OGDEN -- Storyteller Megan Hicks gave her listeners at the Weber State University Storytelling Festival colorful squares of paper and asked them to follow her lead as she told them a children's story of a sick puppy, sad to miss a valentine exchange at school.
The story was from a dog-eared storybook, Hicks told those attending her Monday origami workshop.
She showed them how to fold their papers in half, book style, then add dog-ear folds. The story's puppy sneezed twice, inspiring Hicks to fold down two corners and make the shape of a triangular roof atop the apartment where the puppy lived, Hicks continued. A few steps later, someone took an elevator up to the puppy's apartment, so Hicks folded the bottom of her origami upward.
By the time the story's puppy protagonist noticed his teacher's valentine, slipped under his apartment door, each of Hicks' listeners was holding a colorful heart he or she had folded, highlighted with white from the flip side of the origami paper.
The grown students attending the school's annual festival smiled in delight, which is the same reaction Hicks gets when she shares origami and the story of the sneezing puppy with students a dozen or more years younger, she said.
"Storytelling and origami are my two passions," said Hicks, who traveled to Ogden from her home in Pennsylvania to speak at the three-day festival.
"I love them for the same reason: They both establish relationships with people."
The folds in origami can teach children about fractions and geometry, among other things, Hicks said.
And kids love crafts, especially "magical" ones like origami, which start with ordinary squares of paper and require a series of folds that barely hint at the results to come, Hicks said.
Only the final step reveals a familiar three-dimensional object or even a toy.
Hicks told her audience, many of them current or future educators, that stories combined with student origami are the ideal way to engage young people.
She told of working with Fatima, a shy girl newly arrived from the Middle East, wearing a head scarf that set her apart from the others at her new school, and unable to speak a word of English.
Hicks took the child aside and taught her how to fold an origami box.
"Her teacher told me that, at lunch, Fatima had people surrounding her, learning to make a box," Hicks said. "And before she was done, she had friends to eat lunch with the next day."
You don't have to be "pretty or cute or athletic to do origami," Hicks told her audience. And brightly colored, unwrinkled paper is ideal for origami, "but you can even make it out of squares of garbage paper if it will hold a crease."
Hicks added that she has seen a lot of students who earned low grades reveal their real intelligence by picking up origami techniques much faster than their A-earning peers.
Origami is a great builder of confidence, which can help transform the academic career of a student who previously had low self-esteem, Hicks said.
Hicks also demonstrated an origami piece that looked a little like a sled, which, when stood on its end, would do a 360-degree flip. That piece demonstrates physics at work, she said, adding a physics professor once explained the exact physics force involved.
Members of the class lingered after the allotted time to make what Hicks called "cootie catchers," and which others in the room recognized as "fortune tellers," with paper flaps to be numbered, then raised to reveal a message of good or bad luck.
The WSU Storytelling Festival continues today and Wednesday, with stories to be shared at Weber State University, Peery's Egyptian Theater, the Davis Conference Center, and a 2:30 p.m. Wednesday session at Apple Village Assisted Living Center, 2600 E. Highway 193, Layton.
Except for tonight's dinner gathering at a local restaurant, all sessions and events are free.