So simple, even a 5 year old ….

My little guy (five years old) asked yesterday if  “I could make a movie” with the clay he has been working with. I’ve had clay all over the place for the past week or so and he has been making little characters and stuff, and then storing them in a box that he created. It’s very cute. And he’s been watching his older brother film some sort of epic stopmotion movie (I’m not sure what he’s doing — he has his studio set up in his bedroom) that involves paper cutouts (his favorite technique).

You want to make a movie, too? Sure.

I set up the Mac, turned on iStopmotion and let him make his movie (I helped here and there with the computer and did the final version in iMovie with music, but he did everything else himself.)

The movie is called “Chase Revenge” and that’s a King and a Queen being searched for by their dog, and a farmer, and they united and live happily ever after.

Peace (in the claymation),

Checking out iStopmotion on the Mac

(A quick sample done in minutes with iStopmotion2)

I took my classroom Mac home with me this summer and am trying out some new things with it. I do love the Mac now (Bonnie will be proud) and I wondered about making stopmotion movies on it. I know you can import digital photos into iPhoto or iMovie, and do it that way by laying in images. But I wondered about programs for the Mac, so I gave iStopmotion2 by Boinx a try.

I am pretty impressed with the possibilities of this software. It’s easy to use, creates files that pretty much seamlessly integrate with iMovie, where you can add voice and music and titles, etc. If you have an upgraded version of iStopmotion, you can add audio and titles and more right in the program itself. (I would not recommend this for the classroom because of the cost of the licensing. But if you have deep pockets, well, it would be perfect for kids to use because it is just so darn easy to use).

I did splurge on a home license because I figure my own kids will give it a shot. They liked using the foregrounds and backgrounds, but I guess those features don’t export with the video. Or at least, I can’t figure it out. Or it may be that my license does not allow it.

What I need to now figure out is how to use something other than the tiny video camera in my Mac to capture frames because the location of that camera (on the top of the laptop) limits what we can do. And my five year old says he wants to make a movie! So …

Peace (in the frames),

Some Reflective Thoughts on Stopmotion and Students

Yesterday, all of my students watched a DVD of our short stopmotion movies that were created around themes of Figurative Language. Well, not all. A few of the movies are still not done, but another teacher has the laptops for a stretch, and I am not even sure if those uncomplete projects will get done before the school year ends on us.

Not one of my students had ever tried to make a stopmotion movie before, so this was new territory for all of them.

I’ve been thinking about the project and had some reflections about what worked and what didn’t work.

Completely Hooked and Completely Engaged: There is no doubt in my mind that bringing moviemaking, including stopmotion, into the classroom is a huge hit with most students. During the two week stretch — from storyboarding to editing — almost every single student was fully engaged in what they were doing. They were jazzed about making a movie and they rushed into the classroom every day, wanting to get started. You can’t beat that kind of enthusiasm.

It Pays to Have a Theme: Each group was given a term of Figurative Language, and their film was supposed to reflect that term. One year, I gave a lot of latitude to what they could film and it was a near disaster. Chaos and infighting ensued. While I stepped aside  most of the time with this project, I was definitely the teacher at the start, assigning the basis theme of the movie. This gave structure to the project, and of course, made it a learning experience as much as a movie-making experience.

Prep Pays Off: I had my students brainstorm story ideas and then create a “movie pitch” for me to look over. Then, they had to use a storyboard to map out their story. This was all done before the computers were even turned on because once the power button is pushed, they are off to the races.

Mentor Movies: We watched some Wallace and Gromit shorts (including a behind the scenes video), and also a documentary around stopmotion movies. While this took time away from the project, it was invaluable for talking about the effort and patience that goes into stopmotion. They were amazed at the scale of things — how small the sets were and how patient the filmmakers were. I preached that patience every day. But for some 12 year olds, that word doesn’t always register.

First, Pivot: I had then using Pivot Stickfigure for a class period. This simple program is great for introducing the concept of “frames” of stopmotion. You can literally see the movie unfold along the stop of the screen. Kids love Pivot, too. What I noticed is they learned to slow down the movements of characters, which then translates into smoother actions. Pivot allowed them time to experiment a bit because if you make a mistake, it is easy enough to fix.

No Scripts, Bad Move (for some): I looked at the calendar and counted the days that I would have the laptops in my head and realized that I needed to push things along. I made the decision to allow groups to use the storyboard as a script and not write out dialogue. I’m not sure this was a good decision, as some of the movies became slightly incoherent and just a jumble of footage, as opposed to a story. I think the script would have helped provide a framework for the narration of voices. I’m second-guessing myself on this one.

Corrupt Files: This was frustrating and I think it is a result of our laptops now getting older and not working as well as they once did. Some groups spent a long time shooting a scene, saved the raw footage and then … the video file became corrupt. For the most part, I was pretty amazed at how well they took it (no one threw the computer out the window). They would sigh, shrug and get back to work re-filming the scene. I think my students are more resilient than I would be in the same circumstances.

Wiki Stix Rock: In years past, I have used clay with students to create characters. Honestly, it gets messy with 80 students and the clean-up time takes away from the filming time. This year, I went with Wiki Stix — little bendable sticks — and they were a huge hit. A lot of groups brought in props, too, but they loved the wiki stix. And I loved that there was no mess! Plus, the size of the wiki stix were perfectly scaled for the frame of the stopmotion movie.

Staying on Topic: I mentioned how every group had a figurative language theme. Not every group was successful in keeping on topic, and there are a few movies (all from groups of boys) that make no sense at all. I tried to get around to help as many groups as I could, but as one teacher in a room of up to 10 different projects going on at once, I was not always able to get everywhere, all the time. And some groups nodded their heads when I came to help them and then continued what they were doing as if I had not even been there. The strange thing is that even as we watched them on the DVD, these group members continued to think that their movies were clearly the top of the crop, even as peers were asking “what was that about?”

Ungraded Project: Partially because this was an end-of-year project and partially because assessing moviemaking is difficult, I decided that this would not be a graded project. I never told my students this and only one student (out of 80) even bothered to ask if they would be graded. I wonder now, though, about those groups who could not find focus and whether the grade incentive would have kept them better on track. Perhaps not. But, after we watched the DVD yesterday, I asked a few questions about figurative language and they mostly had a good understanding of their own term (from their own movie) and terms shown in other movies. So, that works for me. (Plus, there is no line on our new standards-based progress report for “making movies.”)

Girls versus Boys: This is an observation across a few years of experience. Girls stay much more on task with this project and are more likely to start over if something doesn’t go right than boys are. Boys rush things and are easily wowed by some cool effect. Boys are more likely to try something new — like holding the camera at odd angles — and then they live with that in their movie, even if it doesn’t help the story. Girls are all about the story, and they patiently construct the movie around the story. I think, too, that in this project, the groups of girls were more attuned that their movie might get a world-wide audience (via our blog and Longfellow 10) while the boys were more interested in impressing the friends in the room. The result? The girls’ movies are more refined than the boys’ movies, and that is pretty much across every single class. It’s interesting.

If you want to learn more about stopmotion, I created the Making Stopmotion Movie site to help teachers. And some of our movies are being published over at The Longfellow 10 collaborative website. If your class makes movies, you are invited to join us at the LF10.

Peace (in the reflections),

Student Stopmotion Movies

Yesterday, the real deadline for my students to complete their Figurative Language Stopmotion Movies came and most (alas, not all) of the groups finished up, some in a big hurry. I’ll be reflecting a bit as a teacher on the project another day this week, but I thought I might share one or two of the short movies with you. Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a handful at the collective Longfellow 10 site.

Here is a movie about alliteration.

Here is a movie about hyperbole.

Here is a movie about personification.

Here is a movie about metaphor.

Peace (in the shows),

Looking in on Student Stopmotion Movies

Some of my student groups are nearing completion of their stopmotion movie projects. I was out the other day, which puts a wrench in the timeline because a sub can’t do technical support, so progress is slow. Still, most are working on creating soundtrack music and then the next step is pulling it all together. Friday is our deadline. That’s tomorrow. Yikes.

Here are a few scenes from three movies that were completed.

Peace (in the show),

Sneak Peeks at student Stopmotion Movies

There’s a lot of work being done on our stopmotion movies, particularly now that I set a deadline of next Friday for completion. Yesterday, I presented as mini-lesson around using Moviemaker, including making titles and credits (use restraint, I told them), adding narration and cutting into video to remove unwanted hands from scenes.

I went through and randomly grabbed some of the raw footage so that I could share out some of the work at our class website. It’s always good to give parents a glimpse into the room (I wish my own sons’ teachers would do that once in a while).

Note: these are short movies built around concepts of figurative language.

Peace (in the raw),

Keep those video files organized

I honestly try not to take too much technology knowledge for granted with my students. But yesterday, as we moved deeper into our figurative language stopmotion animation project, I realized that a very small percentage of my students knew how to create a very basis  element of Windows: a folder.

Each day, as they shoot raw footage (later to be edited in Moviemaker), they have just been randomly saving it to wherever the computer has defaulted a folder. Which means I had a lot of: “Mr. H, our video from yesterday is gone,” and me replying, “Where did you save it?” and them responding, “I don’t know.”

This happened once too often so I set aside some precious time to go through the process of creating a folder for their work, moving video files into their folder, and reminding them that three other groups are sharing the same computer, so folders are key to organization.Then, I walked around to make sure every group (I have four classes, with about five to seven movie groups going on right now) understood the concept of their folder and how to save their videos in there.

My own lesson here is to remember not to assume anything. My students may look proficient with basic technology but it is unlikely anyone has shown them what to do.  They stumble and discover, just like we do. There is something to be said of learning by doing, but in this case, keeping video files organized in project folders will save a lot of headaches later on.

Or so I hope.

Peace (in the folder),

It’s Hard Work, Making Movies

We’re fully immersed in our Figurative Language Stopmotion Movie Project right now, with me mostly stepping out of the way and just letting my students work on the filming of their raw videos. We’ll pull the raw footage into Moviemaker, add narration and titles, and then I will show them how to make their own music with a software program called SuperDuperMusicLooper that will keep them occupied for a few days, too (kids love MusicLooper).

Peace (in the movies),

Getting Inspired by Longfellow 10

Yesterday, after our vocabulary quiz, I took my students onto the computers and had them tour around the Longfellow 10 stopmotion movie site. Next week, they will begin their own movies and I want them to get inspired by the work of other students. And, I told them, some of their Figurative Language stopmotion movies might make it to the Longfellow 10 website when they are done.

It was a guided activity, with an easy sheet to help them think a bit about what they were watching, and they were pretty impressed by the movies they saw. I also challenged them to try to find some of the movies last year’s sixth grade class put up at the site, and a few them took that as  viewing challenge and had fun with it.

This sheet by a student showed some of the thinking going on as they viewed the movies. It’s OK for them to be critical, because once they start filming their own movies, they will have that in the back of their minds. And they will come to appreciate what they viewed once they realize how tricky it can be to produce a quality movie in stopmotion.

I realized once again, too, what a great resource the LF10 site has become — not only for the stopmotion but also for the wide range of concepts in projects developed by youths for youths. Some of the video streaming got gummed up by all of the wireless computers, so I had them team up, if they could (one of the best investments I ever did: purchasing some dual-headphone jacks that allow two kids to listen or watch at the same time. I’m serious!).

Peace (in the viewing),

Storyboarding Stopmotion Movies

We continue to inch along towards the filming of our stopmotion movies around Figurative Language and my students are raring to go. But not yet. I had then storyboard out their ideas yesterday. I explained to them that these storyboards will become like a “roadmap” for the filming, guiding them along their story.

Here are a few pages of storyboards as a Flickr slideshow:

Peace (in the boards),