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Concept Animations - Testing Student Ideas In Science
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Concept Animations - Testing Student Ideas In Science

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a talking picture worth?

Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh had some outstanding success in the 1990s when they first introduced the idea of concept cartoons in the UK. Their work was based on the premise that students would find it easier to commit to a particular belief or preconception if it was first expressed by a third party. They were right.

The concept cartoons were bright and humorous and the science behind them was fun. The idea spread across continents and I first met them in Australia a decade ago. I was impressed by their energy and the elegancy of their ideas and have used the concept with many classes since then.

Today, it may be time to lauch the concept cartoon strip. Animation is everywhere. They range from the very expensive software packages to the very inexpensive Web 2.0 starters. I found one such starter in a recent search.

I have used Paint in combination with Moviemaker (and audacity or garage band if you want to add audio) to make a simple strip cel movie. Some students can be very creative in getting their rockets to launch, billiard balls to go in the holes or objects to fall from planes. The nature of these sorts of physics phenomena make it appropriate and not too challenging for students to build simple animations of their own and then use them to demonstrate how to solve a problem relating to gravitation of centripetal motion, conservation of momentum or projectile motion. Such a project developed with the cooperation of the ICT teacher can provide a differentiated, cross-curricular challenge for your students. The results are quite beyond expectations. One group of Grade 11 students recently produced some outstanding examples for physics concepts which I would have no problem using as a teaching resource (with the appropriate acknowledgment).

These sorts of activities are fine if you have some access to a computer lab or the students have their own laptops, and if you have established a good rapport with the ICT department. But what do you do if you don't have access or support? You are left with just two options: make them yourself or get back on the web. I'm doing both. I always look for a good java or two, but I like creating simple cartoons. Borrowing from Naylor and Keogh (the idea not the script), I have created a short (but growing) series of concept animations in a very user friendly environment. These have allowed me to ask students questions such as "what happens to matter when it burns", "is friction good or bad" and "does gas have weight". Students hold many misconceptions about everyday scientific concepts and we cannot hope to challenge them if we do not know they are there. Concept animations allow teachers to use a simple visual stimulation, to set a lesson focus and investigate a key scientific concept.

Show students the video first, then ask them to discuss the problem and who they think is correct and why. Following the model of Naylor and Keogh I have 3 characters in each animation and it isn't always the same one who is correct. The key of course is to stimulate discussion and find out why students hold a certain view so an appropriate experience can be used to test an hypothesis. Concept animations work equally well as an assessment for learning tool. An animation which presents a problem which is quickly solved by a class who have used sensible arguments to support their opinions doesn't need to do the next part of the lesson and I can move forward to the next piece of work. For those of us under pressure to meet curriculum outcomes in the time we have available, that is a real winner. Concept animations can be a versatile tool in your teaching program.

I'm not quite sure what a talking picture is worth, but I'm happy for it to replace several pages of printed text whenever I can.


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