Animating Science Update

What we've learned from our pilot project

17 September 2018

As well as programming workshops, events and activities for all ages here in our building, DCA's Learning Team works in partnership with other organisations on a range of creative projects. One of these is Animating Science, which is a partnership with the University of Dundee's School of Life Sciences. As part of the school's wider Public Engagement Programme, this exciting pilot project was delivered under the banner STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics). Below, we look at some of the project's aims, outcomes and future plans (and share some lovely science-focused animations!).

Animating Science project aims for the initial pilot year were:

  • to develop stop motion animation skills with pupils and teachers (P7 - S3) and support them in creating animated films about Life Science concepts and processes
  • to deepen pupils’ engagement and science understanding and make science learning more fun.

What happened?

Planning: to suit the school

Andrew Low, Learning Coordinator and Sarah Derrick, Head of Learning, met with each school to scope out resources, rooms that could become animation studios and create a plan to suit each class and their teachers. Initially this was to be considered across one term, but in the end the project stretched over three terms from initial meeting through to the work being made and up to a final gala screening event for pupils, family and friends in each school. For future projects timings could range from a focused one week to one, two or three terms.

Benchmarking: for science understanding

Erin Hardee, Schools Outreach Organiser at the School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee designed a benchmarking questionnaire for pupils at the start of the project, designed to demonstrate any shift in their understanding of what scientists do and more specifically about the topics of ‘microbes’ and ‘the immune system’.

Film analysis, filmmaking and key roles: breaking it down

Pupils watched a number of short films to sharpen up on their film understanding and develop confidence in how a short film is made. We then ran through a simplified filmmaking process chart from ideas generation, through storyboarding, production (including model making, techniques for animation, live action film locations, sound recording) and using the kit. Each class worked in smaller teams, with specific roles allocated to individual children such as director, animation assistant, camera person, prop maker, etc.

Real scientists: presenting science concepts in class

Erin and students from the School of Life Sciences brought resources about the topics into each class (including handleable models, soft textile models, teachers' notes and visuals) and shared language and key vocabulary including lovely words like ‘macrophage’ and ‘neutrophil’. The student scientists talked to the whole class at the start of the project and then worked with the smaller teams once they had developed their film concept and storyboard. The student scientists then checked the scientific content of each film during the editing stage, both with the teams of pupils in school and remotely, to ensure that the science communicated was 'correct’ no matter how creative its realisation was. This was also an opportunity for the children to ask their own questions of a ‘real scientist’.

Animating the stories: using iPads

Andrew worked with animators Bruce Husband and Ian Tayac to support each class with regular in-class sessions, guiding the smaller teams in their animation or live action filming and in recording sound effects and voice overs, scene by scene. They used one or two iPads on tripods, with remote shutter pads and ordinary desk lamps for consistent lighting. The editing process was the only aspect that could not be achieved by the pupils, so animators on the DCA team took on this role, guided by notes and directions from the pupil production teams.

The film outcomes

Dunning Primary School

Dunning Primary School P6/7s class, led by teacher Stewart Dallas, focused on the topic of ‘Microbes / the immune system’ and storyboarded a mix of live action and stop motion model animation. Their film was titled The Rise of Virus X:

It's a tale of the attack of a mysterious and exotic flying bug: a boy gets stung while playing outside, and we track the journey of the infection introduced by the bite around the body from the brain, as control centre, to the sites of neutrophils and macrophages fighting the infection. We cut between animation and live action, between inside and outside the body, culminating in a big immune system party and the boy resuming playing football.

Woodlands Primary School

Woodlands Primary School P6/7s class, led by Laura Ferguson, Depute Head Teacher, also focused on the topic of ‘Microbes / the immune system’ and created an episodic, paper cut out and model stop-motion film titled The Ill-Lympics!:

The Ill-Lympics is an adventure story about a band of microbes who take part in their own Olympics, a test of who can create the longest, most effective infection. Featuring a verruca infection from swimming, food poisoning in a restaurant, catching a cold from a sneeze in a play area and a super-bug infection in hospital…who will win?

Here are two taster animations, followed by The Rise of Virus X and The Ill-Lympics, plus evaluation documentation from both teachers. The teacher evaluation starts at 21m40s.

What did we learn?

Evaluation from the teaching staff shows that the project has been hugely valuable for them, as CLPL in the classroom, and also for the pupils in terms of the following aspects:

a) giving clear and sustained support to learning animation skills, team work and more ‘exploratory learning’

b) learning about the science topic in depth and demonstrating their learning in a final presentation and film screening event designed by the pupils themselves. Teachers fed back that the science learning was way beyond their expectations, and attainment beyond Level 2 for P6/7 class

c) engaging less able or less motivated learners in a range of core skills and roles in the animation teams and engaging a range of different learning styles through the different roles and group work

d) there was a big focus on problem solving in groups, and in creative thinking and making (the teachers valued this very highly)

e) the project running over an academic year for each class was a ‘plus’ in the teacher’s opinions, giving pupils time to engage deeply and thoroughly, and build confidence

f) the teachers would not have considered putting animation and science together in the classroom, and felt that the interdisciplinary learning that resulted was beyond their expectations

g) a number of pupils continued to make animations at home and bring examples in to show at school

h) the benchmarking questionnaire demonstrated an increase in understanding of what scientists do, what microbes and bacteria are and confidence in science vocabulary from the pupils

The pupils were all inspired and engaged by the fact that they had met "real scientists" and "real animators" coming into school from the world of work – this added an authenticity to the experience for them, giving insight into careers they might not have otherwise known about or considered. There was a collective energy created by animators, scientists, pupils and teachers working together which was tangible and definitely added an aspect of fun.

So what next?

The School of Life Sciences and DCA Learning Team are planning to deliver more Animating Science activity with schools in Angus and are aiming for a cluster to work together starting from Autumn 2018, funded by Wellcome, to continue our learning and to refine the model of CLPL for teachers and classroom delivery.

The School of Life Sciences staff and students are also having a go at animation techniques and exchanging science concepts with the animators during Autumn 2018.

The teachers and partners are presenting a seminar about the collaborative learning at Scottish Learning Festival 2018 in September 2018.

We are hoping to enter any animated films made into film festivals, and to present the collaboration for STEAM and creative learning at academic science / learning conferences.

Watch this space…

For more information please contact the DCA Learning Team or

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