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Newton's Laws Inspire Young Animators

Starring: Sue Bailey


Sue Bailey imagined that students in her computer classes at St. Giles School might "go for" her newly-designed project that combined their use of Apple's Keynote program with their study of Newton's laws of motion. She knew she had a hit, however, when, at the students insistence, Bailey and her students collectively figured out a way to make a "stick man" kick his leg, without benefit of a pivot function in the program. Together, they developed a technique to rotate the figure's leg to make it look as though he was kicking.

"As part of our computer curriculum, seventh and eighth grade students, who are already fairly proficient at creating presentations in PowerPoint, are introduced to Keynote," Bailey explains. "In seventh grade, we explore the basics of the program, with a focus on using 'Builds' to display groups of images. In eighth grade, we go a step further, exploring the custom animation capabilities of the program. Newton's laws of motion, the current topic of study in science at the time, seemed like a perfect fit."

After reviewing the tools provided in the Keynote program, Bailey showed the class her own sample presentation that illustrated various animation techniques. The students discussed the laws of motion and the types of animations necessary to illustrate each law. Students were instructed to find online clipart images of cars, boats, skateboards, and rockets -- anything that could represent a moving object.

After they inserted their clipart objects into Keynote slides, the students used animation tools in the "Inspector" palette to customize the action of the objects. To depict one of Newton's laws, students needed to know how to make the objects appear to change, both in speed and direction, which required creating and connecting multiple consecutive actions. Bailey's students downloaded and added simple sound effects as the finishing touch to their products.

"I was both surprised and impressed with the attention to detail with which students completed their animations," Bailey told Education World. "Although they were asked only to find ready-made clipart images, most students chose to create their own custom images using the shape tools available in Keynote. That meant that, in addition to the required animation skills, students had to master grouping and arranging objects, as well as using custom colors, textures, and images to fill shapes and make objects recognizable and realistic."

Students who wanted to realistically represent how objects move took the project one step further, generating not just consecutive animations, but also concurrent ones. For example, a soccer ball kicked at a wall was shown not just to rebound, but to spin and rebound at the same time.

"Im really proud of the work my students did on this project," added Bailey. "They went well beyond what was required, and at times, I felt like I was scrambling to answer questions I hadn't anticipated."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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