About the School District of Charlotte, Michigan.
- Charlotte is a Title 1 school, meaning children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrolment
- The student population is around 2,100 district wide, with 371 attending middle school
- Began using a concurrent (virtual and in-person) learning model in August 2020 until June 2021
About Shannon Brimley
- Has worked in art education for over 3 years
- Has been the Art Teacher at Charlotte Middle School since 2018
You could be forgiven for thinking that the art class of 8th graders at Charlotte Middle School in Charlotte, Michigan, were on break before the start of a lesson. Chromebooks strewn across the near empty desk surfaces, some being used to watch animation and Disney videos, while a handful of students fiddle with pieces of multicoloured plasticine.
But this relaxed ambiance is not the result of a breaktime, in fact, this art class is in full swing. The presence of teacher Shannon Brimley offering tips and feedback as she circles the classroom indicates this.
And it seems that inspiring creativity is paying off. “I’m always trying to show students how there is art in everything that they do, whether it is video games, design, animation, movies – there is an art course behind that.”
Thinking outside and inside of the box
The past year has indeed been challenging for Shannon, especially for online-learning art classes. Lessons pre-pandemic consisted of the very traditional fine arts of drawing, painting, sculpture and clay, and the only technology being used were a few iPads for looking up references.
However, challenges also paint the way for new opportunities and Shannon believes that art classes have changed forever, giving a new meaning to postmodernism and the era of online digital technology tools.
“I find myself providing way more resources now than I did before.” “Making and posting little tutorials that they [students] can go back and reference as well.” She goes on to say that her lessons are structured differently now, by offering little stepping stones to her learners that they can access – something she was always aiming for. The pandemic has brought Shannon out of her comfort zone for the better.
With sculpture and clay being dropped from the list of possibilities for a distance learning programme, Shannon had to redesign her lessons to appeal to that of a virtual and hybrid model. She explains that during the time the school went completely virtual, she had the idea of introducing stop-motion animation – a project that could be viewed and completed from afar.
With that in mind, Shannon researched stop-motion cameras and apps that worked well with the school’s library of Chromebooks. She recalls that the great reviews and the portability of the OKIOCAM first piqued her interest in them, which was later reinforced through a colleague that was using one and loved it.
The 7th and 8th grade art teacher knew exactly what project to set for her students, but never could have imagined the outcome. It was during the hybrid teaching lessons that the students were divided into groups of three for contact tracing reasons. Their first task was to create the sets for their animations from cardboard boxes and any other materials they wanted to use. Then, with each group having a tag team arrangement they started filming – one student would move the character, while another student used the camera, then rotating with every click.
An eye for detail
The plug and play design of the OKIOCAM and chrome extensions made the animation project easy for the students to get really ‘hands on’ with their first attempt at stop-motion, Shannon explains, discovering little tips and tricks such as using the spacebar to take pictures instead of the mouse. They became adept film-makers very quickly, moving the camera around from angle to angle and up and down.
The month-long assignment taught Shannon a lot about her pupils and what they like. Chuckling as she recounts one of the projects that blew her mind, she details a surreal stop-motion with accompanying music that one of the groups made. “They really planned ahead and drew out storyboards for it, they put a lot of work into it.” She comments that these opportunities reveal who each student really is and shows a side of their personality not often seen in school, and through these activities the students have gained better social and artistic skills.
“My art standard is to work collaboratively” Shannon states, “and the stop-motion project certainly encouraged that.”
And it wasn’t just the students that she made discoveries about, Shannon herself learned that using the OKIOCAM as a classroom and online projector makes light work of exhibiting larger pieces of art, and giving demonstrations to the class – particularly because of the high resolution camera giving more detail – something that she will definitely be making the most of in the future.
The school has already showcased the work of the students in their own private film festival, which turned a classroom into a makeshift theatre for the day, for all the students to watch the different stop-motion animation projects.
OKIOCAM makes arts in motion
Shannon believes that virtual students would definitely benefit from having an OKIOCAM for distance learning, especially for art classes, because of the difficulty and restrictions while studying from home. Students often have to resort to using their laptop cameras to take pictures or videos of their work, which are just not practical or good enough quality, or use their phones which don’t have the option of using stop-motion.
When asked if the animation teachings would become a permanent part of the school curriculum, Shannon becomes animated herself, nodding continuously, and giving me some insight into the philosophy behind her pedagogy. “My art standard is to work collaboratively” she states, “and the stop-motion project certainly encouraged that.”
“The students had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the task.” A big smile appearing on her face tells me they weren’t the only ones! Animation that would make even Pixar Productions proud!
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