This past week, my students began a project in science. Student will demonstrate knowledge of concepts of plant growth cycles. We are using clay figures and stop motion animation to illustrate the growth cycle of plants. Friday, we introduced the students to some of the tools they will be using to tell their story. We used a couple of examples of animation for them to see how animation works. They seemed to understand it. Well, it was very obvious that some of them did not get it. When we started having them complete a concept map on the four main stages of the life cycle of a plant, after watching two examples on movies, they also had a packet of images from a bean plant with diagrams of its life cycle, they had a difficult time completing the concept map. I was ready to throw up my hands. What in the world was wrong? Then it hit me, these children have never studied plants. In seven to eight years in school, they had never mastered the basic concept of the life cycle of a plant. The next challenge was to have them work in teams to create a storyboard of the life cycle. In past experiences of teaching middle school students claymation animation, I have learned that students must sketch every frame, not just four or five. If they just sketch a few of the frames, they think that when they start shooting with the digital camera, all they need are four pictures.
I did not think about it until while talking to our communications teacher that I should have passed out a pack of post-its and asked them to sketch the life cycle on the post-its. So, tomorrow, I plan to pass out the post-its and have them create a simple animation of a bouncing ball (gravity demo). I found a great example on YouTube that I would love to share with my students, but our school district blocks YouTube.com. So, to get around the block, I emailed the guy that created the movie on YouTube and convienced him to email me a copy of his animation. I will put it on a thumb drive and bootleg the file in the back door! Where there is a Will, there is a Way.
This week, students will finish their storyboards and on this coming Friday, they will begin shooting the frames. If they complete the required 30 frames. Students think that they can take their clay figure and in a couple of minutes, shot their movie. It is a process, like science, which requires critical thinking, problem solving, technology skills, and time. This process of creating claymation animation is engaging, but is enraging to kids with no attention span. We have a few students that none of their classmates want to have in their group. It is a real challenge. We spend as much time teaching the other kids in their group how to cope with class clowns and disruptive behavior as we do helping them master the science concepts. We had to have one group removed from the room. I hated it, we rearranged the initial groups, and still, the disruptors continued. The dynamics of the group changed significantly after they were removed. Maybe we need a behavior contract for our next group activity. Maybe we need to invite the parents of the kids that are misbehaving to sit in class with them.
I know we need to figure out what the root cause for their inappropriate behavior is and deal with it. I know why teachers burn out. It is not enough to prepare, plan, setup, reschedule, correlate the lesson with the Standard Course of Study, facilitate and still have to negociate with kids with behavioral issues. This is exactly why worksheets are the number one way to teach science-- IMHO!