Thursday, March 22, 2012

Grade 9 Biology .... Stop Motion Video for Cell Division

Academic Technology Coordinator and teacher partnerships can take different forms and operate at different levels. The Cell Division project in Grade 9 Biology using stop motion video is one example. The teachers and I were able to have quick chats about a project and with an idea of what the project was about I could provide a sample suggestion for teachers to consider and explore in class. The teachers and students worked independently, and actually, when I stepped into a class I was very pleased to see how students figured it our and had many creative ways of carrying on the project.
So all started last semester, when Karem Doersam approached me with the idea of doing her animated cell division using stop motion technology. In past years, she had asked the students to make drawings on a paper notebook and animate by flipping the pages. Now she wanted to do the same process with the support of technology. She had also asked Karin Gunn who shared a site that she created about stop motion:
So doing a bit of research and looking at Karin's site (which is great!), I could see that to make a proper or professional looking stop motion video you needed a video camera setup with lights and also specialized software. Thinking about the focus on student learning, which was cell division in this case, my proposal for class was to make it easier and flexible for the students. Why not let students use personal digital devices like cellphones, iPads, laptop webcams, or the school  flip cameras to take pictures of drawings made on paper or any other media, then add the pictures to a video editor? To illustrate my idea to the teacher I created a very simple and quick "cell animation" using the paper notepad on my desk, my iPhone and Windows Movie Maker. It took me just a few minutes to do all that and the result is the sample movie below. As I did not make many drawings to show small changes in motion, it does not look so smooth but still works as an animation.

Mariana Ro also approached me later and we talked a bit about the project and my suggestion for simple stop motion video. Both teachers then decided for the simple approach to stop motion. The next trick was to get students to add their voice recording to describe cell division as it was happening. I helped to distribute headsets in a class so students could record their voices over the Movie Maker or iMovie stop motion video so it was easily synchronized with the motion. With a good headset students can do that even in a class with other students. The two videos below showcase the resulting student work for this project. In the first video, the student does an amazing job as a narrator (speaking as if she was the cell herself!)  In the second video, animation is more clear at some points specially at the beginning. 

Thinking about this project now, I am considering how we can keep the sense of motion when the students/narrator has to stay on an explanation about a specific stage. One way to do that would be to add many more drawings showing the next motion in a much slower pace. Karem had suggested using the small whiteboads for that as it would be easier to erase parts of the drawing and make very small changes. The same effect could be done on an iPad where it is easy to make free hand drawings, with the advantage of being able to save each drawing in the process. Another option could be just  make the "cell walls" move a bit and/or have little things float around as if showing the real cells environment. That might represent less work for the students and still give the sense of motion. But that will be a next step on my partnership with the teachers as I need their feedback on this idea, discussing options for a next project like this...

Coming back to this post after  researching a bit more on stop motion in order to provide feedback to the teachers....    I just came across this conference article on Creating Active Minds in our Science and Mathematics Students, from the University of Sydney. It discusses how university students rote learn facts and how important it is for them to actually manipulate concepts, so the use of what they call "slowmation" (slow animation) provides that manipulation factor.  The site created by Garry Hoban, the professor who wrote the article, provides "how to guides" for easily creating stop motion videos using only 2 images per second (that's why it is called slowmation). ... So  here is the benefit to student learning from a technology that is nowadays accessible and easy to use, as opposed to how it was in the past. 

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