6 steps of using animation in the classroom

Our work experience student, James, made such great tea in the week he spent at Jigsaw HQ that we felt we should offer him something in return. So, we asked James to name a topic he found particularly tricky at school and used the magic of creative technology to help him understand.

The resulting animation, taking a look inside one of the human body’s 100 trillion cells, was so effective that we thought it would make a great case study. So, in honour of James, we give you the six steps to a confusion-busting animation.

Step 1: Storyboarding (Time: 10 minutes)

Planning is especially important if you are trying to help students understand a topic that they have been finding a bit difficult. A storyboard is effectively a cartoon strip where students sketch out each scene and annotate them with key facts that they want to include in the titles or the voiceover.

To get the most out of the storyboarding process, always get your students to use a pencil. It means you can just rub out mistakes instead of starting over. Also remember to keep it simple; a single A3 page of numbered thumbnail sketches with instructions is all that a storyboard needs.

James says:
“Storyboarding really helped me to organise the animation and put all of the scenes together in a logical order. I realised halfway through that my original idea wouldn’t work so I had to re-sketch it and, without doing this exercise, I would have realised this too late.”

Step 2: Preparation (Time: 25 mins)

Next you need to decide which media you are going to animate with (we opted for good old-fashioned Plasticine). Before they start making models, students need to think about which movements and effects they want to achieve with the models. Animation is more engaging when there is lots of movement in the scene so making models with movable parts is a must. James found that his shot of a cell became a lot more interesting when he introduced moveable organelles.

Before they crack on with the animation, now is also a good time to think about what sort of background they want for their scene. James used a tree and a person to give an impression of scale for the rest of the animation but plain black or white backgrounds can look fantastic too!

Step 3: Technology Setup (Time: 10 minutes)

We raided the warehouse and set James up with a HVR-A1E video camera, a MacBook, iStopMotion software, a set of lights and a tripod. We used three-point lighting, which eliminates shadows by surrounding the scene with lights on three sides. Although James had the luxury of some very fancy studio lights, three desk lamps from IKEA would have done the job.

James had never used a Mac but, after five minutes he was a pro, setting up iStopMotion to work with our camera and practising animating a tin of boiled sweets we had left in the room to keep him going! We set the program to 12 frames per second to create a nice, smooth animation.

Step 4: Filming (Time: 35 minutes)

James reckoned iStopMotion was easy to use – individual frames are captured with the click of the spacebar and, after each shot, the model is repositioned in very small increments. The ‘onion skin’ feature means that you can see a ghostly version of your old frame over the new one; this means even if you accidently knock everything over, you can get back on track pretty easily.

We did have a couple of sticky moments in the animation. James had lots of chromosomes to move around in one scene but, because there were so many, it was really difficult to remember which way he had moved them last. It’s different in class when there is a group of people working on the same animation, as each member can be allocated a specific role – like modellers, clickers, spotters and movers!

In another scene, James was having difficulty getting the helix to move in the way he had planned. After a bit of thought he managed to come up with a way of spinning it using a piece of paper. Little issues like this really help students develop their problem solving skills.

Step 5: Editing (Time: 30 minutes)

James imported the animated scenes into iMovie and dragged the thumbnails of the clips into the right order on the timeline. He then added swishy transitions, titles and credits. After getting to grips with how iMovie worked, James experimented with a few other features. Not all of them worked but, when he did make mistakes, they were easily reversed. He even managed to add a loop from GarageBand as a soundtrack.

Step 6: The Premiere (Time: 10 minutes)

All great productions deserve a premiere so, after his hard work, James got the chance to sit down and relax with the team (and a bowl of popcorn) whilst we marvelled at his masterpiece. We were impressed, but most importantly, James was clued up on genetics and even said he couldn’t wait for his exams (although we think he may have just got caught up in the heat of the moment!).

What James Thought…

“The thing that I have enjoyed the most for my work experience has been seeing the end result of the animation, because I felt a sense of satisfaction of what I had created.

I would definitely recommend this to other pupils and teachers because it is a great way of learning so much about a chosen subject as well as having a great time in the process. It is an excellent form of revising as well, because you have to think about every different stage of whatever the subject is and the models make it easy to remember stuff.”

Want to get your students animated? Give our sales team a call on 03332 409 333  or send us an email to learning@Jigsaw24.comFor more news on technology in Education, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter and ‘Like’ Jigsaw Education’s Facebook page.

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