Animation for the first time

What a crazy half term we have had here. Hundreds of students doing such a wide range of different activities.
Today we welcomed Rift House Primary and Ormesby Primary to the centre to learn how to animate. As ever, we don’t just talk about the task in hand. Teamwork, especially compromise and sharing, were the key attitudes that we wanted to focus on with a smattering or ‘being creative’ thrown in. The children use the excellent LEGO Build to Express kits to create mood through builds then followed it up with a short three part story, planned and written in half an hour!
After a slap up lunch (we teach them to buffet graze appropriately) we focused on the animation skills and the children threw themselves into the task. Have you ever animated with an iPad? It looks easy but learning the subtleties of keeping everything VERY still, make the movements small and think about how to actually move the characters takes a LOT of practice. I’ve included the children’s work below because I think you will agree that they worked really hard on their movies. Believe me, there were many false starts that we deleted, many photos that we had to redo but little by little most of the children started to grasp the key factors that would make their animations work effectively.
Even more pleasingly I was told by one of the teachers that she had been a little worried today about some of her children. At school they had a reputation for being a little single minded, maybe not being very good at sharing. I was gobsmacked when she nodded towards the children she had in mind. They were a personification of teamwork; the different environment, the nature of the task and the way that we couch it in ‘teamwork’ language all contributed to them working in a very different way than they often would. THAT is why we do these animation days, not to each animation, but because of the other wider skills that it gives the children a chance to develop.

‘I am astounded’

img_1054Those were the words of the STEM ambassador Gareth Attwood who came to support our event today. He was unable to come first thing so joined the activity at the end of the morning. ‘How can I help them?’ he asked as he arrived. I suggested he just go and have a chat with each group to get an idea of what they were doing. So what were they doing?

They were focussing on how to be creative. That doesn’t mean they were drawing pretty pictures for fun. They had tackled a range of activities during the first part of the morning that got them thinking about creativity for a purpose and how that related to jobs that they might like to do….or not do in the future. Considering we had a mix of Y1s from Ormesby Primary and Y4s from St Benedict’s it was brilliant how they mixed in with ideas. All this prepared them for a task to design a new LEGO set using the great ‘Build to Express’ sets as a basis. Of course they were not allowed to just build. They had to create a simple business plan starting with targeting an audience, identifying a value proposition for that audience then working out their USP. Confused? They weren’t!

To show how fabulous their teamwork was I also asked them to make a short advert. I had assumed that they knew how to use iMovie but they didn’t. Was that a problem? Not really. They had a problem to solve so they overcame it. I gave them a few pointers and the results are below. I occasionally run whole days using iMovie as a great vehicle for developing wider ’employability’ skills in a creative context. A whole day using iMovie produces a very polished product; these children not only learned the basics of iMovie but also planned and produced a short movie to a brief…in 45mins. Well done to all of them. As I said before they left,  ‘If you watch it and think you could have done a bit better here or a lot better there then brilliant – because you are now learning to add quality to your work and will build it in next time’.

Passing a test is a one off event; walking around with an understanding of how to improve is effective for ever.

Wintry Weather? We have got it sorted!

img_1033Isn’t it great to be back into a new year? Don’t all cheer at once! Well after a first week back of working in classrooms we had our first centre based event today which involved teams from our local VEX league. The league was funded by the CSI and we wanted to build in some one off ‘cup competition’ type events….today was the first.

We had six schools who could make it for the whole day and they were issued with the challenge of creating a variation on their original clawbot designs. With the weather looking like being exciting for drivers in the next few days the challenge was to design and build a snow plough. Unfortunately I2L has not had the pleasure of the snow queen as yet this year but a mix of cubes and paper shreds stood in its place.img_1031

The teams were tasked with not only designing, building and testing their designs but also to showcase them in the form of an advert by the end of the day. It was brilliant to watch teams sitting in huddles with paper and pencils, discussing ideas, trying them out, discarding them, going back to previous designs and so on. I’d have this lot project planning with me any day.

As you can see from the pics below there were a range of designs and some of the groups wanted to add a green screen element for authenticity.

It fills me with great pride that children in our local schools just consider use of green screen, voice over and animation as ‘what they do’. Sadly with time constraints the finished videos have suffered from some issues of sound quality but that in itself has been a great learning experience. The playlist below has the finished videos for you to enjoy.

So now I can put my feet u……….oh no we have another 70 in tomorrow using LEGO with iPads for a creativity challenge…..I can’t wait!

Throwing it at them

An interesting day today with a range of students, Y7 – 9, from Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough. We wanted to focus on their creativity in the same way as the previous post on this blog. What immediately struck me was how much more reticent they were than primary age children when asked to talk about their own ideas and stand by them. They had great ideas, they really did, but it took a fair bit of cajoling to get them to open up in the main.

So, the activity focussed again on the nature of creativity and how it related to jobs before giving them an opportunity to apply some new skills to a creative situation (design a new LEGO set). As always, we don’t try to quantify or ‘level’ creativity (or any of the employability skills) but we develop them and focus on them through reflection and action. The opening session revealed their thoughts on what creativity is:


We used this as the basis for the work that followed.

The task was to create a short advert that included a range of creative approaches. I purposely did not want to intervene too much in the thought process but simply showed the some of the possibilities in Garageband for voice and music, Green Screen for effects, iMotion for stop motion and iMovie to glue it all together. I have run a day session on each of these apps in the past so it was interesting to see how the students would adapt and use what they felt was needed. And that is exactly what they did. I wouldn’t say many have a polished finish because they only had so long to work and they tended to focus on getting one aspect right; whether that was the sound design or the green screen or the structure. You can see form each video below what was of the most interest to each group and how they developed that idea. In an ideal world we would have had sessions on each technique and then the task treated as a single activity but life sometimes isn’t like that. It’s clear from the playlist below which aspect each group focussed on, some worked so effectively that they even got more than one technique pinned down. If only we had more time….

But overall, great work and we concluded before they left, ‘attitude is everything’.

Creativity in action

dsc_7994It was appropriate that today was one of our LEGO creativity days. We hear about creativity as one of the key attributes/skills that employers want from employees. Today follows from yesterday. Let me explain.

Yesterday we welcomed Anthony Mann and Elnaz Kashefpatel to the centre. Maybe not household names but two of the lead researchers at the Education and Employers Taskforce. A group tasked with reviewing, unearthing and creating quality research into the efficacy of work related education in schools. Their work is varied and hugely influential in directing what makes great employer/education, why it works and what more we could be doing. Rigorously identifying the key factors will help us to make it more effective, their research shows clear long term financial gain for children of all different ages who engage in this sort of activity. The more often the bigger the gain.

So back to today. We have fifty children from three schools: St Benedicts, Riverdale and Whale Hill.They have been asked to define creativity. Really interesting responses were then used to create a checklist for what might creativity look like in action: using experience, new ideas, problem solving, communication and imagination were key features. Following our employability theme we then asked the children which jobs needed these characteristics. Ranging from rocket scientists to builders it was a fairly easy task but then I asked them which jobs do not require creativity. Tricky and a great discussion ensued. Following a short challenge with our LEGO Build to Express Kits, the children were also shown the basics of a voice over movie in iMovie. They now had experience of how top put things together but they needed a challenge to get their imagination generating new ideas.

A simple task, design a toy for Black Friday and sell it using a short advert. NOBODY was allowed to build a single thing without defining the toy’s audience, the value proposition and USP….and then they built. Their videos should be available on here by 4pm. in the meantime have a look at the images below to get a feel for the day.

So what is the link between today an yesterday. Yes it is focussed on employability ‘skills’ and linking their work today with what happens in the real world but more importantly it focusses on experiences. Not a quantifiable ‘level 1 in creativity’ but repeated exposure to the situations and personal requirements that these children will experience and need in later life whatever role they work in. Even taking part in a day like this has the evidence base behind it to say that these children in the room will have a slightly better chance at getting a job and being paid more than the children currently back in school. That is why we run so many sessions so that schools can give EVERY child the experiences on an ongoing basis through their school career.

As Dr Anthony Mann put it ‘Mud sticks so keep throwing mud and the evidence is that it does make a difference’.


Exciting? Well we thought it would be when myself and Karen Marshall from Accenture hatched a plan a few months ago to widen children’s horizons for their potential future careers in a digital world. We wdsc_7850eren’t planning a careers day; we wanted to give the children lots situations using digital technology to develop the everyday skills that employers find so valuable.

So, with 150 children from
four primary schools, we ran a series of workshops throughout the day using different types of programming, robots and hands on tech. The lovely people from Geek Talent also supported on the day and we look forward to working with them again in the future. The children gain so much from working with positive role models in what were genuinely challenging scenarios. Didn’t see anybody give up, become sullen or spit their dummy out once!

Stella led the day from Accenture and, in keeping with their intention in being involved in school outreach, the prizes at the end of the day were awarded for ‘positive attitudes,’ ‘helping others’ ‘not giving up’ and so on. I am told time and again by ALL of the companies that support our events (getting on close to a hundred in the two years we have focussed on this) that these are the traits that they look for in employees. Qualifications are pretty low on their agenda, GCSEs show if the kids had commitment but not much else from their perspective. So all in all the day was a huge success, below are some of the images of the workshops:

And our brilliant prize winners from the day. Keep up these working attitudes and they will go far!

We look forward to the next one with even more companies supporting the event.

Livin’ on a Prayer!

It’s not everyday that children walk into a room with basic musical knowledge and walk out 5 hours later having laid down a cover version of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’. But that is exactly what children from St Benedicts and Captain Cook Primaries did this afternoon. Certainly none of them had used Garageband to any great extent, but by 2.30pm we had bassists, lead guitars and rhythms section all merrily playing in unison – almost! We invite internationally renowned David Kirtlan to the centre a few times a year to work wth our students and he never fails to disappoint, in fact he has followed up with several schools in recent years by running days back in school for them. Click on his name for more details.

But for now, enjoy the images below and the recordings we got by the end of the day. Now everybody, after four….one….two…three….four…. “Wooooooah – oh…..”

iPad Creativity

“No sentences please, no capital letters, no full stops or any of those semi – hemi – demi – colons that you all need to use to be effective writers in our society…apparently….”

Yep I got some funny looks from the children this morning from St Benedicts and Riverdale Primary schools when I told them the plan for the day. The teachers didn’t bat an eyelid, they’ve been here before and know that we offer a very different sort of day to being back in school. I also told the children that nobody was wrong today, the only ‘wrong’ that they could do was in terms of collaboration and communication with their partner.

So what were they doing?

Writing emotion basically. The day is based on some work I did a few years ago in Handale Primary with some Y1 children. Use Garageband to write a simple score for a short story (in the form of a film clip today). Previously this has led to some fabulous writing because the children begin to understand the emotion of the scene through a different medium; one which they are bathed in when watching stories on a screen but hardly ever notice.

A day isn’t long so we warmed up by doodling what different scenes a range of music clips evoked. We followed this by an excellent example of a piece of music and animation in perfect harmony. I’ve used ‘The Beauty of Life’ several times in the past and the rich textures of music, animation style and content could easily spawn a week’s quality work but today it provided a great example of how the visuals and the sounds work together.

After break was understanding how to create music in Garageband and layering tracks. The children rarely have an issue with this in my experience as long as they are guided to the key functions they need. Using the smart instruments and some simple tempo changes the children wrote the score for ‘a walk in the dark’, simply a phrase I threw at them. They now had the skills!

The playlist that will appear below will illustrate their work and inevitably some will be more on the mark than others but that is not the point. They have thought about the emotion, the connection with audience, in a way that working on improving noun phrases and adjectival rarely can. For now enjoy some of the images from the day so far:

And here is the finished work. Bearing in mind that the children looked at me blankly when I asked who had ever used Garageband…or iMovie just 4 hours earlier:

VEX and WeDo leagues Challenge 1

Well done to all the teams that turned up for the first challenge last Thursday. Amazingly only two eggs were damaged on the evening at the VEX event and they were by the same team! You know who you are…

It was interesting to see a range of modifications that had been applied to most of the VEX robots, including some ‘egg delivery systems’ that had variable success. The WeDo robots however showed even more variation with Riverdale devising a powered winch rather than a powered car to move the objects along the course. They also used gear wheels to limit slip on the drive belts.

The aim of the leagues is to get pupils thinking like engineers. Yes they can use experience to base their thoughts on but thinking about the fundamentals of the problems and how best to solve it is the key. If that means a totally novel approach then so be it. As the year progresses we will also see much more of a focus on the programming integrating with the hardware. There will be training available for the VEX software in late November and that date will be announced to all teams soon.

Although this is a league, we have shied away form ‘points make prizes’ at this initial stage however at future events there will be prizes up for grabs. For now though I will simply mention that all teams performed really well in both leagues and that LJS were the quickest in the egg slalom. Next challenges will be live early next week…


Another very successful day here today as three schools attended our first (of five) STEM days for 2016/17. We had hands on activities from a range of STEM ambassadors across engineering and technology disciplines. GoAhead Training led sessions programming VEX robots, Labman braved the elements to build and launch rockets, Gareth Atwood explored materials and energy, Connor from Cleveland Bridge created binary patterns as a key concept of computing, Jessica from Teesside university built tubular paper bridges and the team from Analox explored sensing through their own products and a range of activities. Browse the pictures below to get a flavour of what your company or your pupils could get up to at future events: