Computer animation class gives lessons a bit of a kick, or a song, or a dance

May 30, 2010 

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Anne Walter, fourth-grade teacher at Bluffton Elementary, watches student Hector Zelaya as he shows her his computer animation explaining the phrase "tip of the tongue" Wednesday afternoon during the computer animation class at the school.

SARAH WELLIVER

When fourth-grader Isaiah Byam grows up, he wants to work as a computer animator.

He and his classmates began learning the art this school year, when Bluffton Elementary School opened an animation lab.

"You can think that you're famous because you are putting together your own movie," Byam said.

Students use the lab to bring new life to weekly vocabulary words, historical events and science topics, such as the Earth's orbit around the sun.

They write story lines for their projects with their classroom teacher, sticking to topics in the curriculum, and then visit the lab to visually represent what they've learned, said teacher Celia Stokes. "The kids are really enjoying it," she said. "It's been a fun way to tie in the curriculum with technology and art, to integrate it all together."

Many students demonstrated their ability to distinguish between figurative and literal language by animating idioms. Going a step beyond using the phrases in a sentence, they visually showed the meanings of idioms such as "a bull in a china shop" or "birds of a feather flock together."

Fourth-grader Hector Zelaya animated the phrase, "it's on the tip of my tongue."

The clip begins with the word "it" dancing on the end of long, red tongue and ends with a person who looks confused.

"See," Zelaya said. "It means that he forgot what he was about to say."

Bluffton Elementary School principal Christine Brown said she was inspired to begin the animation program by observing how much her son enjoys computer games and other technology. She wanted to bring that interest into the classroom.

Brown worked with the Savannah College of Art and Design to choose animation software geared toward children and develop a program. The school paid for the program with prize money through the state Department of Education's Palmetto Gold and Silver awards program, which last year gave monetary awards to schools who earned high marks on school report cards.

Stokes said she was surprised how quickly the animation lab took off. Some of her students asked for the software for Christmas so they could use it at home.

Stokes plans to expand the program this fall. Animation students from SCAD will volunteer in the lab, and the school will add technology to record sound. She also hopes to start an animation club so students can use the lab before or after school.

Student Taylor Wilkerson said creating art in the animation lab often is better than drawing with crayons and paper.

"You can see your thought move," she said.

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