The 5 Rs: A New Teaching Approach to Encourage Slowmations (Student-Generated Animations) of Science Concepts

Article excerpt

'Slowmation' (abbreviated from 'Slow Animation') is a simplified way of making an animation that enables students to create their own as a new way of learning about a science concept. When students make a slowmation, they create a sequence of five multimodal representations (the 5 Rs) with each one contributing to the learning process in particular ways:

Representation 1 - Background

Representation 2 - Storyboard

Representation 3 - Models

Representation 4 - Digital Photographs

Representation 5 - The Animation

The 5 Rs help students to develop understanding of a science concept by encouraging them to create a stop-motion animation to explain it.


The world-wide explosion in personal digital technologies offers increasing opportunities for students in primary or secondary schools to create their own digital media. Getting students to make a mini-movie about a science concept twenty years ago was unheard of because of the expense of acquiring a movie camera and a video player. Also, digital still cameras for personal use were science fiction. But times have changed. Nearly all students now have access to digital cameras (still or movie cameras), iPods [TM] for playing sound tracks and movies, and computers preloaded with free movie making software. It is therefore not surprising that the most popular web sites in the world--Facebook, Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube--are all composed of user-generated content because of this widespread accessibility to personal media making technology.

This exponential growth in personal digital technologies coincides with a growing body of research which suggests that getting students to create a multimodal representation of a science concept is a way to enhance learning (Ainsworth, 1999; Prain & Waldrip, 2006; Tyler & Prain, In Press). A representation is a sign that stands for something else and can be designed with different modes--text, photographs, diagrams, voice, numbers, graphs or models. It is through developing a sign and thinking about its meaning that learners develop a better understanding of what it is meant to be representing. Importantly, research has shown that constructing a representation helps students to make meaning of a science concept and this is often preferential to students copying an expert-generated representation from a text book, which is a common practice in classrooms (Hubber, Tytler, & Haslam, 2010; Waldrip, Prain, & Carolyn, 2010).


With the worldwide surge in personal media-making technologies, it is now possible for students to make a mini-movie as a new way of learning about a science concept. But even with appropriate technology, making a conventional movie to explain a science concept could be difficult for students to create, because inanimate science objects do not move by themselves unless they are motorised. On the other hand, making a mini-movie using a stop-motion animation technique is feasible because it is the creator who manually moves the objects whilst taking the digital still photos. Furthermore, having students take digital still photos one by one instead of a continuous 30 frames/second in a video allows them to manipulate, think about, discuss and reconfigure the models as each still photo is taken.

Clay animation (abbreviated to claymation) is the most common example of a stop-motion animation, but its use in school classrooms is rare. This is because it is very tedious and time consuming to make clay models and show their movement at 20-25 frames/second, which is the normal speed for animation. Even so, there have been several school-based action research studies in Australia using claymation to promote students' literacy skills. One project, Clay Animation in the Primary Classroom, was conducted at Hawthorndene Primary School and investigated the use of clay animation as a teaching and learning approach to enhance outcomes for disengaged and underachieving students (Murtagh, 2004). …