Collab Lab 53 Recap & Notes

What if students could see their work and stories impact the community?

Collab Lab 53 attendees explored new or unexplored ways in which educators might enable students to share their voice and practice advocating for a cause they believe in. They explored:

  • What experience(s) can we offer to give students a story worth telling?
  • What do students need from those experiences to have a story worth telling?
  • What are the assets we can draw upon to help students tell effective stories/share their work?

Experiences we can give

We surfaced 4 major themes as we introduced examples of impressionable storytelling to each other at our tables

Creating an inventory of experiences
Our attendees this evening first discussed an often overlooked aspect of storytelling: In order to be able to tell a story with conviction, passion etc. you need to have experienced it or something like it. How do you create space in your approach to teaching to start building that inventory of experiences? What experiences should you prioritize on, because they are new or unique and not part of the reference context that students bring to your classroom?

Discovery and Identity
Many teachers may have students in their groups that do have a lot of personal experience with certain issues, such as food insecurity or housing instability. Those experiences have certainly contributed to identity development of the individual student. That offers the opportunity to explore what that identity is and how the identity of the narrator influences the telling of the story. What are the biases that the storyteller may bring with her that may present a certain perspective. How do I as a teacher create opportunities to explore identity and bias in story telling and enable students to practice?

Using animals as proxy to tell the story
What would happen to the strength, color, impact of the story one narrates if we put ourselves in the place of an animal proxy? Will the story become more interesting to our audience because we take the human identity out of the equation? How can we as teachers encourage students to step outside their identity and tell the story from a (neutral) point of view?

Talking WITH the person, not ABOUT the person
And lastly, we can make our story more engaging and impactful if we engage our audience in the process. That means learning how to consider the audience, the perspectives that the individuals in that audience bring to the room, and how we can be respectful towards them while we also have a position that may differ from theirs, at least at the start of the story.

What students need

Before we get to the technicalities of developing a great story, we need to understand what many of our students need in order to get to a place where they feel safe and trusted enough to want to explore that. Many have been ‘burned’ by people in their environment (including sometimes teachers) in their interactions to the extent that they are confused and distrusting of intentions. Layer on top of that the many voices that are generated through access to technology, and by technology (Bots, AI, etc.)

If we want to create space for student practice in storytelling and advocating for their interest (or that of their community or group), how do we as teachers recognize our students’ needs? How do we create our own space to learn and practice, knowing that the pacing guide dictates what we should be teaching, when?

  • Authenticity of exposure
  • Trust
  • Safety – safe spaces
  • Passion for an issue – connection to an interest, their world
  • Opportunity and time to reflect


All humans have a need to share through storytelling

What students bring:

  • Rapidly building life experiences
  • Developing identity (with a lot of uncertainty)
  • A curiosity about the world they are experiencing

What we can provide them:

  • Interest in hearing them individually
  • Ability to assemble resources, create experiences
  • Structure through Process:
  • Engineering and scientific process

Are you actively experimenting with ways in which you can guide your students into deeper learning about the various stories they might consume and how they need ‘listen’ to them?

We’d love to hear about your experiences!

Need some support and guidance as you start to explore what you can do for your students? Let’s explore some experiments that you can try without a lot of planning time.

Consider sharing your experience so far by joining the Collab Lab space on our Collaborative Learning Community ‘inspirEd’. Check it out, we’d love to welcome you into the inspirEd Community

Thanks go out to
Our featured guests:

  • Katie Felten – CEO and Brand Strategist, Strategy House
  • Marissa Jablonski – Executive Director, Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin

Supporting organizations:

  • MSOE for use of their space at WE Energies STEM Center
  • Northwestern Mutual for sponsoring the NM classroom at MSOE STEM Center

Our next Collab Lab

Join a diverse group of Milwaukee community members who share a concern about the rising number of Milwaukee youth struggling with mental health challenges preventing them from successfully participating in their education.

Collab Lab 54: Student Led Collaboration to Address Youth Mental Health

Collab Lab 26 Recap & Notes


Collab Lab 26 focused on storytelling and how we can use those practices to empower student voices and drive engagement.

We started the discussion with the question “What hopes do you have when students are given a chance to tell stories that matter to them?”:

  • Students will be able to share stories with an authentic audience
  • Students will develop a sense of identity and worth
  • Students will have the chance to understand a commonality of experience
  • Students are able to advocate for their ideas
  • Students capture history making connections
  • The process models collaboration, community, and critical thinking
  • Students understand the power of their voice, and empathy for others
  • Students share and support authentic representation, identity, and learning
  • Empathy – students see the ethical and therapeutic potential of seeing others as human
  • Students gain a sense of freedom, choice, ownership, authenticity, bravery, and dignity from the stories they share

Authentic storytelling comes with risks, so we also asked about the fears participants had when students tell stories that are meaningful to them:

  • We are not prepared to hear a story in a supportive way
  • A lack of efficacy or ability to change lives
  • If we don’t teach the art and science of storytelling, students will stop telling them– they need an audience
  • No acceptance of failure (shame, exposure, sharing)
  • Sensation of negative, leads to negative – e.g. if one student tells a story of harmful behavior does that lead others to emulate that behavior?
  • It is difficult to combat the toxicity of Celebrity as Hero.
  • Vulnerability of students (low initial stakes with incremental risk)
  • Exposure of trauma without an ability to care for it

From there we moved on to ask “What questions can help students identify stories worth telling?” Here, the need to as these questions in an iterative, repetitive way was called out as a necessary step in getting students to think deeply about their responses.  The goal for participants here is to help students find a story they can tell from the heart.

  • Who are you?
  • Where are you from?
  • Why?
  • For what and for whom?
  • How can this story touch one person?
  • How do you tell different stories to different people?
  • What’s your reason – your personal mission statement?
  • What is/are your:
    • weirdness
    • mutation
    • zip code
    • fears
    • pains
    • joys
    • passions

Our final question asked participants what they need to help students tell these stories:

  • To create a culture and community that supports students’ voices, and provides safety and comfort as they tell their stories
  • To give students options about how to tell their stories
  • To provide students a space that makes them feel awesome
  • Time, flexibility, community, connections
  • Access to storytelling expertise
  • Time for students to play
  • A culture of storytelling that recognizes the need for authentic listening, and receiving
  • The opportunity to use non-linguistic media
  • Imagination

Give the focus on storytelling, one of our discussion groups captured what this might look like as a story:

At MLK Elementary, a 6th grader who was sometimes seen as a troublemaker got up in a front of a room and told the story of how she realized she was a naturally gifted pool player.  This resulted in lots of positive attention for her! The workshops and prep time she used paid off!


Milwaukee Film

Youth Education (for young people): https://mkefilm.org/for-educators/youth-education

Educator Services: https://mkefilm.org/for-educators/educator-services


Milwaukee Visionaries Project (MVP) UWM-sponsored after-school animation program serving middle and high school students from throughout the city of Milwaukee. Our programming for middle and high school students aligns with the MPS school year and we enroll students on a rolling basis throughout the year. MVP does not currently offer a summer session, but UWM’s greater Art Ed networking organization (ArtsECO) runs Pre-College Art and Design classes for high school students during our off-season.

Information for Pre-College programming available at UWM can be found here: https://uwm.edu/arts/pre-college/

ArtsECO Based within UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, our diverse programming offerings develop teachers as change-makers. ArtsECO is backed by a strong and sustainable community of arts organizations, non-profits, and K12 school partnerships. We offer monthly Meet-Up events available to the public as well!


Using place and identity as framework for storytelling as an https://geoconvos.org/


Have something to add that we didn’t catch here?  Let us know.


Thanks again to The Commons for providing the space for this month’s Collab Lab.  Thanks also to our featured participants:

Karen Ambrosh — Teacher, Audubon Technology and Communication High School
Emily Berens — Program Coordinator, UWM’s ArtsECO
Adam Carr
Wendy Harrop — STEM/Library Integrator, Summit Elementary School
Dominic Inouye — Founder and Director, ZIP MKE & Jane’s Walk
Megan McGee — Co-founder and Executive Director, Ex Fabula
Cara Ogburn — Programming & Education Director, Milwaukee Film

Collab Lab 26: Storytelling – Empowering student voices to drive engagement

How do we help students tell the stories that matter to them?  Where can that lead when we do?

What stories do your students want to tell? If we give students a chance for their stories to be heard, what does that look like and where might it lead? Join colleagues from public, private, and charter schools from across greater Milwaukee as well as some folks from outside of K-12 to explore these ideas and make the connections that can help bring student stories to life.



5:30 – 6:00 Grab something to eat and drink, say hello

6:00 – 6:30 Introductions

6:30- 8:30 Let’s explore some ideas

Food and beverage will be provided. There is no charge for participation but space is limited!



Featured Participants

Karen Ambrosh — Teacher, Audubon Technology and Communication High School

Karen has been teaching English, Media, and Communication courses for 23 years in Milwaukee Public Schools. She is President of The National Telemedia Council and an editorial board member of The Journal of Media Literacy.


Adam Carr

Adam is an independent based in Milwaukee, who works at the intersection of community and communication. Carr’s work ranges from writing to media, public art to in-depth tours.

He is the Deputy Editor at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and has been on staff since 2012. He was co-chair for the Coordinating Committee of March On Milwaukee 50th, which commemorated Milwaukee’s Open Housing Marches with a 200 Nights of Freedom in 2017-2018. In 2016, he authored the children’s book Explore MKE: Your Neighborhood, Our City, working with five 3rd grade classrooms throughout Milwaukee and SHARP Literacy. He has collaborated on neighborhood-based public art projects in Milwaukee, including Listening to Mitchell in 2014 with artist Sonja Thomsen and TypeFace in 2013 with artist Reginald Baylor. Carr has collaborated with filmmaker Wes Tank to produce two short films featured in the Milwaukee Film Festival and was the producer at 88Nine RadioMilwaukee from 2008-2011.


Emily Scheider Berens — Program Coordinator, UWM’s ArtsECO

Emily is a faculty member within the areas of First Year Program and Digital Studio Practice at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts; she also serves as a contributing faculty member within UWM’s Immersive Media Lab, and as Program Coordinator for Milwaukee Visionaries Project (MVP), an after-school filmmaking program for middle/high school students from throughout the City of Milwaukee.

Emily’s research focuses on designing accessible, digital literacy-driven programming. She has delivered community-focused workshops regionally and internationally, serving artists hailing from a diverse variety of backgrounds. Throughout these experiences, Emily looks to help artists discover new techniques for archiving inspiration, re-mixing found materials, and crafting rich narratives through digital storytelling.


Wendy Harrop — STEM/Library Integrator, Summit Elementary School (Oconomowoc)

Wendy runs the school’s makerspace and teaches STEM classes to all students K-4. This past spring she received a grant from the Oconomowoc Public Education Foundation to develop STEM and Storytelling programming at Summit. This programming involves two main components. The first is focusing on problem based design in the makerspace by integrating literature – identifying the problem in a story and using the design process to create a possible solution for the characters. The other component is using coding as a means to tell a story – using coding programs and/or robots, students are creating characters, plots and settings and then animating them through coding.


Dominic Inouye — Founder and Director, ZIP MKE

Dominic is a former teacher of 22 years at Marquette University, Pius XI High School, and The Prairie School in Racine. In October 2016 he founded  ZIP MKE, which has collected over 2,000 photographs celebrating and connecting faces, places, and experiences from all 28 ZIP Codes in the city of Milwaukee. He is also the lead City Organizer for Jane’s Walk MKE, which celebrates the legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs by organizing free, citizen-led neighborhood explorations and building community connections through observation and dialogue, education and storytelling, and collectively reimagining and changing the places in which Milwaukeeans live, work, and play. He writes a monthly column for Milwaukee Independent, telling the stories of change-makers throughout the city, and recently began work as an educational consultant at Vel R. Phillips School at the Juvenile Detention Center, where he is helping teachers collaborate with students on individualized, interdisciplinary research that will likely involve submitting podcasts to NPR. He is looking forward to learning from all of you.


Megan McGee — Co-founder and Executive Director, Ex Fabula

Ex Fabula is a nonprofit that strengthens community bonds through the art of true, personal storytelling. Since its grassroots inception in 2009, the org has engaged over 29000 teens and adults at 400+ workshops and StorySlams held all over the Milwaukee metro area. Especially powerful stories are shared with an even broader audience via Ex Fabula Radio on 89.7 WUWM, which attracts additional thousands of listeners each week.

Megan is bilingual and has an MA in Literature in Spanish; spending a year living in Mexico inspired countless stories. She also has a degree in Theatre, which she uses while writing, performing and directing in the all-female sketch comedy group broadminded. She leverages both scholarly research (neuroscience of storytelling; learning zone model of pedagogy; vulnerability) and feedback from community members in order to create live storytelling events that connect individuals, foster empathy, and amplify underrepresented voices and stories. In 2018, she received the Public Allies Changemaker Award for her efforts to build a more just and equitable society.


Dr. Cara Ogburn — Programming & Education Director, Milwaukee Film

Milwaukee Film hosts the Milwaukee Film Festival, a 15-day festival boasting annual attendance around 80,000 for over 300 films (shorts, features and VR shorts), and operates the historic Oriental Theatre year-round. While Cara’s role at Milwaukee Film has evolved to include more than just Education, those programs (serving young people in and out of school contexts as well as their educators) continue to be her happy place!

2023-24 Collab Labs

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