Working Together to Animate Water

Luke Dyer teaches students from all over the globe, and one program in particular has inspired a special connection among his Year 5 students at the British School of Nanjing in China – iStopMotion. As an ICT teacher, he has been using stop motion animation in his technology-driven classroom for a long time. Initially, he worked with digital cameras, and the class would upload their photos to the one class desktop computer and then animate them using programs like Movie Maker. When iPad and Android tablets were released, the process became much easier, and the software much more accessible. This was when Luke found iStopMotion, after a long period of trial-and-error with a range of free and paid animation apps.

To integrate iStopMotion into his Nanjing classroom, Luke decided to take their science inquiry to the next level. The class was looking at the scientific processes surrounding water, such as the water cycle and changes in states of matter. They researched and discussed, read and watched, and then needed a way to put it all together to show what they were learning. Cue iStopMotion.

“As I only had this class for a few weeks, I thought that we could mix a few different aspects into the learning, and I spent a few minutes showing them how to record and animate with iStopMotion,” Luke says. “I then gave them the task of using iStopMotion to show one aspect of their learning and let them loose on the iPads.”

Some students chose to work with the water cycle. They drew their animations on A3 sheets of paper RSA Animation style – they took photos after each letter or image was drawn and then moved the camera as the water cycle moved. Next, they exported the video to the camera roll, imported it into iMovie and gave it a title, credits and an audio commentary. Others used clay to show the changes to water when heat is applied. They came up with a short Claymation of heating water in a pot and it slowly evaporating. By using a bit of app smashing – when multiple apps are used together to create something completely new – the students took the iStopMotion footage and edited and published it through iMovie.

“The onion skinning feature is essential to animation, as it allows you to make sure all is in place for the next shot,” Luke says. “The way you can flip through your previous shots with the animation reel at the bottom allows you to remove that sneaky finger shot. An additional bonus is the free remote camera app – I’ve tried a cheap tripod and mount for my iPhone, which has the remote camera app, but the kids just buddy up and have one iPad with the main app and one with the remote camera app, allowing for an extra element of stability for the end product.”

Every student came across bumps in the road during the creation of their animations, but they worked as a group to solve them. Luke facilitated the process when absolutely necessary, but when the students solved problems without his help they were much more satisfied with their efforts. He found his role as a teacher becoming more of an opportunity to ask critical questions about what the students were doing, which made them think of the process they were going through. By thinking in this way, the students were able to branch out and experiment. If they liked it, they kept it, but if they didn’t, they simply deleted the photos and tried a different way.

“I am a firm believer in ‘children learn through doing,’” Luke says. “Often when teachers give students too many examples using technology, it can influence the end product. I have been shown countless times that when I give students a quick run-through of a program and then give them time to play and explore, they will produce things that are far beyond my level of creativity and imagination.”

He continues, “Technology is just a tool for learning. It can make a big change, no change or it can just be a distraction. It comes down to the purpose for using a tool and finding the right tool for the job. Using something like stop motion does raise the interest level with students and does offer a different and non-traditional way to assess students’ learning. The way it can be incorporated into other programs gives it such a wider range of use within education. Within a 1:1 iPad class, using iStopMotion could be just like reaching into your pencil case to grab a black pen – just another bit of stationary.”

Check out more fun education tips from Luke on his twitter. What do you think, teachers? Where can you incorporate iStopMotion into your lesson plans?