Puppets and Animation

Last week as part of their introduction to stop motion animation, my year 4 students worked with potato heads, this week in class they had been sharing the Ramayana as part of their topic work on India. They had made some beautiful articulated stick puppets in class, with jointed limbs, and I felt these would lend themselves beautifully to the work they were developing in the suite.

It was interesting this week with puppets and a familiar story, how the focus of the group's work changed, from ICT skill development, to story telling, and how much better the students became at working together, as they retold the story to each other, and began negotiating next steps, for their work. Previous points of group disagreement found their resolutions in the decisions which had to be made if the story, however short they were trying to tell, was to be achieved. The tasks which evolved were also much more student lead, and the outcomes demonstrated the benefits of structured play activities in previous weeks. At the beginning of this week's session we reviewed some of our previous work as a starting point highlighting some of the diffficulties we had had, including staying out of shot, our excitement to shoot frames before we were ready, and the problems some of us has had in taking turns and working together. Looking at the visual evidence through the films we had made in previous shoots the effects of these were inherent and evident, as moved cameras, or shadows, or hands in shot. Discussing these we decided that the animation, direction and camera activity might work better as a "carousel activity," where everyone had to take turns and would have the chance to take on every group role during this "shoot."

The favourite scene was a battle scene between Rama and Ravana, as you might imagine, with Martial Arts type moves being devised during the short 150 to 200 frame films that were made, rather than the flight of Rama's golden arrow. Some groups also devised a dance scene with Rama and Sita, while one group thinking about how they might tell the whole story in 10 seconds, introduced ideas drawn from experiences of Silent movies and cartoon strips, and added written captions, and speech bubbles.

In our plenary this week we shared the shorts we had created, and it was interesting to see how far the groups had developed in such a short time, and what they had learned about the film making process and use of the camera. The children had used boxes to raise their cameras so that they could shoot down onto the desktop stages we had created. Some characters began their action out of shot and moved into the frame as the action developed, the students had clearly used the onscreen viewfinder to frame shots, as their was little evidence this session of student body parts or shadows in shot, and the quality of movement of characters was smoother. To compile evidence of learning for this unit, as a result of this session I am considering using Movie Maker to pull together the progression of files into one place.

Our next session will be classroom based, building on the work from this session, and developed through a literacy session. The students will work in their groups to plan a retelling of the story, using a storyboard. In the sessions to follow, the group will be encouraged to use the six planned scenes from the story, to shoot six short animated scenes using the puppets they have created, with additional scenery props if needed, made during this time. Building on community ideas developed this week I will also suggest that they might like to consider and create additional support prompts for their story such as captions and speech bubbles. During the final session I am intending that the students be introduced to Movie Maker to compile the clips they have created, and add a title frame and credits.

A common concern I find expressed regarding the introduction of techniques such as this within the classroom is the time element involved, or understanding of the wider curricular potential and relevance such activities can offer. My experiences tell me that often much of the learning which takes place in ICT mediated learning situations, is not readilly evidenced within the outcomes created, though can often be inferred from what has been developed in the process. I am beginning to think that perhaps some of our problems relate to trying to fit too much in, and as a result of this repeating similar things in different formats. What maybe we could consider is how we might be able to do less in order to achieve more. The longer unit format of the New Literacy Framework may help with this. A unit of work on for example playscripts, might see not a traditional written outcome as evidence, but performance of the script through the development of a podcast, video news programme or an animation. Focussed written and practical tasks in the class leading to the eventual perfromance and publishing of this text, for further evaluation of the final outcome, by a wider and real audience. Animation could be linked to a host of traditional text genre, including visual documentary style approaches to the explanation of processes (a sequence describing digestion or the factors necessary for plant growth), journeys (using real or imaginary maps and icons to document an imaginary journey to a remote location), recounts and recording of visual or oral tellings of familiar tales through for example puppets. The final multimodal outcome seen as integral to and emerging from a wider planned engagement with similar text types in other formats, could challenge ours and student perceptions of what texts are, what they are for and how we portray meanings for remote audiences? Literacy activities would also be set in the context of wider subject learning taking place around the unit as it develops, and make use of such tools as the digi blue, more relevant. This is certainly an area I will be reflecting on more widely as I extend my views of what multimodality may mean for ICT and the wider curriculum through the new literacy framework.

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