Friday, December 15, 2017

Animating the 4th Grade: Part 2

On Monday, I had the pleasure of working with approximately 90 students at Greenbriar East Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. I was invited to help every student in the 4th grade explore science with art and animation. I met with two classes in November and these were the remaining three classrooms of 4th graders. 

Art teacher Christie Miller in her classroom with students getting ready to start working on their animations. Greenbriar East staff assistance during the workshops played a major role in our success.

As I mentioned in this post, teaching 30 students at a time with these tools (PC laptop and a web-based application) was not what I considered ideal. My workshops are generally with iPads and less than 10 students per session. The staff convinced me how important it is to give their students instruction with tools they can access 24/7.

I am so pleased to have found an appropriate animation tool and developed a curriculum that I tested during these five workshops. I determined that this kind of learning environment can be very successful.

Learning Objectives

As an artist and animator, I love sharing my expertise with children. My work is a great source of joy to me and the foundation for a successful 40-year career.  I hope my passion will inspire children to make the arts a continuing part of their lives.

I want to help kids explore science with art. Children are spending less time outside than they did 20 years ago. There is significant evidence that time in nature and unstructured play are essential for healthy children and a healthy environment.  I want to challenge kids to get outside exploring then document what they find with their own art/animation.

Making an animation requires creative problem solving. The animator needs to understand the basic principles of animation as well as master the application being used. Persistence and patience are required to be successful, valuable skills to hone.

Studying and animating food chains and other natural phenomena to demonstrate understanding were the science objectives of this project. 

Overview of Workshop 

I had one hour to talk to the kids and for them to work on their animations. I jumped right into introducing them to Anim8Nature and my passion for getting students and families exploring science with art. I challenged them to get outside, become careful observers of the natural world and to document their work with art and animation as I have done. 

I showed them a few of the life cycle and in-motion animations I have completed for Anim8Nature. This is the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly.

It was interesting to me that when given a chance to select an animation to watch, the kids consistently selected the Shell Fungus animation below. 

We discussed the meaning of "to animate" and I waxed poetic about bringing art to life. I went over a few basic concepts like frames, frame rate and persistence of vision. I drew a strip of film on the board to show a timeline of frames. I think it's very important to introduce students to the vocabulary and important concepts before they start working on their own.

I opened We discussed "interface design" and briefly talked about what they see on the screen and how it helps them figure out how to use the application. My favorite first project for beginners is animating a bouncing ball which I demoed. This gave them the opportunity to see how to build an animation with blank frames. The second demo was using the duplicate frame functionality. Write a word, duplicate to keep it visible and add another word, etc. The exercise is to write their name, i.e. "My name is Mrs. Harris." I wanted them to understand the difference and know how to use both adding blank frames and duplicating a frame in their own animations.

Instruction lasts for half an hour and then it was their turn to play. interface

The students went to their computers, opened and jumped into their first project, bouncing that ball. They progressed at varying rates but the instruction gave them an agenda they could follow at their own pace. I circulated around the room helping students with questions. After they bounced a ball, the students completed the My name is... animation. Both of these exercises are a great way to verify understanding of the basic concepts.  

Next step for the students was working from their storyboards to animate the food chain or other natural phenomena they selected. Their excitement and pride in their work was palpable. Numerous teachers were in the classroom which made a huge difference, thank you teachers. We were in Christie Miller's art classroom and I am most appreciative for her interest and help during these workshops.

Student Success

As with the first two classrooms of students in November, I was blown away by how enthusiastically they jumped in and took off. I saw everyone making a concerted effort which included drawing with either the track pad or a mouse. (Try it, it's not easy.) They persisted and the results were very exciting. My only regret is that I didn't  have a chance to spend more time with each student. One hour goes quickly.

What Did We Learn in Round 1?

One major adjustment we made preparing the second set of students for the workshops was revising the guidelines for the storyboards. The first two classes of students in November prepared storyboards that frequently had a separate organism per frame without the sequential steps that actually showed the "eating" happening.

To address this issue, I prepared a second sample storyboard that selected only two organisms/two steps of a process to show the students what kind of imagery would be helpful when they actually started animating. My sample for the students is below.

The results of this tweak were dramatic. As with the first groups, they got the concepts and the technique down very quickly. With the aid of their improved storyboards, the animations had much better flow and timing.

New Student Storyboards

Here are some samples of student storyboards.

Congratulations Students

These kids are smart and motivated. They were engaged in the process and followed through despite frustration and set backs. I challenged them to continue their work. Observe nature and explore what they find with art.

I want to thank Vice Principal Della Kidd for inviting me to come and for all the work she put into arranging schedules for the two days I spent at Greenbriar East.  

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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