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New and Different Civilizations- A Claymation Dreamer's World

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Keywords: Claymation, ART
Subject(s): English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, Technology, Social Skills, Photography, Information Skills
Grades 5 through 8
School: Chelsea Public School, Chelsea, VT
Planned By: Damaris Miller
Original Author: Damaris Miller, Chelsea

I start Claymation units after the first progress reports -- when I really have an understanding of my students and how well they work together, their ways of learning, and their interests. I have worked with grades 5-8 with Claymation but have great thoughts about introducing this to younger students later in the year.

I begin this project by reading the book 'Westlandia' to my students and spending time discussing and brainstorming the ideas, influences, and thoughts that were going on in Wesley's mind throughout the story. I really try to hone in on how he reacts to feeling not like the other kids and what kinds of things he does to feel good about himself.

I tell my students that we are going to have a similar experience of creating a new civilization like Wesley did in his story. I focus our discussion on creating civilizations and what that means; how we will tell our stories about things we like to do for fun, eat for food, and enjoy for entertainment in our new civilization. We will have chances to show more exciting forms of shelter, games, transportation, and pets. We will find ways to introduce and help our audience decipher our newer languages, ways we communicate or even talk.

By now, students are quite excited and I then unveil the piles of modeling clay. We don't necessarily work right away with the clay, but I find surprises are good jump starters! I pass out art paper and pencils and I encourage the students to sketch out their ideas instead of all telling them to me at once...while I get the folders with team names together.

After a few minutes, I introduce the teams and set them up at various tables and have them brainstorm and come up with a catchy name for their group.

I then give them time to ask questions and think out loud their ideas. This ends the first class.

At the second class, I have the students arrive and get into their groups. I have a video set up of a claymation video I have made (oh, I love my Job!) which we watch. At the end, I give students green, yellow, and red cards to hold up as an assessment to what they understand. Green is good to go, yellow is having questions, and red is STOP, I don't understand. I ask for some color and there is time for more questions.

I then show a video on "morphing clay" called 'Changes' in which students change clay objects into other objects and video each change or movement at the same time. Students have an instant understanding of the technique, although we still will practice and go over each process along the way. After watching the videos, it's time to start our storyboards and, in order to connect Wesley's story to our unit, we have a discussion on our priorities of making the story come alive within each team. I ask for color during the last minutes of class and I give them time to ask questions or talk about their ideas.

The third class is when we begin our story boards. I focus once again on the message of being different is o.k. and I add elements of being a team effort, that their videos could be one aspect of life in a new civilization, or a complete day within the civilization. This class is all about drawing, writing scenes, and sketching ideas. My job is to listen to each team, refocus efforts, redirect and facilitate the teams' progress. I offer springboard ideas, show students supplies that could be used as backdrops, props and other items not necessarily made out of clay.

The fourth class is when we really begin with clay supplies and building their characters, objects, and other ready for cameras.

The fifth class is time to introduce the cameras. I have used both video and digital in this unit and feel comfortable with both. I take the time to show the students my video again because in it, I have made some glitches which I try to get the students to find. Glitches such as a finger in a picture, a shadow, out of focus pictures, and many instances of moving the clay objects too fast or far between footfalls through a scene in order to get students to understand the process. The process which I stress from camera time on is the ratio of movement of clay to camera shot should be short and frequent in order to be realistic by our human standards of movement.

I pass out cameras and laptops which is where the teams will store all their photos. The teams will use the same laptops throughout the unit and use their team name on their files. The classes proceed along throughout several weeks building their stories and civilizations, taking photos, morphing clay and working as teams to produce their art. If some teams are stuck in the process, we have had team meetings, asked and offered advice from other teams, and added commercials when in doubt of our good work.
When it seems that the teams have exhausted their efforts and we find comic relief, and ways to introduce new languages or advice through our videos, I know that we are at the end of our unit.

This is the time to edit photos if they were not already doing it, download photos to the movie maker, and begin looking at our efforts as producers, artists, and editors. The process is long and a real learning curve, but it is worth it. We talk of a movie showing for other grades and I bring in popcorn during the last day of our unit to celebrate our hard work and our new civilizations.

We invite the school to watch when we can all get together and I give teams self assessments to fill out so that I can make changes to or tweak the next Claymation unit. I am always sorry to say goodbye to Claymation until next time because I love watching students learn as they build, talk, and laugh with each other, come up with ideas together, worry about how their clay objects look, and work as teams to make the process come together just like in a real life civilization.
I write my own lesson plans and have found great inspiration from children's books and young adult books. By making clay the medium for students to express their ideas, I feel that the tactile influence is both encouraging and empowering for students who learn differently or who have little interest in learning.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
I have talked to several of the teachers at our school on using claymation to show learning in areas other than art. I am thinking about showing how to add or subtract, life in a pond, or what the moon is not made of... cheese!
I have introduced students to the program, 'Hash, Inc' which is another animation program which is loads of fun even for me!
Materials: Point and Shoot, Digital SLR, Mobile Labs, Word Processor, Paint, Slideshow, Video Editing, Keyboarding, Camera Bags, xD Memory Cards, Digital Voice Recorders, Flash/USB Drives, Batteries
Other Items: 4 Digital Cameras, $150.00 each, total of $600.00
4 laptops, $500.00 each, total of $2000.00
4 mini tripods, $3.00 each, total of $12.00
4 Claytoon black, white, beige, $3.50 each, total of $14.00
4 Claytoon brights, neons, darks, earths, primary, $3.50 each, total of $14.00
4 Claytoon hues, pastels, outerspace,, $3.50 each, total of $14.00
4 (Optional) Hash, Inc animation programs, $100.00 each, total of $400.00