Recently, I have been presenting at STEM conferences and I keep finding myself showing and using Frames, our animation tool. While there are many right ways to approach STEM, I think animation (student-created that is) should have a special place in your tool box of approaches and solutions to building strong STEM skills.
Animation can help make abstract science concepts tangible. Illustrating diagrams and models can help students analyze structures, especially useful when those are as small as a single-celled organism or as large as a solar system.
Animating scientific processes requires students to break processes down into component pieces and "determine what factors are necessary for each step in the process and movement from one step to the next." When "students animate these graphics for the purpose of describing a...process, they are also creating an artifact that evidences their understanding of the process."
Read more at: Support Science Learning with Clay Animation
Read more at: Digital Animation in Secondary Math and Science
Lesson plan: Fastballs, Free Throws and Physics
Lesson plan: Animated Chemical Bonding
Technology is a great way to engage students and animation even more so. Our students have grown up surrounded by moving media (cartoons, video games), and animation is mainly designed for them (student's world).
But so often we use technology in school to deliver instruction (our world), or information "to" or "at" students. Building, creating, developing their own animations gives agency to students, putting them in the driver's seat as media producers, not just consumers.
Engineering is the application of math, science, and past technologies to create new structures and tools that benefit society. As we have learned from the Marshmallow Challenge, effective solutions are the result of many prototypes and iterations (Fail early. Fail often. --IDEO).
When you are building animation, it never goes exactly as planned. You build, watch, then edit and repeat. You are constantly "tinkering" to get it the way you want, as well as making incremental improvements based on goals and audience - exactly the mindset needed for effective innovation.
Animation requires logical thinking and sequencing. You have to organize your ideas and present images in an order that makes sense. As you adjust the timing of various scenes or pieces of the animation, you need to multiply and divide each frames duration so that groups of frames match the time you have or need or the narration you have recorded.
Making the most of repeating images not only saves time, but builds awareness of patterns. When you duplicate a series of frames to create speech, do you repeat the same set over and over? Is that a natural speech pattern? Do you mix it up? How is this different from patterns (short sequences of frames) you might duplicate for running, waving, jumping jacks, and so on?
Animation adds STEAM to STEM
The initial push for connecting various disciplines into STEM was based on getting more students interested and competitive in these subjects and their intersections so we can remain economically competitive into the future. I don't want to talk international comparisons or competition here, but one thing that has always set us apart is our innovation and creativity. But of course, recent studies are now claiming we are becoming less and less creative.
This is yet another place animation excells. The process of building successful, effective, and powerful animations requires both analytical AND creative thinking. You need analytical thinking skills to break down complex ideas, information, and processes and sequence them so they make sense for the viewer. You need creative thinking to help you share your ideas with a specific audience in mind. You need to empathize and then reach out to inform, sell, and persuade.
Creating beautiful animations is the result of application (whether known and understood or not) of artistic ideas like repetition (patterning), line, balance, perspective, and so on. Taking the time to evaluate completed student animations provides an opportunity for everyone to discuss not only the content it contains (curriculum goal), but the processes used to get there (technical and creative).
Animation also provides an opportunity to build and expand on visual thinking and visual communication skills. Research by Robert Marzano, et. al. shows that nonlinguistic representations boost student understanding. Representing information in visual form is an essential skills in our modern world and is a great way to engage non-traditional learners in the curriculum. English language learners also often benefit from being able to draw or show what they know when they are still in the silent acquisition phase.
How are you using animation to engage students in STEM and STEAM learning?