Animations with kids and old Eurovision songs

I’ve had a song from the 1989 Eurovision stuck in my head. As I was editing/fixing/polishing/rendering the animations for McAllister Elementary, I listened to it on repeat, as I do, making handy use of the YouTube refresh button.

It was still on my computer when I dashed to McAllister the very day before our viewing party. When I’d been at the school the week before to show each class of second-graders their film and have them do a survey, I discovered that I had missed a kid! The idea for this project is that every child in class contributes a page to the animation, but this kid had joined one of the class in the middle of January, after we’d done all the full-class lessons, and I’d never gotten wind of it. Luckily, I caught him at the last minute, and that was why I was back at McAllister the day before the viewing party.

He was such a cute, sweet, confiding kid, so as I was setting up my laptop, the still-live YouTube page with the Eurovision song was still up, and I asked the kid if he wanted to listen to it. He said yes. He liked it!

Me and Anne Shirley teaching: Animations with Kids

I just finished re-reading Anne of Avonlea (the sequel to Anne of Green Gables.) In that book, Anne is sixteen-and-a-half years old and starts teaching, and of course, she becomes the best teacher the kids ever had.

I always liked reading this book. I loved reading about Anne as a teacher. Except this time when I read it, I realized how little it actually focuses on the teaching itself. Most of it is about everything else going on in Anne’s life.

But as far as the teaching parts go – it was good for me to re-read about that, because it is imbued with Anne’s philosophies as far as teaching go. And her philosophy is to be very kind and inspiring.

If you’ve been reading about my challenges as I run my “Science Animations with Kids” program, then you will know that no matter how inspiring I try to be, I still don’t always reach the kids. My foundational philosophy with this program is that all kids love to be creative; and all kids especially love Disney films and animated films. And if they are given a chance to make a computer animated film about science, then they will learn the value of teamwork, computers, taking care of the earth, reading, creativity, and science careers all at once. I mean, how can you get more inspirational than that?!

And yet, I had second-graders laughing at the work other second-graders did; and I had the girl Anna who I snapped at when she leaned back; and I had the other girl, Leah, who just up and turned her back and nearly started to cry when it was her turn. Those have been some rough moments.

Reading about Anne’s philosophy of kindness, I realized that I just not the kind of person who can live up to that. I am not patient enough, I’m not tactful enough, not soothing enough. When I get the attitudes of different kids flung in my face, my instinct is not always to try to “understand” and be gentle and mothering; rather, I want to fling their attitude back in their face.

I had a pretty bad day with the fifth-graders at Wolf Meadow two weeks ago. When I walked into the class, Anna – who I sadly correctly predicted I had lost the trust and respect of – gave one glance my way and immediately ripped out a groan: oh, she’s here again?

That’s a nice entrance to have when you’re volunteering, of course. The teacher told her right away: Anna! That was very rude. Apologize!

I honestly don’t know whether Anna apologized or not. I am sometimes slow to take in what is happening. I might not even have noticed what Anna said had not the teacher commented on it, or realized that Anna’s outburst was directed towards me. But as soon as my brain caught up, I simply decided I didn’t want Anna’s apology; I just didn’t want to work with Anna at all.

During that same class period, I managed to work with 3 kids in total; that’s pretty slow progress. It wasn’t because the kids were being slow, they were just being careful. But the slow progress was starting to frustrate me nevertheless, plus at this school I don’t have the luxury of having hours of time allotted when I can pull kids to animate with; all the time is kind of on a strict diet, if you will. The last kid I worked with that day, “Evan”, ended by making me really mad. After he was done animating, he told me: because I animated with you, now I won’t have time to build me connect-a-Lego! (some sort of construction building-block game.) I thought to myself: hello! This might be the only time in your life that you get to make a computer animation, and you’re complaining that you didn’t get to build your connect-a-Lego that you can access in class any old day? That’s gratitude for you! Out-loud I just told him curtly: then you should have told me from the start you didn’t want to do this, and I could have gotten another kid to animate your page.

Evan stayed still for a while as he wrapped his brain around this thought; and I did feel a little bit bad! I remember being his age, and feeling like when a grown-up told you to do something, not realizing that you have an option to say ‘no’; because so often you actually don’t have an option to refuse. How was Evan to know that he could have refused me?

He then bounded off to play with connect-a-Lego; but class ended shortly thereafter. As the kids filed out for lunch, someone called out, Evan’s crying. And indeed he was; he was squatting on the floor, over his beloved Connect-a-Lego, crying his heart out because class was over and he had to put everything away. “But I was almost done!” he wailed. His teacher, who has a heart of gold, tried to sooth him. But I did not! I did not feel bad or sorry for him; I felt mad. Like what am I doing with this project if Evan’s going to cry about it, and Anna’s going to groan?

I went home that day to an email inbox full of job rejections; oh, I was in a state, let me tell you!

The next day, I yelled at some people and felt better. I went back to Wolf Meadow, and luckily, no kid started crying when they had to animate with me.

The next week, when I was back at Wolf Meadow again, Evan came up to talk to me, all normal. I guess he has forgiven me for stealing his connect-a-Lego time. And I hope he will enjoy watching his part of the animated film when it’s all over. Anna is apparently a lost cause for me. But something surprising happened with the other girl with whom I’d had a hard time, Leah.

Ever since she’d gotten into a huff with me, she’s been hanging around when I animate with other kids. She’ll throw glances my way. Last Friday, a girl called “Miya” – who maybe is friends with Leah – did a very cool thing. She got the scientist in the program to walk across the screen. Miya did a great job, so I was squealing in praise of her. Leah showed up next to us! “Is that fun?” she asked in a very kind and very humble way to Miya. I pretended not to notice. Miya kept on making the scientist walk, and by the time she was done, we had a little audience behind us. Everyone was clapping Miya on. This is, by the way, one of the moments that does make me feel good about this program; because I don’t think Miya is someone who gets a lot of praise for accomplishments on the regular. But now she was having this special moment.

Suddenly, who should sidle up next to me but Leah? She dropped onto her knees so her head was level with mine (I was seated) and she said: Dr. Mejs, I’m sorry I was rude the other day.

And just like that, we made up. We talked a bit, and shook hands, and I can’t wait to animate with her now!

The teacher saw our interaction, and after the class had left for lunch, she asked: “so you’re good now with Leah?”

“Yep!” I answered. “She apologized.”

“What?!” The teacher was very surprised, which in turn made me surprised.

“I thought you’d told her to apologize,” I said.

“Not me! When she walked into class today, Leah told me, ‘I still haven’t animated my page. And I don’t want to, either!'”

You’ve got to love the defiance! I’m glad she changed her mind, and I think it speaks volumes that she apologized off her own bat, without any prompting. It was a good ending to this particular episode. So I’m not at Anne Shirley-levels of greatness in teaching; but I hope that I am doing more good than harm.

Making a snail in Blender

I poked around some online examples and tutorials.

This snail was super cute and ended up being my inspiration! Can’t get any cuter.

And then this was a nice and straight-forward tutorial for making the spiral shell, which I stuck on top of the snail.

snail
snail in Blender3D

He’s a little lop-sided and one-eyed, and after all, that shell on his back looks kind of unappetizing, but that’s what I have so far.

This is the snail that goes with the animation I’m making with one of the fifth-grade classes at Wolf Meadow, who are doing a great job animating so far. Yes, we have already started animating – can’t believe it’s gone so fast!

Quiet pause in the class

After some rough days, just had one of the best lessons I conducted today at Wolf Meadow. This was with a group of kids whose lesson last week was a complete wash, mostly due to some miscalculations on my and my partner teacher’s part. Well, we tried again this week, and it went so well.

When I do these lessons, I get so nervous about keeping a flow going; or I get nervous that if I don’t keep the pace relentless, I’ll lose the kids — they’ll start daydreaming or get distracted. Or if I don’t keep talking, then it will seem like I don’t have things straight in my mind, and the kids will start smirking.

That gets tricky when you get to a part of the lesson where you’ve been demonstrating and showing the kids things for a while, and you’ve piled on tools and tricks and tips, and now you have a new twist to show them, and — and — you’re out of breath yourself, but still feel like you need to plow right along.

Well, today, when I got to such a point, I took a breath instead! I took a pause. And the kids didn’t explode into chatter. I asked them instead: what do you think about this?

Positive claps all around.

Anything that’s really sticking out for your?

Ah, one kid said something, I just don’t remember what!

Then I told them: okay, there’s a bit more teaching to do before I let you all come up and practice yourselves, so let’s all take a deep breath. And we did quietly take a breath.

Way back when I was an actual teacher, I remember some of the “veteran” teachers would say things like: you can use silence so effectively in the classroom. Pauses and check-ins can be very helpful. Well, it’s a very nice tip, but I never made it to the stage where I was actually an effective enough teacher to be able to employ such nifty techniques. But here I am!

A film with different speeds

A few months ago, I was trying to create a film of various images and clips of footage. However, all the footage was in various speeds – some in 6 frames per second (is that speed a crime in the film world?) and some in 30 frames per second. So when I added in the 30 frames per second bits, it was in super slow motion.

Today, the issue came up again, but I searched a bit and I figured out how to get around this in Blender’s video sequence editor. I’m pretty happy to have discovered this! And it was super easy, ALTHOUGH I messed it up the first couple of times.

It also took me a few times searching to find the simple solution (for my case). I found this stack exchange Q&A, from which this was the important tip (the tip was actually in the question being asked) …

The method I have been using, up until now, is to import all the movie strips. Then set the frame rate for the project to 30f/s and on the 120f/s strips, add a speed control effect strip, to change the speed to that of the audio.

So I learned about the whole speed control thing, lovely!

Still took me a while to get it to work right. You think you’ve done it right, but then you add a ‘transform’ strip and it messes up. Or you try to edit down your video, not for the sake of speed control but because you want to chop a piece of it off, and it messes up again. This speed control has to be done with tender gloves.

I found some tutorials to help out, but they were both super annoying! One of them, you couldn’t hear the audio. The other had to give a whole introduction and blab on before he got to the point. But when he finally got around to it, I was able to see a demonstration of how the speed control works.

Video editing

Usually, I make animations, so I just have the rendered images all in a row, and then a single audio file –  somewhat chopped up, but still coming from a single file.

But a few months ago, I made more of a traditional “movie” made up of single images, bits of videos, and lots of added text. It seems to be the new ‘trend’ for ‘granting agencies’ to now require you – that is “highly encourage” – to include a video in your application submission. It’s not because they’re going to choose you – oh, heavens, no – they just want to get the satisfaction of making you do more work for nothing.

Well, any case, this was what my video editing sequencer ended up looking like:

video sequencer.JPG

Pretty interesting to see that outcome! The turquoise is the audio; the black at the bottom is a black background for any blank space; the purple is various mages; the gold is text; and the green is to changes the sizes of the images. I forget what the blue is for, though!

This is the sequencer in Blender, by the way.

First viewing party – Butterfly story

It was really nice!

IMG_20181217_134829

The kids in the two classrooms said their movie was ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘terrific’, etc, etc. This was all in front of their parents.

I was really happy with the number of parents who showed. In one of the classrooms, there were like 10! I got surveys from each and every one. What I forgot to do was to ask for their email addresses, so I can keep sending them future videos. But that time will come. I’ll remember next time.

My first partner teacher was so amazing. She was the one who’d written a note to the parents and gotten so many of them to come. Then she gave me a little present at the end 🙂

And I had presents, too, for the kids. The Walt Disney Family Museum had sent them little souvenirs – bookmarks, pencils, postcards. It was great. The only thing with the postcards is all the characters on them are exclusively white. So I am going to use the more landscape-y scenes and figure out what to do with the character postcards.

post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum
Post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum

I also made certificates for the kids:

Animation certificates

Do they look bad? The blue/yellow/pink/green shapes that were glued on – I’ve been lugging those around for about 5 or 6 years. They were from some event in the Chesapeake Bay, when I used to work there. I don’t even remember what the event was, but they had cut out all those designs so nicely, and I felt so bad about seeing a whole lot of left-overs all tossed in the trash. So I grabbed them and have finally found a good use for them.

The ‘great job’ stickers I got from Staples. They were in the clearance bins for 75 cents or something, and there were like 72 stickers in each packets. And this is the Staples attached to the mall to which I can take the bus or walk, so I felt really good and resourceful.

And I felt wonderful after the viewings – like we really had done something good and meaningful. I kind of flew into this whole project more on gut instinct, rather than as part of a carefully considered career pathway. But it’s been pretty cool. I feel really entrepreneurial. It’s a nice feeling. I feel like we’re doing something fresh and nice.

The film itself – well, I think next time I’m going to have to do something with the flipping pages. It makes me dizzy to have them fly past all the time. But other than that, I thought the caterpillar scrunching itself along was super cute. And the drawings and everything looked so good. And the kids’ animations are just lovely! And so are their voices.

Here it is: “All About Butterflies!”

So that’s one film down, 5 more to go!