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Minds of Vision
A low tech/high tech journey into the animated world of eight year olds
Growing trees...exploding lunch boxes...waving bears...low tech high tech multimedia comes alive in two third grade rooms. For the past five years neighboring teacher Joya Baker and I have used animation as part of classroom learning. Integrated into various parts of the curriculum including math, language, and science, the experience goes beyond the walls of the classroom onto the walls of a museum. Along the way students exercise basic real life skills like sequencing, estimating calculating, cooperative learning and pushing the pause button.
We teach third grade in Banning, California. The student population is a multi-ethnic mix in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood. Animated images are an integral part of learning about the world around them. During the past four years our students have made early motion devices and pinhole cameras; learned about the photo processing experience from start to finish including paper negatives; used cheap plastic Holga 120 cameras; produced videos; and experimented with digital photography using Photoshop software on Macintosh computers. Each year we have varied our experiences and build on our expanding knowledge. Early motion devices continue to be a constant as a foundation for our exploration into the world of visuals and learning about the evolution of visual technology. Educationally the students learn about animation from a hands-on manipulative viewpoint and apply real world skills (i.e. estimating and sequencing) to problem solving situations while being introduced to a historical hobby.
We make thaumatropes, zoetropes, phenakistascopes, and flipbooks. We generally introduce thaumatropes first followed by the other three. Concurrently we learn about light through various science experiments.
The goal of the thaumatrope project is to learn that the eye can retain information creating the impression you are seeing images from both sides at once. Students use math and estimating skills for placement. An initial thaumatrope design includes various colors on one side and a distinct pattern on the other side. The colors would include two not used on the first side. A distinct pattern could be a lightning bolt. Once the students understand the two sides working together we move onto using both sides while understanding top and bottom. Drawings, collage, or both work well. Students create and cut the thaumatrope shape, determine and punch the hole location for spinning the thaumatrope, and calculate the location of the images so both sides work in unison. Skills involved include estimating and math measurement.
Zoetropes, Phenakistascopes, and Flipbooks
We have found zoetropes to be an effective introduction to animation. The zoetropes are constructed from five gallon ice cream tubs and lazy susans. The students are provided with a 12 frame zoetrope strip on a letter size paper which they cut and tape. Initially the students create several zoetropes from teacher directed lessons on the overhead. They are introduced to movement and size variations in different lessons. In group discussions students generate possible ideas for their own zoetropes. Initially marking pens are used as a drawing medium, but as understanding of how animation works increases students use any medium of their choice. Phenakistascopes and flipbooks are introduced in a similar manner, albeit with a reduced learning curve due to their growing foundation from zoetropes.
Early motion devices help students:
- learn sequencing - both from a literary viewpoint (tie-in with story mapping) & patterning.
- practice their math - the need to size and measure.
- learn about video production.
- learn about historical aspects of early entertainment, actual photos and drawings. Also stimulates the concept of hobbies.
- express themselves through language - their ponderings, insights, & poetic wonderings are used as an extension. Language has always been a part of their museum exhibits as well.
- understand a museum by knocking down the four walls - they visit the museum & then become the stars with an exhibit. The exhibit takes up one floor of three story building and opens with a well attended reception for the artists. The exhibit is up for approximately one month.
- discover aspects of light through science experiments as a parallel learning experience.
- learn the roots of visual imaging while using current technology.
- explore themes and topics currently being discussed in class.
Animation and Video
The students have also created and produced animated video. Their production crews include the director, actors (if needed), and individuals responsible for sound, lighting, and props. Students learn the basics of video production by modeling after their instructors and each other. Students generate ideas for animation in groups of three to four then storyboard them. This parallels sequencing they have learned while creating story maps of literature they have been learning about. Each group then presents their ideas and storyboard to the class. The class responds with positive aspects of the creation and suggestions for improvement. After revision the students proceed with the actual video production. The first several productions are done with the whole class watching and teachers advising if needed. This is an important model for the different groups. The teacher should only provide input if a roadblock is encountered. Creating ideas parallels Writer's Workshop in both classes where students generate their own ideas for their writing.
Learning to use video equipment
The students in both classes keep an ongoing video of themselves. Each student has a tape of themselves which they record on throughout the year. After recording a segment (e.g. a story written by the student) she/he watch the video with several other students. Students offer positive comments about the video followed by suggestions for improvement. The students run all the equipment. All of the above is initially modeled at least several times to the whole class using students to role play. The class does several exercises to initially learn the camera with movement. An example is one student holds and operates the camera while the other student sings a song. The singer/actor moves around the camera operator. The camera operator does not look through the viewfinder. Instead the goal is to be in tune with the whole picture, creating rhythm, and to be aware of different viewpoints.
The California Museum of Photography Riverside has supported our efforts with tours of the museum, technical expertise, loans from their collections, education kits, and supported an annual month long exhibit of student work the past four years. Our collaboration with the museum starts with an initial museum visit to develop a foundation for learning. The museum experience culminates with a month long exhibit of our classes' artistic creations. Each year the exhibit's opening has been attended by well over one hundred fifty people, including a busload from our community to the museum transporting families of the students. The students become the experts who show and explain the museum and exhibit to family and friends. The museum continues to grow with their education offerings and should be contacted regarding assistance. Contact Lori Fiacco, Curator of Education and Edward Earle, Associate Director of Collections and Media.
Equipment and Supplies
Cardboard and paper are the primary materials for making early motion devices. We try to recycle scrap paper so the students see they can carry on with their new hobbies at home. The wooden phenakistascope handle are the only exception. With the support of a local hardware store for wooden dowels and connecting screws, we make handles for classroom use and students to take with them. Even here one could improvise with less sophisticated handles. We have used several small local grants for two video cameras. We have received specific software and support from:
- Russell Brown of Adobe Systems - Premiere, Illustrator & Photoshop
- S.H. Pierce & Co. - PosterWorks & Flipbook
- Eastman Kodak Company - film and photo cd
- Koala Acquisitions - digitalizer
- Optical Toys - early motion devices - GREAT motion devices and other optical toys - ask Andy Voda for a catalog!!
- IKEA - provided use of commercials to use for modeling
- Riverside Arts Foundation
- Banning Ace Hardware
- Keith Nakata
- Maritta Tapanainen & Pat Percy
- Danny Polhamus
- Helen Sanematsu
Where we are going
We have been using telecommunications and e-mail to do photo art using digital cameras and Photoshop with another class in California during the past school year. We started using Flipbook software which allowed creating flipbooks from completed videos. An animation collaboration with other classes and/or artists using video, computers, and early motion devices is an ongoing interest.
Assistance and Collaborations
I have done a series of workshops at the California Museum of Photography and the Ansel Adams Center on various topics including early motion devices, digital photos, light, and pinhole photography. A fairly comprehensive list of sources and books is available upon request from me. Please feel free to contact me regarding any of the projects described above. I can be contacted at home 909.788.2838, at school 909.922.0257 or my e-mail address. The school mailing address is c/o Hoffer Elementary School, 1115 East Hoffer Street, Banning, California 92220.