Monday, April 4, 2016

Learning Animation Helps Kids Develop Critical Thinking Skills

One of my favorite activities is teaching animation. I have done this for kids as young as 8 up through college students, using a wide variety of tools. My current device of preference for teaching animation is an iPad. The more workshops I teach, the more I appreciate the magnitude of the lessons learned. 

Critical Thinking Defined
There's a lot of buzz about critical thinking these days. What's the deal? Here are two important components of Critical Thinking; the ability to evaluate information and consider alternative solutions.


Evaluating Information
How is this relevant to learning to be an animator? First, we need to think about what animation is and how it works. I love asking the question, "What does animate mean?" I get lots of good answers and generally we get around to what I am fishing for, to animate is to bring to life. Such a delightful idea. 

How does this happen? This is becoming a more obtuse reference, but I ask if they have seen a strip of film. Some have. We talk about how our brains respond to a series of still images seen in rapid succession. I can reference frame rate here, but it makes more sense later when we are actually working in the software.

Considering and Finding Solutions
The third piece of this puzzle is the idea of sequential imaging, which we reference above. I want them to understand that for movement to be represented, the sequence of images has to change a little bit over time. This means they are making a series of drawings understanding this concept.

 This is a fun way to show that one image can stay consistent
 (the frog's body) and only a few elements 
move to tell a story.

Experts Advice on Building Critical Thinking Skills

I was impressed with this article from Bright Horizons with suggestions for building critical thinking skills. Here's why I think learning animation is a perfect fit for their guidelines.

Play
This is kind of a no-brainer. Animating is playing with images and making them do what you want. Creating a universe of your own artwork. In my world, this is one of the most fun ways to play.

Here is an short animation I show the kids at the beginning of most animation workshops. It's a great way for me to teach them some basics about the timeline and set up their first assignment: tell us something about yourself.

 

Kids as problem solvers
You know as well as I do, anytime we interface with technology, even with a teacher right there, there are problems to be solved. I have been animating for 30 years, and I still have lots of problems to solve. So, solving problems, no problem but what's next is important.

Make kids work it out themselves, or at least try for awhile
I had a kid ask me once if I was like a grandmother. This was a pretty young child, I generally don't get this from 8 year olds. My point is that grandmothers like to jump in and solve problems...be the good guy. I do have a tendency to do that, BUT in a classroom with lots of kids, it just can't happen. I do believe in the power of making mistakes and solving them. That's how I do much of my learning. I want the kids to have this experience too.

I didn't see this project until it was finished. 
Great job done by a beginning student.

Test different options
So if the teacher is not going to solve it for you immediately, then the students have to try a range of options. Here we benefit from youthful impatience.

Encourage thinking in different ways
I make sure the students have a chance to see each others work. It's fun to see how good ideas spread. At a recent series of workshops at the Randolph College Maier Art Museum, thinking in different ways involved animating over a portrait by Milton Avery on exhibit in the museum. There are some great stills from one students project. The first is the artwork as Avery created it.

Help your children develop critical thinking skill. Encourage them to become animators.

Join me at the next animation workshop at the Academy Center of the Arts in Lynchburg, April 16, 2016. Register here.

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2 comments:

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