Monday, 29 June 2009

Want to animate? Animate!

It all started about 4 years ago with a Digital Blue camera, I loaded the software included with the camera and looked quickly through it. The interface was simple, reasonably versatile and well laid out. I took it home and gave it to my children to play with, the resultant short stop frame animation got me thinking about ways that this medium might fit into my primary class.
I looked at the curriculum and realised that my Art unit - 'People in Action' leant itself to utilising ICT - I introduced the concept of animation using Pivot Stick figure animator A great piece of freeware that highlighted the need for multiple frames and was simple and fun to use. I then gave a very brief demonstration of how to use the Digital Blue to create a stop-frame animation. It was all the children needed and they ran from there. The creativity of backdrops and subject matter were great. Did it meet the Art objectives? Probably not but it opened the door for me on the potential of this to engage and excite children.

The following year I had more time to think about how the animation tool could enhance children's learning. I used literacy as a starting point and got the class to take a well known nursery Rhyme and write a playscript for it. This process in itself was a wonderful exercise in creative literacy as the children made a story from the Rhyme.
The quality of the digital images from the camera were workable and the stop-frame process was simple enough but unfortunately the audio quality appeared to be lacking. The intention therefore was to create a seperate sound track and then marry the two together. To give the animation the depth they needed I had to provide the children with the ability to produce multi-track audio files, this would allow them to include dialogue, music and sound effects - another piece of freeware came to the rescue: Audacity - simple to use and effective it proved to be extremely versatile and allowed multi-layered audio to be created. Once complete the audio and video were put together in Windows Moviemaker.
The whole experience was stimulating and challenging for the children and the end results were pleasing to the children and myself. Problems occured with synchronisation of the two parts when titles and credits were added to the film, a problem that I would address in a later project.

The following year I used our extended narrative, a quest story, as the starting point for our animation. Each pair or group took a chapter from the story and scripted it. Our hero - Alvin (straight out of the £1 shop and one of six that were purchased to ensured continuity of the character throughout our animation) then took his place in the animations and we created a number of scenes. Rather than record audio tracks as seperate entities we then put all the clips together in Moviemaker, added appropriate titles and credits before starting on the sound track. By cascading the Moviemaker window above the Audacity window we were able to synchronise the two with accuracy using their respective timelines. The result is a seven minute Animation, with depth of sound, continuity, a story and humour all created by a class of enthuased and proud 10/11 year old children. Could it be improved? Of course it could, sound levels are erratic, some animation is poor, dialogue lacks expression in places...But nevertheless, an amaazing piece of work that truly animated a class.

Click for a Prezi on the process

Saturday, 20 June 2009

ICT Week - Mission Implausible.

I have a dream, corny start I know but I have got a dream, well a concept anyway and it is regarding accessibility to ICT in schools. Many commentators are constantly labouring the importance of 'technological adeptness'. The 21st century has seen a plethora of technological advances and if we blink then we truly do miss them. The exponential growth of: wireless technology; The Internet; touchscreen technology and mobile communication to name but a few is staggering and my vision is not about me not missing it, I try hard to keep up, but about ensuring I am party to assisting my colleagues and the students around me in recognising and embracing these changes. I had the privilege of being party to designing and implementing our new school 'ICT solution'And the culmination was, in my opinion, a teacher friendly, child orientated, ICT rich learning environment. The problem was ensuring that the wealth of opportunities available to the school were recognised - so was born ICT Enrichment Week. I gave it the title 'Out of this World' and ran from there.

No rocket science was involved in the set up of the week:
1. try to give as many opportunities to the children and staff to 'play' with a variety of ICT software and hardware.
2. Make this access as simple as possible.
3. Ensure the correct levels of support are provided for everyone.
4. Communicate openly with all parties.

See timetable below:

Day 1 - MYST
I chose Myst following the success of Tim Rylands and the use of this game to inspire creative writing. I wanted the staff to see their new Interactive Whiteboards (IWB's) us in a multi-sensory way to engage and inspire children. Armed with a copy of Myst 3 and my laptop I visited every class in the school and took them on a tour around parts of the game. The response was very positive and I got some amazing vocabulary from children in Nursery through to upper Key Stage 2. The level of engagement was testament to the all consuming nature of the stimulus and not necessarily to my delivery. Nevertheless I am confident that the children benefited from the sessions and the teaching and support staff recognised the opportunities presented by this medium.

Day 2 - Photostory & Activote.
Mandy Barrow (Advisory Service Kent - ASK) arrived to use our new ICT suite and deliver session on Photostory to all classes. The resultant use of the software was beneficial to all the children and their own technological ability was utilised to good effect. Staff feedback was positive and the potential cross curricular uses of this application were realised. Andy Place (ASK) was also in school for the day and visited every year group to show how Activote (KS1) or Activexpression (KS2) can be used to assist in assessment and raise engagement. The children thoroughly enjoyed this medium and remained excited and animated throughout. Teacher feedback was equally enthusiastic and I have several requests to install software and demonstrate lesson set up. Hopefully this equipment will be used in the classroom now.

Day 3 - 2Simple software
Having recently purchased the entire 2 Simple collection for our network it was important that teaching staff were aware of the potential of this software. James Barrett (ASK)came in for the day to work with Foundation and Key stage 1. His affinity with the children and his enthusiasm for this area of ICT rubbed off on the children and staff. Some excellent work was produced and requests for him to return and host a twilight session for staff was seized upon. We look forward to that evening in a couple of weeks time.

Day 4 - ICT in PE & NXT Robots
As PE coordinator as well as ICT I was keen to impress the cross curricular capability of ICT. Kirstie Hemmingway (SSco) had originally intended to bring in Dartfish to show our upper Key stage 2 children. Technological difficulties prevented this from happening, nevertheless Kirstie was able to work with a range of children to produce using: PE equipment, digital cameras and the ICT suite, a range of 'activity cards' to break down different PE skills. These cards, once laminated will provide illustrations for younger children and teaching aids for staff. Five children from different classes in the school had attended a cluster 'Control Day', they returned with 3 NXT robots. Throughout the course of Thursday, supported and led by two capable TA's (Mrs M & Mrs F)these children introduced the whole school to the NXT robot and fascinated the school with its capabilities and personality!

Day 5 - My plan was to host an inter class video conference in place of celebration assembly which is normal after an activity week. A practise run during Tuesday's staff meeting and some running about from me to make sure all classes worked. Culminated in 8 classes, all connected to Flash Meeting, viewing on IWB's images of their family and friends (using visualisers as webcams), The WOW factor was huge and walking into Reception class or Nursery and seeing children with their mouths agog at their older siblings talking to them from the screen was a high point for me. The quality of the conferencing left something to be desired, but nevertheless our whole school experienced video conferencing first hand.

Asus Minibooks - The school has 60 Asus Minibooks - these tend to reside in year 4 and year 6 where they are used regularly. By timetabling the minibooks in each class for a day, every child was able to access them and the staff were able to see the potential from using them to support some curricular areas. The big positive moment for me was when the reception teacher came to sing the praises of the mini books. Apparently her class were totally engaged for an hour( a long time for reception apparently, outside my knowledge remit), she was assisted by some year 6 pupils who were invaluable in scaffolding the younger children's access to the computers. This is the same teacher who had been overtly negative to the use of the minibooks in reception when I had given them to all the staff over a half term earlier in the year.

Webquest - As a competition for all children I offered an MP3 player as a prize per class for completing a webquest on outer space. I placed these as a document in the school website to encourage its use. Whilst I thought the prize was quite exciting, the response was quite poor, especially from the key stage 2 children - perhaps it was too hard, perhaps they all have MP3 players!!!!

Negatives - It wasn't all good. I asked the staff to take on a lot and generally they rose to the challenge. I wonder if this overloading of information may actually be detrimental to their development. Visualisers work as webcams but are not as efficient as the real thing, may need to invest in a webcam per class (if I ever get any more money!!!). Video conference needed more structure to be an effective tool , I think I knew this but the experience was disjointed. The webquest could have been differentiated further which may have encouraged more entrants. I failed to check the website counter before and after the week to see if our hit rate increased due to the competition.

Positives - I felt positive about the whole week. I am still awaiting evaluation forms from the staff and will be interviewing some children to get their ideas on what happened. The concept of offering an insight into a range of hardware and software was achieved, with the assistance of the aforementioned people I was able to give staff and pupils a range of ICT experiences that they can utilise in other areas. I cannot make anybody embrace the change but by introducing it perhaps I can precipitate some.

The dream - I want to be a party to our children's technological awareness being as 'Future-proof' as possible. My small part is to remain an enthusiastic practitioner and, where possible, providing my colleagues and my students with the support, the experiences and the vision to operate outside their own comfort zones.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Street Life

Day one: PM - First ICT lesson in new suite.
The concept was to provide a flexible display option to the open plan ICT Suite within our 'Learning Street'. I took my year 4 class down the street on Wednesday afternoon and got the four 42" screens fired up, using one of the new desktop PC's as the input. The result the children were presented with an identical desktop as there one following log in. The objective of the lesson was: 'To set up subject folders in my documents' this was included to ensure that the children's file management system on our new network started out on the right foot. Having the 'my documents' folder displayed directly in front of the children was an excellent teaching aid - the children found it easy to see the demonstration of the skills required (ok not rocket science to make and name a folder)and were able to transfer those skills effectively to there own computers. The close proximity of the screen kept all the children focussed even those whose concentration tended to wander. On a negative side the control point at one end of the tables was difficult when demonstrating, whilst children had visual stimulus there were some limitations to their aural input (possible use of air mouse to allow central presentation)The outcome however was encouraging - all children achieved the lesson objective, some of these in a surprisingly quick time. Verdict: My initial thoughts are all predominantly positive. It looks good, sounds good and does the job what more could I ask?

Day Two: PM - Parents Open afternoon
The afternoon was punctuated my year 6 pupils showing an assortment of parents and family around the new school building. The Smart table, now comfortably located in its own area, proved a big hit as parents joined in with pupils trying to answer questions on Henry VIII's wives. As I walked around the school I was greeted with:
Nursery - children playing on games on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB).
Reception - Whiteboard on and counting games being played - nursery rhymes being streamed via the computer to the speakers located in the outside play area.
Year 1 - IWB on and children engaged in activities on the board.
Year 2 - Children writing on IWB, gross and fine motor skills being utilised.
Year 4 - Children led by TA (or was it the other way round?) creating Smartboard pages on Henry VIII's wives - inserting pictures, handwriting converted to text - using information researched from books, internet and taken from Smart table activities. The TA said afterwards "I had a really good time" (is that right at work?)
Year 5 - Classical music being streamed via computer to outside decking area and into classroom.

Now this was not a typical day at school, and the plethora of new ICT equipment in every classroom has a certain amount of novelty value. however I am encouraged by the way the staff have embraced the technology and tried to utilise it. My aim was to make the equipment as user friendly as possible and so every classroom has exactly the same set-up of Smartboard, visualiser and internal and external speaker and amp system. thereby trying to ensure that in any classroom the teacher or TA (they all received the same training) can operate and use the equipment. Still getting teething problems (normally user error) and I am running around in a similar way to the proverbial decapitated fowl, but all, I hope, for a good reason. I truly believe that technological awareness is an essential part of a child's education. They need to see, be aware and where possible, use as many different tools as we as educators can provide. I still have Activevote and Activeexpression to introduce as well as our media streaming server and ICT enrichment week. The challenge rolls on but the first hurdle has been cleared.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The solution

After weeks of juggling time and speaking to technicians and pushing through work that should have been completed the day is finally upon us. Tomorrow(Wednesday 3rd June) the school is officially open to the children and today the ICT solution finally came to fruition. The problem of providing a aesthetically pleasing yet practical display option for the ICT suite in our open plan 'Learning Street' was at last booted up. The concept sketched whilst on residential finally came to fruition. Not without the total support of our Headteacher (Sylvia) and several days of work from ICT Technician (Kerrie), Network & Cabling Solutions (Paul) and myself culminated in a successful trial of the equipment and it certainly looked spectacular. From the neatly mounted control unit in the bespoke ICT table allowing a multitude of choices from the four video inputs displaying to one, two, three or four of the screens and providing similar audio versatility:

To the pleasing lines of the high mounted screens on custom made stanchions part of the bespoke table.

It is not quite finished, the digital signage and media server which will link to the 42" screen in our reception area, as well the ones in the learning street, should we choose is still to be completed and therefore I cannot say my vision is truly realised but it was a great day when two laptops streamed seperate videos to the large screens in 'The Street' and a multitude of positive comments from other staff members.

So finally we are near to completion of the solution, the ICT provision of a small Kent primary school: 33 Fully networked desktop PC's, 8 Adjustable Smartboards, 8 Visualisers, Internal and external audio speakers in each classroom, media streaming server throughout the school, Smart Table, 60 Asus minibooks. My task now remains to ensure that the equipment is utilised to its maximum potential. First ICT training session today: All staff introduced to visualisers and IWB's. thanks to @wigglemyears for his time today as usual his games were a great hit. I came home today pleasantly surprised by the positive approach all teaching and support staff had towards the changes they were faced with in there classrooms. Long may it continue......