Making StopMotion Movies, part 4

This is my final reflection on the movie project that I did with my students recently, using stop-motion moviemaking to demonstrate a literary idea. Part one dealt with student reactions to the endeavor; Part two was how I implemented the project; and Part three was how I published the videos.

This is about how I am going about grading these 31 movies. I think it should be stated outfront that assessing digital projects can be difficult, as technical difficulties can sometimes get in the way of executing even the most perfect idea. So, I do try to keep an open mind, even though I lay out parameters of expectations to my students from the very start. I remind them that this is all fun and exciting, but it is also a learning experience and they need to show what they have learned.

Before we even began, I went over my expectations with them:

  • Their movie would demonstrate a literary term that I would provide them (worth 50 points);
  • They would storyboard their idea out and conference me about their concept (20 points);
  • Their title would center on the literary term and a written definition of the term (or a very clear narration) would be required (20 points);
  • Effort and imagination and patience would be rewarded (10 points).

This weekend, as I looked the movies over more critically than I have before, I realize that some groups just got caught up in the movie aspect, and gave only a head-nod to the actual assignment. Others found a story with a focus and told it through a movie as best as they could. Still others … well, they just created odd movies.

I know almost every student loved this project and now understands something more intangible: how to manage a complicated project with many layers of composition, work with others in a cooperative venture, and publish a movie to the world. I didn’t grade these aspects, but they are as important as the area that I give points for, in my opinion. In the ideal world, the grade would not be required.

So, the average grade hovers around a solid “B” range for the classes, but the memories of making a movie will last long after the report cards go out and get lost in the dust bin of history.

Peace (in experiences),

Making Stop-Motion Movies, part 3

This is the third of a four part series of posts on how my  class went about planning, writing and producing short stop-motion movies on the theme of literary terms (see part one and part two). My idea here is to allow me some space to reflect and hopefully, nudge a few of you into moviemaking.

In my last post, I talked about the actual making of the movies. And now that they are done, what do you do with them? Well, many of my students now have their own flash drives (and our class has a few that we loan out), so getting copies of their productions is easy enough. It used to be a lot more difficult — burning DVDs, etc. Flash drives are wonderful.

Our movies are being made for a wider audience, however (including a few that will become part of The Longfellow Ten project). SO, we wanted to publish the movies to the web for a potential world-wide audience. This is a tricky decision — where to host the videos and where to publish them. I have tried all sorts of services over the years and to be honest, I find most of them lacking in one way or another. My own goals are for a site that hosts videos, with no links back to the site, no advertising and ease of use. Does that seem like too much to ask for? In this vein, I have worked with YouTube (no need to say a thing), Google Video (better but not great, and I don’t expect it to last as a separate entity from YouTube), Edublogs TV (it has potential but slow to upload, in my opinion), TeacherTube (unless it has been fixed, it had become incompatible with Edublogs), Blip (it’s fine), Flickr (you can upload and share short videos under the plus account) and more.

Luckily, my friend, George (of the Longfellow Ten), had been on the same path and he found Vimeo. It turns out that more than a year ago, I had checked it out too and forgotten all about it. Vimeo is like a typical service except you can really adapt the embedding option. This allows you to remove any and all links back to Vimeo itself. All the students will see is the video and the play/volume buttons. This is exactly what teachers need, I think.

Both George and I upgraded our accounts because we both know that we will be using it for larger video projects down the road, but the free version seems fine. It’s also nice because you can save a preset for embedding — you don’t have to revamp the embed code each time.

So, I now had a reliable and useful host for my videos. But I don’t want to direct my students to Vimeo to view the movies. I want to create our own space for publishing the video collection. (George is using for the Longfellow Ten project, which is nice because Vimeo is incredibly easy to embed in WordPress blogs).  I thought about using our classroom blog — The Electronic Pencil — but with 31 videos, that seemed like too much (particularly when Edublogs suggests you don’t publish more than one video per post). I thought about whipping up a quick webpage with html/dreamweaver. But then, I would have to host the page.

Finally, it dawned on me that a wiki might be the best option. Easy to use, a wiki also allows for multiple media files per page. So, I went to my wiki companion site for The Electronic Pencil (over at Wikispaces), and started to embed the movies. It worked like a charm, and it also allowed me to show my students a wiki, which we will be using later this year for our Crazy Dictionary Project (now four years running).

Last, I made a link to the various movies from our class blog site, had my kids view them one class period (so they could see what their classmates have been up to), and then I had them reflect about the movie project at our blog, thinking about what they liked about making the movies, what they didn’t like and what they would do differently if we started over again (maybe later this year).

In my last post (part 4), I am going to talk about how I am grading and assessing the movies.

Peace (in little movies),

Making Stopmotion Movies, part 2

This is the second post around making stopmotion movies with my sixth graders (see the first post) and I want to talk about how we actually did it. My hope is that one of your (dear readers) may want to replicate or build on the experience and so my path may help you along on your own movie-making journey.

First of all, I launched into this project because I received an email and a phone call from George Mayo, another middle school teacher who has done some wonderful collaborative work in the past (see, Darfur awareness project). He and I have communicated about claymation and I showed him a few ways to get started. Now, he runs a movie club and his kids began making stopmotion movies around literary terms as part of a secret collective called The Longfellow Ten. He wondered if I might want to have my students join in the fun. So, I scrapped one of my projects and moved into moviemaking. How could I not?

But I knew with four classes of students (about 75 kids), it would be hectic. And a bit crazy. And also a great time. (It helps that I have done claymation a number of times now, including summer camps. I would not have launched into something this big without those experiences under my belt).

I began by showing my students the short films that George’s students had already published and talked about what stopmotion is. Luckily, just about everyone has seen Wallace and Gromit, so there is a common thread to talk about (and, one day when I was out, the sub showed them the Behind the Scenes of the Making of The Curse of the WereRabbit movie — an incredible documentary of the work that goes on — it’s on the movie DVD).

My students then either got into small group, or worked independently (no group bigger than three — that’s my rule). I handed out slips of paper with literary terms (such as plot, setting, foreshadowing, etc) and their job was to build a movie that discussed, defined or demonstrated that term. This all begins with storyboarding out their story, conferencing with me, and having a clear plan of action before they even touch the computers.

Once they are ready to start shooting their videos, they either brought in their own toys from home or used the box of my own sons’ toys (shhhhh … they don’t know the box is missing). We use a freeware program called StopMotion Animator and inexpensive webcams for the initial frame-by-frame shooting. I like the software because it is pretty basic to use. It saves the video as an AVI file, which then later, the students bring into Microsoft MovieMaker for editing. (Although, you may need to use a Codec encoder in order to move the raw footage into moviemaker. If so, I use this one called Xvid)

Here is what I preach every single day, ad nauseum: patience. If they can be patient, and move their objects slowly, and capture a lot of footage, then their final movie will be of higher quality. I also tell them to film more than they need, since they can always edit out footage but adding new footage in is difficult (you have to reset the scene, etc).

In MovieMaker, they edit out their inadvertent hands, add titles and credits, and insert transitions between scenes. Then, we plug in microphones and they begin their narration. The syncing of voice to video can be difficult and it requires … more patience and also, some editing on the fly. I often show them how to use video effects to slow down footage or to capture a still image to insert into the video in places where more dialogue is needed.

We then gather up their project (usually only a minute or two long at most) and create a video (use the DV-AVI setting in Moviemaker for highest quality). For some groups, they are done. For others, however, they can make their own music soundtrack and we use a software program that I bought called Super Dooper Music Looper, which allows them to use loops to create songs. They love this software! (But George has also shown me a few sites that allow use of music, too: CCMixter and Freesound).

If they want to add music all the way under their movies, they need to re-import their video (with narration, titles, etc) and then layer the music, and then make the video a second time. Phew. There are a few steps to this process, aren’t there?

The result? A student-created movie from start to finish. In part 3 of this reflection, I will talk about how George and I are posting the videos online (hosting and publishing) and then, in part 4, I will talk about the task I now have of assessing their work — for this is a graded project, with parameters that I established at the very beginning of the process.

Peace (in sharing),

Stop-Motion Movies, part 1

Now that my project to create stop-motion movies around literary terms is over, I thought I would reflect a bit on the experience in the classroom. First of all, this is the first time I worked on movie-making with all four of my sixth grade classes (about 75 kids) and it was a bit daunting. There ended up being 31 short movies created by small groups of students — that is a ton of movies! Most days, I felt like a headless chicken, running from one group to the other, helping sort through technical issues. In fact, I never really got to even see the movies until they were done.

This was the first time that many students ever did any kind of movie-making (I think three of them have some experience) and considering this fact, my students were stellar at the art of patience, and working out problems, and thinking of solutions to technical issues when they arose. In the course of the week, they learned about webcams, the freeware Stopmotion Animator software, Windows MovieMaker and also a music creation program called Super Duper Music Looper.

BUT — no one gave up, a few had to restart all over again (one group: restart twice) and as I let them view all of the movies yesterday and reflect on their experiences at our class blog site, they expressed real gratitude in being able to make movies in the classroom. One student came up to me and said, “This is the best project I have ever done in school … ever.” How can you beat that?

Here are some excerpts from the blog:

What I really like about the project is that you were free to be as creative as you wanted to be. All the movies had origanalallity and character which was great to see. What I would want to change the next time when I do a stop motion video is put a lot more filming in so we don’t have to worry about talking fast and find a back drop that doesn’t show the shadows of people going by.

This project was a great experience for me because i don’t know a lot about technology and what’s possible. I had never done anything like it before and what was great was doing it with Sam. We tried to make it humorous and laughed through the entire process!!! Even when we disagreed, we got a solution for every problem, mostly from the help of our awesome computer-wiz teacher, Mr. H!!! THANKS!!!!!!!

I think making the movies were really fun! All the hard work for like a 50 second movie, but it was still fun to see our movies come to life. you have to have a lot of patience to do this project. If I could change anything I would use less characters because it was hard to move them all. Also try to balance the work between every member of the group. Over all it went very well!

The making of the movies was fun but there was a lot of things that made out movie less awesome because we didn’t notice till editing. We had a lot of technical difficulties and our movie wasn’t as great as it could have been which made us kinda of mad!

I had a really fun time making the movies. But it was also a lot of work. Working in a group really helped. It was frustrating to always think you are running out of time. I hope everybody will enjoy my movie.

If you want to view the movies, go to categories:

In part 2, I will talk in more detail about what we did, how we did it, and how you might be able to replicate the project (the Longfellow Ten are still searching for other classes to join the secret initiative to create movies)

Peace (in movies),

Another Insider Look at Clay Camp

Today marks the end of the four day Claymation Camp and I have to say, this has been a great group of kids to work with. Most of them have been very engaged in their movies. Yesterday, they made great progress, although only one of the movies has actually been completed. This morning, we put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and finish up the rest before parents arrive at 11:45 am for a premiere showing of the work these past four days.

Many of you know I am loving Animoto as a way to showcase still images.

So, check this out:

More to come as the movies get completed. And you can always venture over to our Claymation Camp Weblog site, too.

Peace (in funny little creatures),

A Tour of Clay

Yesterday, at our claymation camp, we started to get down to work on coming up with ideas for the movies (built around the concept of fractured fairy tales) and the students started to make their clay characters. Today will be a jam-packed day of writings scripts and filming scenes. Tomorrow is the last day (already!) and we have invited family to come in and see what we have created.

At the end of class yesterday, I filmed this:

Peace (in clay),

Using YouTube Annotation: Beware of the Head!

I was messing around with claymation today on a laptop that we will be using for next week’s claymation camp (and have some glitches that have me stressed out) and I created this short little claymation movie, using clay and legos and other assorted toys.

But I was interested in using the new YouTube Annotation feature, which allows you to add to text to videos as overlays. It seems perfect for claymation movies where you don’t necessarily want to add an audio narration, and I didn’t. I created a quick soundtrack with my Super Dooper Music Looper software, uploaded and added the words right there in YouTube.

It’s pretty neat, I think.  I am embedding the claymation movie, but the embedded version won’t have the narration annotations. You need to go to the Beware of the Head video at YouTube to see the words on the video itself.

The whole process took me about an hour, but I have done enough stop-motion to get into the swing of things pretty quick. I like this little demented movie, though. The set looks cool, and the head — well, the head without a body is a horror story classic, don’t you think?

Peace (in stopmotion),

Claymation in the Classroom, part three

This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.

Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:

  • On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
  • We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
  • We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
  • We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:

Peace (in frames),

The Rise of the Stick People

Today is the last day of the year for my sixth graders — which makes me both happy and sad (you teachers know what I am talking about). For the past three days, the kids have been working on the laptops for the last time, using Pivot Stickman Animation to create little animated movies.

I mostly let them have fun with it and showed them the basics of Pivot, and then some lessons on MovieMaker for those who were not part of my homeroom class (which worked on Claymation movies), and also Super Dooper Music Looper. They loved Pivot and they loved Music Looper, and some were able to do all three programs and created tiny movies.

I gathered the ones I could collect here for this little collection:

The best part for me? The credits one of the students put (on the last flick) that thanks me for helping her improve as a writer this year. Yeah.

Peace (in sticky people),

Claymation in the Classroom, part two

This is the second in a series of posts about my claymation project this year. The first post was just a basic overview of the project. This post will deal a bit more with some of the resources that I used and how I went about launching claymation with my sixth graders.

First of all, this is the fourth year that I have been doing claymation. The first two years, I used simple digital still images and MovieMaker to add narration and titles. Last year, following the lead of my friend Tonya W., I shifted to using a freeware program called Stop-Motion Animator. This software uses a webcam to capture “frames” as an .AVI video file. This shift to Stop-Motion Animator allowed my students to create moving movies, and not just still images. This was a big leap forward for us, although now it required more patience from my students and increased video editing skills.

On the technical side, too, I found that I had to download a video Codec (called Xvid) in order for MovieMaker to recognize the AVI files created by the stop-motion software. Every move forward seems to require some kind of trouble-shooting, but that is the way of the world. In MovieMaker, students can add titles, transitions, audio narration, music and some features of movie production. The most valuable? The ability to slow down a video segment (through MM’s video effects) because all too often, students have not shot enough frames to match their narration. This gives them a little leeway.

For the writing element, we often focus on some aspect of writing. One year, it was how setting informs a story. Another year, it was integrating science by having students invent a new creature and how the habitat that it lives in affects its development. This year, I decided to focus on Climate Change.

First, we used a book called “The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming” by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. It’s a kid-friendly look at climate change. I used some of my collected points via Scholastic Books to purchase about seven of the books for the classroom. We also did some research around global warming, just to ground the students on the issue.

Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming

Next, students created clay figures and we use the cheap clay you can get at any department store. The clay is a bit messy but it is cheap and they can use as much as they need. I also provide a box of craft supplies, such as googlie eyes, sticks, etc. This creation of clay figures made the project character driven and I have often had the story done first before the characters but this year, I did the reverse. The result? I think it helped students when considering a story idea to have a character they could put into action. They could tangibly hold it in their hands as they were writing.

From there, they used both a storyboard and a concept mapping sheet to plan out their stories. The storyboard allows them to think about the “scenes” in the movie and the concept map provides a structure for a framework of story sequencing — from start to middle to end.

Here are the templates that I use:

(here is big version of storyboard)

(here is big version of concept map)

Normally, we then move into writing the script, but this year (as I mentioned in my last post), I decided to see how things would fare if we shifted into filming and letting them use the storyboard and concept map to create dialogue and narration (a mixed bag, I must say).

The filming takes time — I would guess this part of the project took some groups three 45-minute sessions to seven 45-minute sessions. My job is to encourage and push them along, otherwise, some groups would never get the filming completed. Once they have the raw footage, we move the video into MovieMaker, edit out fingers and hands that crop into the footage and begin to piece things together with narration. Getting good audio levels from a group of students is difficult, as microphone placement is crucial. But some kids like to pull the microphone almost into their mouth and others try to keep as far . As they are adding titles and credits, I remind them that credits should probably not be longer than the movies (which run anywhere from one minute to three minutes long, total).

This is a key point for me: I show the students how to edit, but I don’t edit for them (unless there is some emergency). I have to resist the urge to take over their project. I really want the movies to be theirs and theirs alone, and sometimes that means I wince a bit (to be honest) at the final product, and think about how I could swooped in and done something differently. But, that moment passes, and I realize that they have complete ownership over their movies.

Finally, we “create” the movies as video files and share them out. I’ll write more about publishing the movies in my next segment.

Here is another of the movies from this year:

Peace (in slowmotion),