Animate it

I love RSA Animate.  My first experience with it was Ken Robinson's Changing Paradigms.  The combination of visual and audio was more comfortable than a Ted talk, and easier to understand than a podcast.  I've wanted to try it in the classroom since I first saw the video.  What better time than now?

The kids got into class this morning and found a letter waiting for them:

I didn't tell the kids that I wrote the letter, I used the mythology of the situation to make it appear real.  When they pushed me on it I kept deflecting it back to them and insisting that this was real.  Most of them knew that it was me, and happily played along with the drama...
My purpose here was to create a sense of urgency and stress.  Recently we have been going slow, taking our time, and trying to think deeply.  I still want deep thought, but I want them to feel the pressure of a deadline as well.  I want to compare the two feelings.  How did it feel to have someone breathing down your neck and demanding something from you (in this case, me)?  Did it make your work better?  What did you learn from this?

We will return to these questions later.

1) Introduce the context and choose a topic

After reading the letter, we took a look at an RSA animate video (Dan Pink Drive).  I think the language in the video and the complexity of the ideas presented was a bit high for them, but they were watching and studying the animation and not the content.  We brainstormed a list of ways that we could reproduce this technique with iPads, iMovie, and another medium.  I had a couple of ideas, but again, they came up with so many more.  Watching them talk in their group was very refreshing.  I just sat back and smiled.

2) Research

We have been working on taking notes and talking about what information is relevant.  Listening with a purpose is hard to do, and something that kids need to be explicitly aware of when they do.  It takes practice.  I have noticed over the last couple of weeks that they are getting much better.  They still tend to write more than necessary, but they are getting better at pictorial representations of ideas.  It was my hope that this project would really help them visual their thinking (and writing).

In order to transmit the content to them, I chose to do a lecture/demonstration.  Me, standing in front of them, telling them about these theories; with a globe, a paper cut out of the moon, and a really bright light.  In the dark.  Like a live TED talk.  I could have easily given them videos to search on Youtube, or readings to pull information from.  I chose this method because it was a chance to interact with the material and with the purveyor of the material.  To ask questions.  To ask for clarification.  Live and in the moment.  Plus, I love this material and I love this demonstration.  It was more of a two-way conversation than a one-way conversation.  Youtube and Khan Academy are one-way transmission styles of education.  Pausing, rewinidng and reviewing is nothing revolutionary, it is still one-way.  Asking questions, getting inside somebodies head, figuring out how they think, and interacting on a personal level with learners will always be a superior method of education, regardless of what edu-tech blowhards say.

Rant over.

3) Create the script

With our notes and our research in place, we got to writing the script.  I stressed the importance of entertaining your audience as well as telling them about your ideas.  Some groups chose to entertain in the script, while others thought they would entertain in the diagrams.  I had naively assumed that you must entertain with words, and I was refreshed when students decided to entertain with diagrams instead.  As one boy said, 'it will be funnier if the person talking is really boring and the diagrams are really funny'.

Group writing is always hard, and it something that I continually struggle with.  Do I have one half of the group writing and other half drawing?  Then the strong writers will write, and the strong drawers will draw, and nobody is working on their weaknesses.  Instead, I chose to do each step as a collective.  The entire piece was written by the group of four.  Four is a big number for group writing, especially with 11 year olds.  A couple of the pieces were disjointed and needed some reorganizing.  Others were pure and gleaming and perfect.  Depends on the dynamics of the group (which in my class are all randomized).

In hindsight, I regret separating the script from the drawings.  I should have let them self-organize and see what unfolded from their brainstorming.  I was afraid of the two going in different directions and not matching up, but I should have given up and let them figure that out for themselves.  I was being controlled by the clock, and I made this decision because I thought it would be better for our deadline.

4) Plan your Drawings and 5) Shoot and edit

I intended this to be a brief planning session, but it turned into the actual filming part.  Whereas in the last step I put to much control on the process, this time I redeemed myself and let them go.  The drawings moved with the editing, and ideas flowed with the realizations of the technical limitations.  iMovie for iPad is a great app, but it is very limiting in what you can do.  The trailers feature is awesome, but the actual editing of films is not great.  Turning off the Ken Burns effect should be a simple matter, but it takes skill and dexterity.

After some initial headaches, a few pioneers led the way and showed the rest of us the most efficient way to do it.  As I was working with one group, other groups were figuring out new things and racing ahead.  It seemed wherever I wasn't, was the place where the most innovation was going on.  It felt like a dog chasing its tail.

We realized that it is easier to take quick movie's instead of using the pictures strategy (thus eliminating the Ken Burns problem).  The kids came up with some pretty cool solutions to keep the iPads stationary to avoid shaky images.

Had I let them start earlier and not group write, we would have gotten the bugs out of the way with sooner and had more time.  As it stood, our deadline was fast approaching and we had a lot of work to do.  They were focused, but they struggled with the pressure.  A couple of fights among teams and some poor choices.  One team worked beautifully well and was finished at 3:00.  Another team had difficulty making key decisions and didn't finish on time.  Another team posted their video to Youtube at exactly 3:27!

The final products are rough.  They are shaky.  They are missing details.  The backgrounds are a mess. They are very raw.  They could have been so much better if we had given it the proper time and attention.

That was not the point.


The next school day we had a group discussion (because we were so rushed for time at the end of the previous day we almost missed the bus!).  I posed the questions and then typed down the responses below:

How did it feel to have someone breathing down your neck and demanding something from you (in this case, me)?
- I felt that if we didn't finish something bad was going to happen
- We had to move quickly, it was good because you can do it faser, but bad because the ideas are not good
- When you (me) told us to hurry and that we were wasting time,  we realized it was true and made a better plan
- I felt tired, when I got on te bus it felt good to turn my brain off
- I felt out of ideas
- It felt good to finish, really good
- My body was sore and I felt like taking a nap
- It felt good to refresh afterwards
- It was nice to have nobody telling me what to do after it finished, I got to relax

Did it make your work better or worse?
- better; work faster and generate ideas faster
- better; if there is no deadlines nothing would ever get done
- worse; the pictures were rushed and it was messy
- worse; ideas were not as good as they could have been
- worse; we could have rehearsed and practiced our speeches

What did you learn from this?
- I didn't know I could work that fast, I always thought I was slow
- Teamwork is so important, I couldn't have done it alone
- Everything needs time, you don't always have the time you want, so you have to use your time well
- I don't like pressure, it gives me a weird feeling

What a great day.  I had a great time, though my role seemed different.  I was less the supporter and more the demander.  I was concerned with time and trying to get everybody else to think about time.  It was a good experience, but I am grateful that on most normal days, we are free to go at our own pace.  Placing time constraints on learning makes for a stressful environment.  I don't care how rough the final products look, it was never the point.

I tried to create a stressful environment.  It worked.  At the end of the day I felt exhausted.  I was drained.  I had spent the whole day managing and ordering people about, and not assisting in learning.  It was an illuminating experience, but not one I plan on repeating again for quite some time.

Slow down.  Enjoy the ride.  Reflect.  These have always been a kind of mantra for me.

Now I know why.


  1. Craig, I love this post. We have just finished a unit on Solar System, seasons etc. I really like what you have done here and will share it with my team tomorrow when we are having our end of unit reflection. I like your idea of doing the lecture. We talked about that on Friday. After all the researching online in the livebinder of carefully chosen sites and looking in library books, I still ended up doing a bit of a lecture anyway for the seasons and so did a couple of colleagues, so may as well just plan it! I love the way that you added the different dimension too, the time factor - nothing to do with space but totally about the learning. Your RSA animate was a great GRASPS task! I find kids really rise in this sort of situation! Great stuff!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Flotsam and exploring imaginative questions through literacy

George Polya and Mathematical Problem Solving

Re-thinking the PYP Planner