Honest feedback from kids

When I make animations with kids, part of the point is that other kids will want to watch the stories and learn something about the environment and about science on the way.

Well, after I had finished “When Anders, Dilsa, and Reza were mean: a bird story” with the kids at a local summer camp, I showed it to a 4-year-old boy. Or I tried to show it to him. He ran away to grab his video games after 10 seconds, with the cheekiest grin on his face, and blithely informed me that it was “boring”. Oh dear.

I tried the same movie with a 9-year-old boy, and he went “ho-hum” and told me he’d finished watching it after he got through watching Disney’s “The descendants”, or something … but then he never actually watched it, ever.

But that same 4-year-old boy really likes watching “Mr. Glump and the poisonous pond.” He likes it because he says, with a great giggle, that Mr. Glump looks like Trump. Well, I can honestly declare that none of the 30 kids who worked on that movie, and none of the kids or family members at the viewing party, made any such comment, but this kid is certain! So he’s watched “Mr. Glump” through a couple of times.

Mr. Glump
Mr. Glump with his scowl and his poisonous spraying bottle.

Scicomm on Halloween

I made this short little video for work way back, just in time for Halloween:

I spent the week leading up to Halloween feverishly focused on it, wanting to get it done in time. It’s haunted house-themed, and it describes the premise of CLEVER Planets research in a Halloween-flavored nutshell.

Unfortunately, as you can see, it didn’t really get a lot of views or re-tweets or anything. It felt like a bummer, because I spent a lot of time on it; but the pay-off was all limited to one day (unless I tweet it again next year); and so it felt like it was a waste of time.

I had been planning to make a model of Olaf the snowman from Frozen and use him for a winter-themed animation about CLEVER Planets research … but for now, I have decided to tread carefully around seasonal themes and avoid them.


The best science artists (according to the European Space Agency)

I am making this list based on certain online sleuthings I made a few months ago.

There was an art competition announced … and it was an art competition that specifically had to do with satellites and climate change. Those were two topics heavily featured in my PhD dissertation, so I thought, why not enter? Especially because the guidelines specifically said, you can enter as your artwork a film or an animation. Animation is the only sort of artwork that I know how to make, so I figured I could come up with something.

The competition was run out of the European Space Agency (ESA) climate office. I decided to make an animation celebrating all their satellites. The winner got 30,000 Euros. It was too good of a chance not to take.

Before I started my animationi, I went about scouting the Twitter account of the ESA climate office, and was I in for a surprise. They were announcing their competition on it, sure enough, but then, they were also contacting lots of individual artists and telling them … hello! Check out our contest, we like your art, and we hope you enter. Of course, they never contacted me, so I wasn’t sure what the point of entering was at all. They seemed to already have a short-list developed.

But lets take a look at some of these favored artists!

Someone called Ruth Mottram, who is a climate scientist working on Greenland, tweeted at Jackie Morris Art, telling her to enter. The ESA climate office saw the tweet, and said:  lovely work! Hope you enter!

Looking myself at Jackie Morris’ images on her Twitter feed, yes, they are very beautiful. Look at this.

After that, the Climate Office didn’t wait for recommendations from people. They just started tweeting people outright asking them to enter. First, they tweeted at Ralf Schoofs. I looked through the illustrations on his Twitter feed, and I don’t know … They are nice, but maybe a little staid. Except I did like this one of little fishies.

Then the Climate office went and tweeted at a British astronaut. He doesn’t seem to be an artist at all, but I guess they were hoping?

Then, per another recommendation, they told “the Light Dreams” that they’d love to see a submission from him. The Light Dreams got a little huffy, and said, did you just call me a budding artist? I’m way above budding. So let’s take a look. I looked at the art on his pinned tweet. It is not exactly the style of art that I like, and maybe a little generic-looking, too.

They tweeted at Dr. Niamh Shaw. She has a Ph.D., and does art, and is she an astronaut to boot? She’s a big deal apparently. Looks like she does theatre, though I’m not sure I found real samples of her work.

At this point, the ESA Clean Space Office got in on the act, too. And they started helping out the Climate Office, and tweeting at artists as well. They tweeted at someone named Marianne Tricot. And the Climate Office was all, thank you so much! So what kind of artist is Marianne Tricot? Well, I don’t know, because I didn’t find enough images of art on her Twitter to get a clear view, and her website is down. “In maintenance mode.”

Then someone named Peter tweeted to someone named Vero that he hoped that she would apply. Her art looks really cute. And the Climate Office thought so, too, because said they hoped she would apply, as well. She did indeed apply, but she waited till the last minute (as did I) to upload her submission, and the website got stuck (as it did for me). So she tweeted back and they told her, don’t worry, we’ll make sure it gets submitted.

A few days later, the Climate Office, tired of a step-by-step approach, went ahead and tweeted at a bunch of artists en masse. But none of them were that impressed at the invite, apparently, because none of them answered. So who are these illustrious ones?

First was Melissa Gomis … I couldn’t find much art on her twitter page, but I did find a video she’d made on Vimeo. I thought it was kind of boring. And too abrupt in transitions, no?

Second was Zahra Hijri. Lookie there, first [and only] non-white person they tweeted at. I can’t find much art on her twitter page, but any case, she seems to be a very accomplished journalist.

Third was Susan Hassol. She seems to be a “big deal” as well. She makes climate change videos. What do you think? I wasn’t quite in the mood.

Fourth was Rosamund Pearce. It looks like it’s her job to make visualizations for the Economist magazine. I dislike that magazine, first. But this video she made is pretty cool. It has all the content you need right in the video; you don’t need a caption, which is nice for when you’re just scrolling through a Twitter image feed.

Fifth was Ed Hawkins. Another “big deal”, it appears. But where is his art? The little sun and rain cloud at the top of his website?

That was the end of that list. But then someone named Knurek tweeted to someone named Kiciputek to make a submission. And the Climate Office said, that would be lovely. But Kiciputek has canceled his/her account, so I don’t know what’s on it.

And that was a wrap. None of them ended up winning, though.

I applied with my little animation. I knew it was a long-shot, but I thought, I can’t pass up the chance (I didn’t have a job at the time!) The submission website got stuck as I tried to submit, like with Vero. I tried it again and again, and it finally worked on the third try. At least, I thought it did. I was able to check online to see if my video was ever downloaded by the Climate Office, and it was not. I emailed them, and it hadn’t arrived. I had my confirmation email and everything, so I sent them that, plus sent them the video directly, and I guess it got considered in the end.

The person who won was Shane Sutton. Looks like he does all sorts of large-scale art, so I think it must catch the eye really fast. He’s what I’d call a “real” artist — meaning he does it with his hands. But can you tell what this is supposed to be?


A very girly science feed

I am working as a science communicator, like at a real job, can you believe it?

Well, I like shiny things, a la Taylor Swift, and I like pretty colors, and softness, and sparkles and flowers and things like that. So my plan is to use my new position to populate the online presence and outreach presence of the project I’m hired under with all those favorite things of mine, in the name of science.

So far, I’ve mostly made Twitter stories. This one has pretty flowers and pretty glaciers with a sunrise behind them, and a cute girl, too! This one was a little more sedate. Nothing very silky and golden and whimsical about it, but it’s still okay.

Right now, I’m trying to make a series that I shall call, “how we know what we know.” I am trying to make the introductory frames, first. I’ve had to do a couple of takes. My first attempt looked like this. I loved the pretty ocean water and its rich, sparkly green-ness, and I loved the glacier, and I loved the diamond moon, and the blossoming pink tree … but then I realized that it was way too busy.

So I had to take out a lot of the pretty stuff, and I ended up with this, instead. But that’s okay, because I have my girl back in it, and it’s a cleaner and clearer view of things overall. It’s just a work in progress for now.

I made these videos in Blender.

Feeling ghosted – Animations with kids

I feel like I have very bad follow-through sometimes when it comes to my Science animations with kids program.

Sometimes, it’s my fault. Like at my last viewing party, about 30 parents, grandparents, aunts, everyone, showed up. I gave them all a little slip of paper with the URL of my website (the one you’re reading) and my YouTube channel, and my email, so they’d be able to find the films that their kids had made online.

But alas, I neglected something very evident … I forgot to collect their email addresses. So let’s just go ahead and assume that all the slips of paper I passed out are by now lost, crumpled in a bag somewhere, etc. And I have no way of contacting the parents. Kind of really sucks, because during the viewing party, I couldn’t get the sound to be loud enough, and we were in a big room, and I don’t think anyone at all understood what was happening in the movies.

These were the two movies the kids had made, by the way: A lesson on nurdles and When Anders, Dilsa, and Reza were mean.

But then some other times, it’s not my fault at all. Instead, I literally just get ghosted by the teachers I worked with. For example, the teacher I worked with at Wolf Meadow. The kids there made two such beautiful films: The grass is not trash and The desperate tale of the last tree snail.

At the very least, these films deserve to be championed by the people who were involved in making them. The kids were all fifth-graders who apparently don’t have emails or anything, so I don’t expect much from them. But my partner teacher! And the school principal! First, they said that we would have a viewing party for parents once the films were done. Well, when we actually reached that point, they cutely changed their minds … no, we can’t have a viewing party because only two of the five fifth-grade classes participated in this project, and if there’s a fifth-grade event happening, then a notice must be sent to all fifth-grade parents, and the parents of kids in the other three classes will be upset their kids didn’t participate. I mean, what kind of a lame excuse is that? No, actually, it’s very possible to just send a notice to the parents/families of the two fifth-grade classrooms I worked with. Gotta love rank inflexibility.

But I got over that, and my partner teacher said: oh, yeah, we’ll post the movies on the school website, and we’ll send an email to all the parents. Yeah, that is the very least you could do when your kids have just made two excellent animated films. Except even that never happened. I know, because the viewing counts never changed. I sent email reminders to my partner teacher and everything, but nothing. Can you believe it?

Then there was the time I was describing this project to a lady who’s part of a science communication network. She said, oh, the project sounds great. And she said, without me begging for it, that the science communication network she’s from run a blog, and would I like to write a blog post for them? Well, yes, I would. I emailed her twice after that to remind her, ask her about doing that, but of course she ghosted me, too, her and her exclusive little science communication club that people like me aren’t good enough to get into.

Then there was a man who ran in the same exclusive club circles. Let’s just call him Loser idiot stupid ugly moron. Well, me being me, I don’t learn my lessons the first time, so I was still panting after the exclusive club. Loser idiot stupid hateful moron tells me, and I quote: “This is so cool” [talking about the Animations with kids project] and “hope we find ways to cooperate” and “I was deeply moved, happy and proud” [while looking through my work] …. ahhh, shut up. He also blabbed a whole bunch about how he would talk to this and that person, and find partners for me, and he went into details! Like asking me, how much money will you need, and giving me ideas for film topics, and when would this happen? And he even did the thing, which is kind of rare, of answering my emails within a day. That honestly never happens.

Then after about a week of this, and me being really happy, he ghosted me, too. I hope he falls into a meat cleaver. He just stopped responding to all my emails, everything. If you ask me who I hate, his name will be the first mentioned.


Helping out at the Science Festival

We had a “Science Festival” on Union Street, and I got to share about my Animations with Kids project. In typical fashion, I started making my poster about 5 hours before the event started.

Animations with kids poster

(But I got it done in time!)

Now, I’m pretty proud of my poster, because in keeping with the environmental theme of “Animations with kids”, I did such a good job at recycling and re-using for this poster! First, I searched in my brother’s closest and found his old posterboard from like 20 years back, in which he described his invention “the reflector”, and declared he had won 2 Nobel Prizes for his inventions and written 20 books, or something. Any case. Of course, this “thing of beauty and a joy forever” must not be destroyed, so I instead got some construction paper that has been lying unused in our personal “school store” for about 15 years, and tacked it up all over the poster, safely hiding “the reflector” and giving me a blank slate for my own poster material.

Next, I grabbed some pins that I’d bought like 13 years ago, and used those attach the construction paper to the poster. I ended up with quite a dangerous contraption, in that all the pins were poking out at odd and dangerous angles out from the back of the poster. Since I knew a lot of kids would be at this festival (plus there were the possible recriminations to my own hands and body), I re-worked the pins so that they were directed – as much as possible – straight down into the cardboard part of the posterboard. So many of the pointy tips were ensconced were they could do no harm, and otherwise they were at least tilted down.

And then I found some colored scotch tape – surely 10 years old – that my Dad had lying around; and more construction paper from bygone days; and I went to the library down the street were I was able to print out pictures in color for 75 cents per page, with 3-4 pictures crammed into a page, and put together my poster.

Now, when I had first read the instructions about the Science Festival, I had just skimmed them to get the main points. Or did I even skim? Any case, my impression from my “skimming” had been that I needed to make a poster. Well, with about 3 or 4 hours to go, I decided I would be wise and read the entire instructions more carefully, and that was when I discovered I was actually supposed to provide an activity for the kids to do — and I was supposed to prepare this for about 200 kids!

And this is where my reuse and recycle philosophy kicked into high gear. I had a packet of cute little cut-outs that I’ve been hauling around for about 6 years ago, ever since I was at an environmental literacy event where I used to work in Maryland. I don’t even remember what event it was, but I thinking I was helping out at it, and they were doing some sort of activity that required lots of things like this:


They’re all beautifully cut, and the construction paper is in pretty colors and really high-quality. All the left-overs (there’s like 300) were going to be thrown-away that day, so I rescued them, and have used them twice since: once to make certificates for the “All about butterflies” viewing party. And now I decided they would hold me in good stead for the event I had a booth at in 3 hours. I decided I would let kids that came to my booth write “messages” about the environment on these, and I told them I’d then make an animation out of their messages (hasn’t happened yet).

So I packed the pretty cut-outs, sharpies I found lying around my dad’s house, and some other essentials into a shoebox, stacked it neatly over my folded posterboard with the pins, and with 20 minutes to go until 5 pm, trudged down Union Street to the Rotary Square where, alas – I ought to have known – my booth was one of the least popular for the next two hours. Oh, well.

Animations with kids event

Animations with kids: do the kids actually learn anything?

The main idea of “Animations with kids” is that the kids learn some science in a friendly, storytelling way.

So when I was writing the story for “Mr. Glump and the poisonous pond“, I had hopes that the second-graders, and anyone watching the film, would come away knowing exactly how algae kills fish: that when the algae dies, it sinks into the water, decomposes, and the process of decomposition sucks so much oxygen out of the water that when the fish “breathe” through their gills, there’s nothing for them to breathe in.

Except that’s not exactly how it turned out. When we’d finished the movies at McAllister, I visited each classroom to show them their movie (before the parent party) and to have them take a survey and get their feedback. After we watched the “Mr. Glump” movie, I would ask: So, tell me what the movie said: how does the algae kill the fish?

And these were the answers I got:

They eat it and it’s poison! No…

It smothers them! No….

They had quite a few theories, and the exact mechanism with the algae decomposing was just lost on them, it seemed. I was a little bummed. So all that work and they hadn’t learned what their own movie was trying to explain??

But then I told my partner teacher about it, and he said: at certain ages, kids just aren’t developmentally ready to grasp certain concepts. They might not understand exactly how the algae kills fish … but they will be able to remember: algae is bad; spraying stuff into water is bad.

That made me feel a little better.