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April 19, 2021

Animating The Classroom

TED youth Brooklyn museum November 2015 

TEDYouth conference at the Brooklyn Museum. November, 2015. Photo by Ryan Lash for TED via Flickr

It was outstanding. Under the soft glow of the mighty brass chandeliers of the Beaux Arts Court of the Brooklyn Museum, learning stations — many decorated with a splash of iconic TED red — were scattered about the restored glass tile floor like a handful of strategically tossed jacks. As I bounced about the room, I watched 400 students smile with delight, scrambling to engage, create, and collect the vast knowledge available in the room. They vibrated with energy and I knew in an instant that this conference would be extraordinary.

This was TEDYouth 2015. The theme was “Made In The Future” which “provided youth with new perspectives on their own future job possibilities beyond traditional careers, some of which may not yet exist.” Students could bring a puppet to life, learn about how they might print 3D clothing someday, and experience virtual reality. They learned about farms of the future, print prosthetics, and making communities beautiful through yarn bombing. They explored archaeology and ventured to animate themselves into the future with TED-Ed.

Made in the Future TED Talk

Main stage and theater at TEDYouth, November 14, 2015, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Max Triff/TED by TED Conference is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a member of the first cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators, I witnessed the behind-the-scenes creation of animation at TED-Ed. I learned about the history and process of animation, and how animation creation might fit into my classroom experience. But, most importantly, I learned the time to teach for the future is now.

Education is changing in exciting ways and, as educators, our delivery must change to meet our students where they are. It’s our job to give them the space and the tools they need, to engage and learn with them, and get out of their way. The cognitive work students engaged with at TEDYouth 2015 had one characteristic essential for the modern classroom — the work didn’t appear to be work at all. Students collaborated with experts from all walks of life — scientists, engineers, artists, historians, performers, explorers, and activists. The activities were hands-on, experimental, and playful. Kids wanted to learn, and they were excited.

I was inspired. As a classroom teacher I thought, I can do this in my classroom. I thought about how animation might fit into my middle school social studies curriculum. With the recently approved New York State Social Studies Framework, along with a revisit of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I quickly saw animation as an outstanding tool for student creation and “show what you know” projects. Students have to interact with the content and learn in a deep way to design and produce something entirely original. I set out to design an experience for my students modeled after my experience with TEDYouth.

Animating Westward Expansion

When I returned to my classroom, I created a project where students would work in groups of four or five to research and animate topics related to U.S. expansion to the west throughout the late 19th century. Why westward expansion? First, because this content was not overly complex, and it was easy to break into sections that would lend themselves to student grouping. This content was also next on my list and I was excited!

This project was innovative, but not entirely different in that I witnessed the same trials and tribulations associated with students locating reputable sources of information online, and the assigning of tasks within student groups based on student strengths, collaboration and creativity. Students created brief animations about history topics; each required students to dig deeply into a topic, to understand it, and produce an animation that accurately represented that topic. You can take a peek at the animations on my website. Remember, this was our first attempt. As with any new skill, student animation skills will improve over time and with practice.

What was different? My students wasted no time getting to work. They were full of energy. I’m sure it looked like chaos from the outside, but every student had a job. Every student was working. It was amazing to watch this lesson come to life — to watch my students take control of their own learning.

How Can I Use Animation In The Classroom And Beyond?

With my first classroom animation project out of the way, I thought about how I would continue to use animation with my students, and this is what I came up with:

  • The creation of animation to show key points in U.S. history. Look at the standards within your content area and think outside the box — how might you meet your standards using animation?
  • An ongoing animation station in my classroom with revolving materials for student-generated animation throughout the school day.
  • Animation stations at open houses, academic show-cases, and other community/parent nights at school (to give parents and community members an opportunity to collaborate to create animation).
  • School-wide animation on special days at school.
  • An end of year animation celebration with stations set up during the last week of school, with specific themes for students to animate (beach scene, Franklin County Fair, and camping).
  • The creation of a pixilation: A human animation! Check out this one from TEDYouth.

Where Do I Start ?

  • Don’t Be Afraid — Start Small! Create an animation together as a class or as a school club. You’ll need a digital device, a stop motion app (like Stop Motion Studio), and the materials of your choice. You don’t need a huge budget to create animation — recycle and reuse everyday items.
  • Don’t Expect Perfection — It’s A Learning Process!
  • Incorporate Primary Sources
  • Provide Structure. Set students up for success with a rubric, criteria, and expectations. For more information about animation, visit these resources by TED-Ed. Also, please reach out to @jenhesseltine on Twitter for more information about the materials used to create animation, and for sample project descriptions and rubrics for this type of classroom project.

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