on. They played legos for more than 20 minutes, and it was an amazing thing to see. These are the moments we are going to need in the weeks ahead, more than any lessons on math or social studies.

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I live on a boarding school campus, and it is teeming with kids of all ages, none of whom can play with each other thanks to social distancing. A few years ago, my wife started Eco-Kids Club, an environmental club for faculty children that meets most Sundays and does fun projects to help or learn about the environment—learning about recycling in our state, hiking in the woods, painting kindness rocks and more. Obviously, Eco-Kids club is on hiatus for the coronavirus, but it got me wondering what if we could find a way to build some connection online.

So after some thinking, I sent out this email to faculty parents at my school:

Calling all Ecokids! We need some eco-superheros for the first-ever eco kids superhero virtual puppet show! You can be a hero, save the world, and do it all from the comfort of your home.

Diana and I are planning a virtual puppet show for all eco kids—in a few days, we want to invite all of the eco kids (and their parents) to perform a virtual puppet show via zoom that we are going to design, record, and share with the community.

Here’s what we need from every eco-kid:

Make a puppet of your eco superhero: Recycle some of the stuff around your house and that you find in nature to create a puppet of your eco-superhero. Be creative—it doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got some extra time and want to make some props to go with your superhero, go for it!

Take a picture of your puppet, give it a name, and tell us the story of your superhero in a couple of sentences. What are your superhero’s superpowers? Where do they come from?

Get your adult to send me an email with the photo, name and a sentence or two about your eco-superhero.

For example, Ada wants to create an eco-bunny whose superpower is hopping around the forest and picking up trash.

I will compile all these photos and descriptions and share them back with all of us.

Once we’ve got our cast, we’ll spend half an hour writing a very simple script where our eco-superheros save the world. We’ll have this writers meeting on zoom, and we welcome everyone, even if you didn’t get to make a puppet.

Who can participate: Anyone! Even if you’ve never been to an eco-kids club meeting. If you’re an older kid, we could really use your help in working with our team to come up with a script. Adults—you can make a puppet, too!

On Friday, we’ll get together again on zoom and we will film our puppet show, and share it with the community, hopefully teaching everyone that when the world needs a hero, sometimes, you can just make one up.

Parents, we don’t want this to create work for you—we are hoping this will be a nice small project for your child to work on one afternoon, and a couple of opportunities to talk to other kids on campus virtually as we work together on a fun project. If you’ve got ideas for how to make this better/easier/more fun, we’d love to hear them.

If you think you or your kids would like to participate in this project, please email me so that I can add you to the mailing list for future communication.

Tentative schedule (we’ll poll all participants to find times that will work best)
Wednesday 4pm—submit a photo of your puppet, name and 2 sentence description.
Thursday 10am-11am—scriptwriting meeting
Friday 10am-11am—rehearsal and filming of the final puppet show

I’ve gotten three replies, which gives us half a dozen or so puppets for our production. I’ve never done anything theater-related before, and I was super relieved when the daughter of our wonderful Theater director decided to join this project. Hopefully, you’ll see what we put together next week.

Once we get past all the schedules, assessments, and other details about what virtual school will look like, I hope we’ll be able to find some time to think about how we will create real moments of connection for our students using the incredible tools that are available to us—the very tools that we too often malign agents of distraction and disconnection.

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