Thursday, November 9, 2017

Animating Greenbriar East Elementary: Part One

Next week I am visiting Greenbriar East Elementary School in Fairfax County, VA to teach 4th graders how to use animation to explore science. I am very excited. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to spend time in a classroom and conduct important research for my educational project I have been working with kids and technology for 4 years (college level students for 15 years) and been conducting art workshops for kids for over 40 years. Many of these workshops have been in schools, generally after school programs, art centers or museums outside a typical elementary school classroom.

How will this experience be different?

My most recent workshop was teaching kids animation in a week long iPad Camp at the Academy Center of the Arts in Lynchburg, VA. I had 6 students. We met for 3 hours a day for 5 days. At GreenbriarEast, I will have 28 students for one hour. Yikes.

How have we prepared?

I have had numerous conversations with Della Kidd, Vice Principal and the art and science teachers at the school. It is very important to them that the students work with tools that they can work with after I am gone. That means PC laptops.

This was a hurtle for me, I am completely committed to the excellence of iPads. Developers have done an amazing job creating apps for animation and drawing that are accessible to even young kids. I jumped in and with a lot of research and help from other educators, I found a web-based app that is easy to use and introduces kids to the basics of animation. This is going to work.  

When I say lots of research, I mean hours and lots of head banging. When you find the perfect tools you hold them close. That's what Apple products do to you. It's very hard to find replacements that are really the equivalent. The huge downside is that Apple products are obscenely expensive. Hence, students at GreenbriarEast have PC laptops not iPads.

Another big problem I had not anticipated is drawing on a track pad, that is until I tried it. iPads have a large surface that is very responsive to touch. However, even with my bad attitude, it didn't take that much practice to feel that it IS possible to draw on a small track pad. Another hurdle was overcome. is the web tool that allowed me to move forward with this effort. It is free and relatively easy to use. The student animator has the ability to add and copy frames, both essential. Also, as frames are added, a timeline appears as a row of frames below the current drawing frame. There are a variety of drawing tools, colors and tool sizes relatively easy use. Thankfully there is also an undo arrow; really how do we live without that in the "real" world. The above mentioned features were the absolute minimum that HAD to be included in a workable solution. Thank you

It is not perfect but it will work. Files can be saved as gifs. Again, not perfect, a video format would be preferable, but it will work. Actually gifs have the benefit of being very small files and can easily be emailed.

What Are We Going to Do for That Hour?

There was some back and forth, but the science teachers decided that animating a food chain was a great idea and fit perfectly into their current lessons. I was concerned that an entire 3 or 4 organism food chain was too complicated for a one hour intro workshop. So I suggested the students storyboard the whole food chain but only animate two steps in the process.  Making the storyboards the students have the opportunity to prove they understand the concept with a specific series of organisms and get practice drawing them.

This is my "down and dirty" gif sample of the bug, frog, snake, bird meal plan. I don't really consider this animation, more a slide show.

The animations the students create during the workshop will be one piece of their chosen food chain. I will show this example. All of the students will be doing something different based on their research. So the trick is getting them up to speed with the tools and being there to jump in when they need help.

Step One:

I will show students samples of the kinds of animations I am creating now, animated life cycles and other processes in nature. 

Step Two:

I will introduce students to  They will create an animation of a very simple bouncing ball. Traditional this first animation project I walk students through.  It can be 8 or so frames but explores the interface and the concept of sequential images.

Step Three:

Students will make an animation that reveals their name. This project demonstrates duplicating frames and when it is used.

Stayed Tune

I will provide a blow by blow account of our experiences at GreenbriarEast. I am really looking forward to meeting the teachers and staff and of course most of all the students. 

Are you using animation/art in your classrooms to explore science? Tell us about it.

Here are some links to other tech/art/science workshops that may be of interest. 

Animating Nature & Science

Learn more about my work and my current project, on this blog and our website. I have assembled a team of experts to create media, lesson plans and workshops to help students and families explore science with art. We want to spark curiosity and get kids outside as environmental stewards.

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