When Digital Collaboration, Engagement, and Design Come Together

Mr. Smith is in a quandary. His standards require that he teach his students about parabolas. There are formulas they must learn to use. In the past he has struggled to find a connection that his students might value, and teaching this material has been difficult.

While monitoring his Twitter feed, Mr. Smith comes across an interesting possibility. He decides to break it apart, analyze it, and see if it might help him engage his students in working on this standard. The possibility is called Pixar in a Box.

Pixar in a Box takes students into the world of movie animation and shows them how animators create their movie scenes. After introductory material on animation, the program starts with a basic process of animating leaves blowing in the wind and shows how the action is created with math. The work is based in parabolas and teaches the concepts of parabolas.

Mr. Smith thinks about all this in terms of social motives. His students like making movies. They all have movie-making programs on their smartphones. They shoot video clips and create short movies in their everyday lives. The movie examples in the Pixar work are a little dated, but this may play out in his students’ favor as they are movies many have watched in their elementary years, like Toy Story, Cars, Brave, and Finding Nemo. The Pixar work is cosponsored by the Khan Academy, and the accompanying math explanations are very clear. He looks at how the work is organized and likes the sequencing and the use of video explanations. Instead of listening to him lecture, his students can play the videos back and forth as needed and work at their own pace. Mr. Smith will then be free to walk around his class and coach as needed.

All of this just capitalizes on Authenticity (they are legitimately interested in movie making),  Novelty and Variety (the examples are cartoon animations they should identify with), and Organization of Knowledge (sequencing, video presentation of content).

His students have shown in the past that they value these qualities of schoolwork. The Pixar work has stimulated Mr. Smith’s creativity and he begins to wonder if he can design a larger body of work around the concepts of math, animation, and movie making. He has access to other animation programs like Sock Puppets and Plotagon. His students could create animated explanations of math concepts with these. Mr. Smith readily sees other math possibilities in movie making, as platforms like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker all require math computations to create products. A variety of new and old movie clips come to mind that use math concepts he must teach.

By now his mind is reeling with ideas. He knows a local videographer he can call on for ideas and collaboration. He will check with the art teacher to see if she would help with storyboarding. He scans the Internet for more ideas. He knows many of of his students like sports and he could get some mileage out of the idea of sports clips.

Mr. Smith decides to give it a go. He will design a comprehensive unit of work around mathematics and movies. Pixar in a Box will play a part, but he will also design other work that draws in other standards.

By the end of the unit, his students will create a class movie on the topic “Math and the Movies: A Vital Connection.” They will answer a basic driving question: How are mathematics used in the world of movie making?

Mr. Smith opens a graphic organization program called Popplet and begins to plan out the various aspects of his design. That’s how digital collaboration, engagement, and design come together to produce engaging schoolwork.

 

The Engagement People

 

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