May 03, 2005

an introduction to time

My friend Max Carlson volunteered to be a guest scientist for our regular Tuesday first grade science class. He suggested that we teach about time. We started out planning to do time-lapse photography with his fairly high-end setup, but as we brainstormed how to get the kids involved, he suggested doing something more immediate: stop motion animation.

I found a nice review of stop motion software tools where I found MonkeyJam. I tried another one, then picked this one, mostly because I could figure out how to use it in 5 minutes. I did a quick test at home and got the hang of it, then arrived in class, as usual with little setup time and not much more preparation. Nevertheless, it was a hit.

What is time?

- Its like days, hours and minutes
me: yes, those are ways we measure time

- At the beginning of the day, you say "good morning," and at the end you say "good night" and you wouldn't say "good morning" then.
me: yes, there are different times of day.

- Sometimes when you go somewhere and you don't want to be late, you ask "what is the time?"
me: that's true, another that people use the word "time" is to talk about what the clock says

We talked about before and after, past, present and future. I pointed out that this time that we are having now will never happen again.

- But next Tuesday, we'll have science class in the morning and it will be this time again.

Hmmm. Now I wished I had been better prepared. I really have no idea what time is.

- What would happen if time stopped?
me: That's a great question. No one knows. We can't do an experiment where we stop time. There are a lot of questions that scientists try to answer where they just try to imagine what would happen and they make up theories, because an experiment is impossible. What do you think would happen if time stopped? perhaps everything would happen at once or maybe nothing would happen at all.

Having perhaps made them think, but not really taught them anything, I moved on to the main event. Unexpectedly (to me), most of the kids did not know the word "animation," but they all had seen cartoons and they made great observations about the animated movies they had seen: Scooby Doo 2 and even Wallace and Grommit.

My first animation was a moving block. I'm not sure they all understood what was going on there. They watched me create it, then saw the animation, but I saw a few puzzled looks. Then by popular request, I made another one. This time I drew a flower growing. There were great oohs and aaahs. They definitely all saw the connection and could not get enough of watching this short animated flick.

I've always wanted to create stop-motion animation. Now, thanks to the local first grade and inspiration from my friend Max, I have my chance. I think this stuff is magic. It is unbelievably easy and cheap. I know everyone doesn't have a web cam in the house, but you can get one for $25. My favorite is the pricier Logitech QuickCam Pro. For $99, it has really nice optics, relative to other cameras in the same price range.

I'll post the animations another day.

Posted by Sarah at May 3, 2005 08:14 PM