Last week, a 6th grade teacher and I passed in the hallway. After a twenty second conversation, I had a copy of her upcoming project in my hands, and many ideas about what students could use to complete it. At the time, I felt confident that stop-motion animation would be a great option for her planned geography research project. The teacher enthusiastically organized a time to meet with me after school to create an example project using the stop-motion tool on the iPads. Because my students create stop-motion animation projects in STEAM class anyway, I decided to begin introducing the tool this week.
The students’ imaginations blew me away as I introduced the stop-motion animation process. Time was limited for experimenting with the app today, and yet I had one group produce a product that had over 80 frames (photos). It couldn’t have taken them more than 10 minutes, but it was clever and well-done! My example paled in comparison. I was confident the students would be able to use this concept to create videos that tell a story or teach a lesson. I could not wait to meet with my 6th grade teacher at the end of the day. “Wait until you see what they can do!” I yelled after her as she passed my room grinning back at me.
After student dismissal, the teacher and I met to talk about the project’s process. Her eyes twinkled as she proudly explained her idea of having each student create a “road trip” for the four states in the research assignment. They would use stop-motion animation to show movement across the country, but they would also have a scene for each of the four destinations to animate. Each scene would be a commercial for that specific state.
We worked together as if we were students, soon realizing that it really should be a partner activity (it would be a lot for one person to do in the allotted time frame). Oh well. Each student could choose two of their areas and work together—no big deal. Then we also realized that the students would need to take A LOT of pictures to have enough time to properly narrate their commercials or they would need to cut back on some of their words. We decided that the students could try to be concise with their writing. That can be difficult, so it would be worth their while to practice that skill. Her example paragraph had elegant persuasive language and catchy plays on words. As she paired down her writing to make it work, I saw a little bit of the twinkle leave her eyes. We made our example, and it was really cool. However, a bit of our excitement was gone. Something just wasn’t right. You could tell she was trying hard and she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but something had to change.
We went on a brainstorming roller coaster ride, shouting anything from “That’s it!” to “It’ll never work!” Finally, we came up with what we THOUGHT was “it” and we tried it. It was okay, but the idea that once had us both beaming had turned into an awkward game of make-it-work. We had chipped away at the project until it really wasn’t hers anymore, and it was not quite what I had in mind either.
Finally, I said, “Maybe this would be a good project for science. You could show the orbits or demonstrate the phases of the moon!”
She said, “Well I was just going to say, next year I would do [x, y, and z], and then it would be perfect! This year, it just is not jiving with this road trip!”
I completely agreed, so we went back to the original objectives of the geography lesson. She said, “You know that collage app you showed the other day? Could we use that as our background?” Again, we realized that would be great NEXT YEAR when we can plan it from the get-go. But THAT got me thinking. Instead of stop-motion animation, we could use ChatterPix to make the collage talk. They could have four different states in the collage “talk” about the research to create the commercial. It would give them much more time to narrate with their quality persuasive writing, so the ELA objective of the project could remain. For a while, our sentences all began with, “They could…” Students would use three apps: PicCollage, ChatterPix, and iMovie. The end product would be professional, leaving students proud of all the research they completed.
Some of the twinkle came back into her eyes, but she also looked terrified—the look of being completely overwhelmed. We took five more minutes and made a quick example. It was perfect! Finally, we had an example and a rough plan of what each student would do throughout the process.
She had a little extra pep in her step as she walked out the door, gushing even more about ideas for what her students could include in their projects. None of the conversation revolved around the technology, rather, the technology revolved around the learning process. That teacher left feeling like the plan was “just right” for the learning she wanted the students to demonstrate. As we walked to our cars tonight, she said, “That was so much fun! I can’t wait for my kids to do this!”
Reflecting on this Goldilocks moment, both of us were willing to give a little to make our original plan work. When we realized it was not going to be “just right” for our students, we made a tool switch to come up with something that would be even better for this particular integration opportunity. With our trial-and-error time of creating examples and having discussion, we found the “just right” version of two future lessons using the original tool, so it was time well spent. Also, this team of teachers always shares insights and ideas, so our time together will surely benefit the whole team and all the students involved. When teachers are excited about projects, it’s because they know students will enjoy the process and be engaged with learning on a deeper level. We can imagine the majority of our students having “just right” learning moments, and that is where we can begin to make a difference!