Picking up animation in a flash

17th September 2004 at 01:00
Many schools that use information technology heavily find that Microsoft's presentation software PowerPoint is no longer challenging pupils and, in particular, that its ability to use moving images is limited.

That is the view of Jo King, an interactive learning consultant and teacher who has been working with primary pupils in the Scottish Borders, creating animation using Macromedia Flash.

"I think Flash is the future because the moving image is the next big thing in ICT," she says, "and Flash creates small files, which can be downloaded easily and quickly. You don't need broadband and pupils can upload their work on to the net easily."

Flash is suitable for children aged 7 and upwards. They can either work on templates created by their teacher or they can begin with a blank screen and create their own simple projects, which is Mrs King's preferred option.

"The end result is not important to begin with. It's about the process, which teaches problem-solving, creativity, sequencing, analysis and higher order thinking skills, such as seeing the connections between different andor similar problems and solutions. These are life skills that employers are looking for."

Mrs King also believes that animation programs help to motivate under-achieving pupils because pupils are creating something and the results can be seen almost instantaneously.

"It helps disengaged pupils become engaged," says Mrs King. "The pupils set themselves a problem - whatever it is they are trying to animate - and get instant feedback. They become very critical of their work because the results can be seen immediately."

Animation not only promotes cross-curricular skills, it is also good for explaining concepts. For example, how do volcanoes erupt? The pupils can show they understand by animating the process.

"Flash is a tool and a resource for teachers as well as pupils," she says.

"Science teachers say to me that animation is a great way of communicating concepts. Modern languages teachers use it to explain sentence structure: where a verb is placed towards the end of a sentence in a foreign language, you can animate this for pupils."

A three- or four-hour training session should give a computer-literate teacher a good start in Flash, says Mrs King. "It's so widely used by professionals that there is heaps of stuff on the web - tutorials, discussion forums ...

"Macromedia has brought out licences for primary and secondary schools to enable them to use their products relatively cheaply," she says.

Mrs King also quotes SETT keynote speaker Professor Stephen Heppell, director of Ultralab at Anglia Polytechnic University, who said of Flash:

"This software gives children real control over their computers and lets them make things rather than consume things."

SETT Taking Multimedia Forward: Flash in the Primary School, by Jo King, Thursday, 1.45pm

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