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),

“Playtime” with Stopmotion

(This shot seemed cool — it’s from my demo of using the software. You can see the set I have on the ground, the laptop and then the whiteboard.)

I always set aside a full class period for my student to play around with the technology they will be using for a project. Right now, we are about to begin a movie project in which they film a stopmotion movie around  a Figurative Language term.

Yesterday, after showing them how to set the up the webcam and how to use the Stopmotion Animator program, I gave them each a WikiStix and let them be creative. They did not have to save their work yesterday, but many did. They were really jazzed up about the possibilities of stopmotion and were calling each other over to watch what they had done. Lots of energy in the room yesterday!

Here is a short one that I grabbed off a computer. This student used crayons as props. Remember: this is the first time she has ever even attempted a stopmotion video and this was done in about 30 minutes.

Peace (in the frames),


The “Pitches” for Stopmotion Movies

I am hoping to end our school year on a creative note, launching a unit around Figurative Language through Stopmotion movies. My students are right in the starting stages. They have been given a Figurative Language term and now are working on a story idea around that term.

Yesterday, I had them working on a “movie pitch.” I told them to imagine that I had a few million dollars handy (as  if …) and am ready to invest in a good movie idea. Their task was to convince me of their idea through the writing of a “pitch.” They had to submit their “pitches” at our weblog site as a way of sharing out their ideas.

Here are a few intriguing ones:

  • Our figurative language is personification. In our movie we are going to have Oreo’s talking. One is saying that Oreo’s are Milks favorite cookie. Then another one says that milk doesn’t have feelings so they can’t have feelings. And that’s personification.
  • Our movie pitch is an idiom. Our idea uses the idiom “Against the clock”. We plan to make our film about a kid who is last at taking a test and his teacher tells him he is going against the clock. So he starts daydreaming about a cheetah clock and him running in a race. Then his teacher tells him that what she said was just a idiom and he has to hurry up he feels relieved that he doesn’t have to race anyone so he finishes and gets a A on the test!
  • This movie has alliteration in it. It starts off with two turtles walking on a trail. A person watching says an alliteration sentence involving the two turtles. Another person asks what he’s saying. The person then explains alliteration to the other person and walks away.
  • Our movie is about personification. In our movie there are going to be two people talking about the wind and giving it characteristics. After, another character will appear and ask them why they are giving human like characteristics to the wind. The two characters will then explain what they are saying and what personification is.
  • Our movie is about personification. There are going to be two kids talking,about the wind, giving it human-like characteristics. Then another character is going to ask them what they mean when they give the wind the human-like characteristics. After the two characters are going to explain what personification is.
  • The figure of speech we got was Hyperbole. We are making a spoof on Free Willy. We are thinking of when Willy gets freed we would have Willy jump on a jet ski or into a random taxi. It is a hyperbole because we are stretching the truth by having him jump in a vehicle as he’s leaving, like a fairy tale.
  • Our movie is about Imagery. We are focusing on a doctor’s office of terror. The main character is going to the doctor’s office and needs to face the cold, hard stethoscope. He starts to have a nervous breakdown from the sights and smells of the doctor’s office. In the end, he has a great appointment and gets a lollipop, which will get him a trip to the dentist. And that’s another story …
  • Our movie is an Onomatopoeia. We plan to have a family of 5 that live in Southampton. The 3 kids are triplets named Nathan, John, and Alex. For the special occasion of the triplets birthday the parents take them to I Hop in Philadelphia. Alex orders a banana pancake in the I Hop when suddenly it rolls out of the restaurant. Alex and his family run outside curious of the pancake and see it as transformed to a giant ninja pancake that shouts rawr! The family starts to see sounds in words around Philadelphia and have to stop the banana pancake before it terrorizes our beloved Philadelphia.

Today, I will show them how to use our webcams and the Stopmotion Animator freeware and let them play around. Playing is a crucial part of this project at this stage. I want them to become comfortable with creating scenes in stopmotion.

Later, we intend to publish some of the best of the movies over at the Longfellow Ten website. If you haven’t checked that site out, do it. It’s a collection of student-created stopmotion movies.

And if you are interested in stopmotion, I have a website resource that I created with all sorts of resources. It’s called Making Stopmotion Movies (very creative, eh?)

Peace (in the frames),

How to make a movie? Ask Amelia.

I stumbled into this neat picture book in our local library and finally got around to reading it yesterday with my youngest son. Amelia Makes a Movie by David Milgrim is a whimsical look at making a home movie from the viewpoint of two creative kids, and supportive parents in the background.

I love how Milgrim captures the essence of how to really make a movie — Amelia and her little brother plan out the story, build a set, shoot the video on the camcorder, re-imagine and re-shoot the movie when a better idea comes along (thanks to the little brother), and then after some editing, the kids showcase the movie before friends and family, just like a Hollywood premiere.

In a playful way, Amelia shows the reader how they, too, can make a movie themselves. It reminds me of a conversation that I had yesterday with someone who is writing a movie script in hopes of eventually shopping it around, and we were wondering what movies will be like in 10 years or so when this current crop of young video producers make their way into Hollywood. Just think of how young kids are with all the tools at their disposal for creating visual compositions.

I am going to try to add this book as resource over at my Making Stopmotion Movie site.

Peace (in the shoot),

Making the WikiStix Dance with Stopmotion

This is my last reflective post from the Dublin Literacy Conference, which took place in Ohio last weekend. Along with working with teachers, I was asked to lead a family session, too, which I readily agreed to. I love that kids and their parents are invited to attend portions of a conference for teachers, and so I suggested a session around stopmotion movie making.

Well, there was a big response, to put it mildly (about 125-150 people in the session), and the music room was packed with kids and parents. Luckily, I had some idea of the numbers beforehand and while I knew I wanted to make a movie before their eyes in the hour that we had together, I mulled over some possibilities.

How do you get a lot of kids involved in making a movie in a short time? My answer was to use bendable WikiStix, which we handed out to kids as they entered the room and gave instructions to create some strange character. Some of the kids looked at me strange, others didn’t say a word, and others asked for further instructions. Just like my own classroom (including the strange looks)!

And so, using my webcam, a freeware program and Moviemaker, we made a Wikistix Conga line stopmotion movie in a short amount of time.

I used a black music stand that was in the room for the background, which worked well for the bright colored creatures but not so well for the dark ones. I tried to talk my way through the process, which everyone watched on the screen. I had kids line up with their creations (and put a student at my computer to take the frame shots), and we moved the creatures across our “set” one frame at a time. I think they were pretty excited to be involved in a movie, but they also got a sense of the time and patience it takes to make a movie, too (a valuable lesson).

I had two kids come up and voice the title and the credits and now the movie is part of my Making Stopmotion Movie website resource, with a link for the kids who were there to download a version of the video.

They asked some great questions, too, such as how long does it take to make a short movie? What materials do you need? What advice would I give?

What was great was when I asked who might go home and try to make a movie, almost every hand in the room shot up. And many parents came up to me afterwards, asking follow-up questions. (A lot of the kids wanted to know where they could buy Wikistix, which are perfect for stopmotion, I have found. Luckily, one smart vendor had them for sale out in the conference hall).

Wouldn’t it be cool if even half of the kids there made a movie?

Peace (in the frames),


Learning the tricks of videos

When I was a kid, someone bought me the Klutz book of Juggling, which came with three beanbags and funny instructions on how to juggle. Never would I have imagined that I could juggle, but the Klutz book led the way. You should see my students faces when we are standing in line and I start juggling a few Koosh balls. I’m not that good at it, but good enough to keep the three balls in the air for a few minutes.

Franki, over at  A Year of Reading, has been moving her way into moviemaking with students and she wrote a fantastic post the other day about the Klutz Tricky Video book, and its accompanying video site. Needless to say, I bought the book.

My two older sons have been pouring over its pages in detail, as it shows how to trick the eye of the viewer with video tricks (I love the tilted table, and the stretchy arm, and the basketball shot from far far far away.) Like so many other Klutz books, this one is for beginners, with nothing more than curiosity and a few simple tools. They even say that while a computer would be helpful for editing, it’s not necessary (you just have to know when to cut a shot and how to use sound effects).

A lot of the special effects are really stopmotion techniques, which is why I have added it to my resource list on my new Making Stopmotion Movies website.

If you know a kid who has more than a passing interest in making movies (and who doesn’t know that kid? If you don’t, you’re not looking at the kids around you close enough), then this book is a great purchase. And send them to the companion video site to see the movies described in the book, in action. At the least, you are sure to get a kick out them.

Plus, you get one of those fancy director’s chalkboards, with places to write in scenes and cuts and stuff, and you can even click down the top of it and shout out: Action! just like in the movies.

Peace (in the action),

My New Stopmotion Movie Web Resource

(Head to Making Stopmotion Movies)

In less than a week, I will be heading off to Ohio for the Dublin Literacy Conference and one of my sessions is with parents and kids around creating stopmotion movies. I have handouts, but I really wanted a website resource that I could direct people to if they were truly interested in creating stopmotion movies.

Yesterday morning, I worked for a bit on a site, got feedback from my Twitter friends and others, and I think it is just about ready. My aim was to provide some inspiration for those wondering about how to make movies, access to the free tools that I use with my students and my own sons, and insights into what I have learned from doing claymation and other stopmotion movies with young people.

This morning, I put some finishing touches on the site, adding a few more movies. There is still some tinkering to do, but mostly, I think it is a good resource for people, and something I am proud to have created, particularly for the large numbers of parents and kids who will be attending my session on Saturday in Dublin.

Feel free to pass the site along through your network. If you are inspired, and you get your students making movies, give me a shout because our Longfellow Ten site is always on the lookout for more student work. The LF10 is a stopmotion moviemaking syndicate (sounds devious, doesn’t it?) that features student films.

Head to the Making Stopmotion Movies website

Peace (in the frames),