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#NSNStoryCon 2014 with Carolyn Stearns
With: Carolyn Stearns [website]

In this edition of the Amphitheater, Sean Buvala sits down with Connecticut storyteller Carolyn Stearns while both were attending the NSN national conference in Mesa, Arizona. Of particular interest in this episode is Sean and Carolyn talking about her work with STEM and STEaM education involving science, storytelling and ice cream. What could you do in your area in this area of interest?

You can hear the interview BELOW the transcript when you click on the PART ONE link.

Grammar and sentence structure are always fluid in our transcripts. Enjoy.


Voice Over: (music) You've just entered the Amphitheater (music ends)

Sean Buvala: Hey folks, Sean Buvala from and I am speaking with Carolyn Stearns, from Connecticut, right?

Carolyn Stearns: Connecticut, right.

SB: Well, welcome. How are you?

CS: I'm great.

SB: That's good. Hey, we were just talking. You've been here since Tuesday?

CS: Tuesday, right...

SB: And today is, today is Friday, so you came in really really early. (both laugh) What's been your experience so far, at the, National Storytelling Network, our 2014 conference.

CS: Well, it's been, just been awesome. Just seeing everybody, connecting with new people, but then renewing friendships I have made at previous conferences and festivals. It is an amazing coming-together for everybody.

SB: Did you go to any of the pre-conference events?

CS: I did a lot of pre-conference this year. I did the pre-conference for radio workshop, which was fabulous.

SB: Oh, with Jeff and Buck....

CS: Jeff Gere and Buck Creacy, Allison Downey.....

SB: oh, yeah, okay...

CS: ...out of Michigan. That was a really spot-on workshop, really inspires me to pursue that.

SB: What is your best take-away from that whole experience?

CS: Do it.

SB: Really? So "take action?"

CS: Yeah. Just get going and do it.

SB: Yeah. Right. That makes the most sense. Good.

CS: Just don't give it lip-service, just get out and make it happen, which is so important....just a great vehicle for getting our word out about what storytelling can bring to our communities.

SB: I think you hit on it. A lot of times, for me, there is lots of discussion about great ideas in the oral-storytelling community. There is lots of discussion about "let's think about this." But, the take-action step is the hardest part. It is just really getting....

CS: It is time commitment. And, everybody worries about time commitment. I worry about it, too, but I just usually ignore it. (both laugh)

SB: That is good. Okay, so you are on the east coast (laughs), far away....

CS: ...very much the east coast...

SB: ...and I think you said this is the first time you have been to Arizona...

CS: My first time anywhere in the southwest.

SB: Wow! Congratulations, that is exciting. And you are going to go to the (Grand) Canyon...

CS: ....going to the Canyon and the Heard Museum, with Native American art and culture, was fabulous.

SB: Yeah, the Heard Museum is really, is really something else. How long have you been, how long have you been doing this whole storytelling piece? What is kind of...your background, your history of it?

CS: Hmmm. I saw a storyteller and performance eight years ago and I knew it was for me...that I could do what he was doing. I spent two years lurking the national listserv, just learning from all the teachers that are so generous and sharing on that listserv.I didn't put any input in on it that whole time, just listened and learned. I was homeschooling my son at the time, so I knew I couldn't dive in because I knew I would be so committed that I would drop everything else. So, the day he went off to high-school, I (laughs).....put up the website and...

SB: ....he's gone...(laughs) You put up the website and went....okay, very nice. So I think I have had you on my radar for about four or five years now...

CS: ...and I've been at this six years so....

SB: ....yeah, so right about that time period then, yeah. That's good. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is your connection and some unique work you are doing with STEM and STEaM work. So, Science, Technology, Engineering, arts and Math, right? And you have a really interesting approach to that. So, tell us about this unique kind of ice-cream project that you have. Not too many storytellers hand me a business card that says "ice cream" on it. So...

CS: Well, I live on an eleventh-generation dairy farm. So, I have a background in agriculture and I tag line myself, "the intersection of arts and agriculture."

SB: Oh, I love it.

CS: ...because I bring a lot of that background into my stories. I knew that the hot topic in education is STEM and occasionally they bring in the arts and make it STEaM. The selling to that market is that they need more engagement with students, with the STEM curriculum. So, I came up with the idea of this program to really invigorate children's desire to learn. The carrot at the end of the stick is really just a dish of ice cream. (both laugh) So I have a twenty-quart ice-cream maker, it is Amish built. It has a big pulley on it. I challenged students to come up with alternative energies, using recycled junk to power this ice-cream maker so that they can eat the ice cream. They start with a performance of storytelling, which is the "art" component. It is about young inventors and innovators. When they hear that other children have gone before them and made mistakes and come up with crazy ideas that have eventually turned successful, or some other idea was successful for them, it empowers them to raise their hand and say, "What if? Could we power it with a skateboard or whatever. They do math that is all geared to grade-level, to the common core. The math problems are all ice-cream, dairy cattle, production, farm land, preservation, ice-cream in quarts, measurements and so forth. We play with all the recycled junk and tools. So we can power our ice-cream maker with a recycled bicycle and pulleys. We can power it with solar. We're working on wind and water and so many other things.

SB: You talked yesterday, you told me this was a huge ice-cream maker. How much ice-cream does this make at one time?

CS: So, twenty quarts. I can pretty much comes out soft-serve. You would have to flash freeze it to have it hard, but the kids just really glop it in their bowls and have a great time with it. And, it adds, I really promote the use of fresh and local food. Food can be made and it tastes so much better when you make it yourself and when you have worked hard for it. And, it's delicious.

SB: Tell me about how you integrate know it is STEM for everybody, that science, geeky, nerdy thing and trying to get education out there for kids especially. But the "A," and I know as I work in that, talk about the "A" piece a little bit and how you are integrating story with the Arts you are integrating storytelling with that...

CS: So, the stories I have chosen, I look hard....and I am always looking for more stories that engage any piece of that STEM curriculum. But, also that are about children or young people, very young. You know, teens would be fine or young, young adults, so that, I can come in...and when I find a girl who is in that it is really powerful for the young ladies in my have a story that sets up an experience where they can hear and listen to someone else having troubles in inventing learning and something, eventually finding success. There may be a journey and a process. The story allows that to happen and it gives them something, a take-away that they can ponder later on.

SB: I think, a lot of times, with technology and inventions and all that, it is really the story of failure, right? That we get, that things, that getting through errors is really part of the process? Can you use a skateboard to power ice-cream? Well, I don't know, but let's find out. Until you do it, right, until you look at all these inventors, that it looks like, well, there is Edison, there is Tesla, all the people that invented this stuff. Their stories are lots of failures along the way. You have a grant from the Dairy Group? How...there was some funding connection to this, too. How did that work?

CS: For one particular venue, the "Big E," which is the New England state fair, all the states combine for that...because we have a lot of little states. The Big E is a huge fair with over a million people attending a year. They wrote a grant through the Massachusetts Dairy Council, Massachusetts Milk Production to bring me in for four days. Two of them are Fridays, when they have a huge field-trip component at the fair. I see thousands of kids those days who come over and grab the dry-erase and start doing the math problems, figuring out how this all works and taking your turn on the bicycle. So, it is a great way to just talk to a lot of people and get them thinking about alternative energy and green-production of food and buying local.

SB: I always love hearing innovative work that people are doing. It is great to talk to you today. What are you looking forward to for the next couple of days here? Is there anything out of the whole conference that kind of stands out to you, that you really want to get in on? Is there anything in your head for that?

CS: Well, the big thing for me and part of the reason I am here is the Oracle Award that I have received for service and leadership in the northeast. I'm very excited and honored to be here.

SB: Congratulations.

CS: Thanks. It is really huge, from my peers. All the other northeast liaisons got together to put my name in that hat.

SB: I am excited for you.

CS: It is really huge, it's really huge.

SB: I think,for me, the....I got the Oracle Award in 2007....and I think for me it wasn't so much about "oh, I have an award now" but it was about all these letters that people wrote? It was very humbling. I don't know if you have read any of the stuff that people sent or wrote about you or if you are connected, but to have my peers locally say, "this is what we've seen," boy, that was really, that was great, that was the award. So congratulations to you on that.

CS: Thanks.

SB: That is really great. Good. All right, folks, this is Sean Buvala with I've been talking to Carolyn Stearns. Thanks for your help. I appreciate it.

CS: Thank you very much....

Voice Over: (music underneath) You've been listening to the Amphitheater. All rights reserved. No part or whole may be reproduced in any manner for any reason without the express written permission of (music fades)


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