iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

The art of animation - a series of related images that depict movement - is arguably several thousand years old. The use of equipment that could display animated images in rapid succession to create the illusion of motion is a more modern phenomenon that gained wide popularity with the development of motion pictures. Cartoons and animated movies from the studios of companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon and others have had a tremendous impact on modern culture. Production of an animated movie requires skilled artists, expensive equipment and an investment of countless hours of labor. No longer. Mobile devices with built-in cameras such as the iPad enable budding animators to use a variety of easy to use animation apps to capture and stitch together photos of characters and objects into seamless, fluent animated movies. Further, the process of designing, scripting and staging animations has tremendous educational potential. Animation can be a wonderful mix of art, science, collaboration and problem solving.

At a recent professional development workshop I challenged teachers to create short animated sequences that would illustrate and teach a concept. They had the equivalent time of an average school lesson to devise a concept, build their props and record a sequence of photos in an animation app on an iPad. We used Animate It, a simple and relatively inexpensive animation app. Here's an example of one group's animated movie. See if you can grasp the concept before I explain it to you:

They did such an outstanding job on the video that it's fairly obviously about the life cycle of salmon. Less obvious is that the video also exemplifies learning outcomes that run deeper than may appear on first glance. Firstly, it's important to note that there wasn't a single art teacher in the group. The objects and animation were the result of collaborative discussion, collective imagination and creativity, problem solving, critical analysis and a lot of very obvious teamwork. If some of those terms sound familiar, it's because they intersect with a lot of the learning skills we're trying to develop in our students.

The group quickly came up with a scheme to divide up the work. Some group members shaped the figures and set up the background stage, some worked on setting up the iPad and testing the lighting, and others researched the details of the salmon life cycle and salmon run. During the setup you could see and hear them interacting and asking questions of each other. Discussions were focused on the mechanics of the animation - "what settings and objects do we need?", "how do we break up the process to illustrate our concept?", "how can we create a boat with a fisherman?", "how do we set up the iPad to maximize the lighting and minimize shadow". Other discussions related to the analysis and presentation of the educational content - "what are the important stages in the life cycle of salmon?", "when exactly do salmon swim upstream?", "what percentage swim out to sea and what happens to the others?". They even managed to touch on the issue of salmon fishing as a potential introduction to discussions about the impact of fishing on the dwindling number of wild salmon.

Animate It displays a shadow of the last photo to enable positioning of objects when taking photos

If Art is at least partly about developing creative visualization and representation then it's a process we use throughout all academic disciplines at school. Animations can be used just as effectively in Science, History or Art. It requires breaking down a concept into essential stages and parts, then representing the development of a process visually. Some of the many, many ways in which animation can be used effectively include:

  • History - journeys of an explorer, animating key elements of a famous speech
  • Science - life cycles, water cycles, photosynthesis, principles in physics
  • Math - visual presentation of the concept of fractions
  • English - telling a story with visuals
  • Foreign language - developing a story around key vocabulary words

Note that Animate It only records the images that make up an animation. There's no feature for recording sound. That's actually part of the appeal of the app for me however there are several options if you require an app that records sound within the animation (eg. iStopMotion or iAnimate - but they are substantially more expensive if you purchase a class set). When using Animate It, students that want audio simply export the completed video and open it in iMovie to add a soundtrack.

You may jump to the conclusion that animation is for adults or older students but that's not the case. I've worked with teachers and students in lower elementary grades and the children take to the animation process very quickly. They relish the challenge of creating the illusion of movement and it's often difficult to tear them away from it. Here's one example from a colleague that was teaching Kindergarten at the Pasir Ridge International School. Ben Sheridan worked with his Kindergarten students to create a stop motion animation from a story they created. They went through several iterations, learning through trial and error as they experimented with their props. Finally, they came up with the following animation. Let me remind you that this is a Kindergarten class!

Escape from the Dark Side: Part 1 from ben sheridan

They created their animation without sound and Ben took the process one step further by challenging students at other schools to add music and narration to the movie. The results were fantastic.

One last thing. You'll make life a lot easier if you use some form of iPad stand when you take your photos for the animation. As long as your stand can hold the iPad still and at the right angle then it will do the trick. There are several expensive options available for purchase or you could opt to build it yourself for a few dollars by using sturdy cardboard or foam core.

Sam Gliksman
Twitter: @samgliksman
LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/samgliksman

Author of iPads in Education for Dummies ... now shipping
Contact Sam for workshops and professional development at samgliksman@gmail.com

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