A reflective piece on slowmation by Brian Gravel, iCreate’s resident professor and Director of the STEM Education program at Tufts.
Good friends of the SAM Animation development team in Australia have been helping us think about how to use animation in different ways and in different contexts. In an effort led by Garry Hoban of the University of Wollongong, they have developed a process called “Slowmation,” in which pre-service teachers make slow stop-motion animations to explain scientific concepts (here’s more on Slowmation).
Garry and his colleagues John Loughran and Wendy Nielson recently published a research paper on Slowmation, which looks at how pre-service teachers use this process to develop “multimodal” representations of science knowledge. That’s a mouthful, so let me use their paper to further explain the idea.
In their paper, they report on a group of teachers learning about and creating an animation of “Life Cycle of the Ladybird Beetle”. Life cycles are complicated – there are many ideas (reproduction, hatching/birth, maturation, etc.) that must be pieced together to make sense of the process from start to finish. However, through a very regimented sequence of activities, these pre-service teachers began to break the process down and think about how they would represent each step in the animation. This includes drawings, written labels, narration, and others modes of expressing ideas. Thus, this is a “multimodal” process – many different modes of representation are used. Garry and his colleagues report how this process not only helped these teachers understand the science, but it facilitated their engagement with different forms of representation and how to effectively communicate an idea or understanding.
In the paper, they highlight storyboarding as an important aspect of Slowmation. You know we at iCreate love storyboarding, so this is right in line with our thinking. They specifically name two aspects of storyboarding that we liked: chunking and sequencing. Essentially, for large complicated processes, a storyboard helps students break that process down into particular “chunks,” and then focus on how to represent each “chunk” in an effective way. Narrowing a problem down and thinking specifically about how to represent that one idea can support students’ efforts to think about specific processes or mechanisms. Understanding the “why” of what we observe is the essence of inquiry, and tools that help students do this are crucially important.
Many concepts in science that students encounter are rather complicated: the water cycle, mitosis, electric circuits, Newton’s laws, etc. Any opportunity to break these ideas down into smaller “chunks” provides students with more focused and directed sense-making opportunities. A storyboard begins this process of chunking, and going from storyboard to animation is where students use their representational capacities to communicate ideas. Sequencing representations from one mode (say written language) into another (say a drawing) is a powerful exercise for understanding the processes and mechanisms at play in science. As the primary goal of inquiry is to have students generate coherent explanations that link cause with effect, we think the way Hoban et al. highlight storyboards for chunking and sequencing is further evidence of the power of animation in classrooms.
Here is a link to the paper if you care to read more. Thanks to Garry, John, and Wendy for their hard work and continued partnership!