Friday, 7 February 2014

Pivot for Education?

A technician I worked with once, told me they had Pivot on their school network, but that they had made it inaccessible to students - at the request of teachers. It wasn't really my place to enquire too deeply then, but it set me wondering why teachers might do this...
Were students playing when they should have been learning - i.e. time-wasting?
Were students making... erm... inappropriate images?
Could the teachers think of no reason to use the program?

As I recall I first came across Pivot when I was working as an advisory teacher in 2001. I only ever saw the skinny stickman - I was amused and thought that it would be a useful introduction to the principles of animation. I really only started to explore other possibilities much later with Version 2. This is the version I've used most in the classroom since. Version 3 was only ever in beta, was a bit buggy (especially on networks) and, it seemed for all the world as if it was no longer under development by its presiding genius Peter Bone. So I was delighted while updating my Pivot page to discover there is now a stable Version 4, which answers many of the user interface issues of Version 2. It looks a lot better, there are many new features and, really usefully, it allows animations to be exported as AVI files which can be edited in Movie Maker or uploaded direct to the net. Sprites (imported images) can now be animated. There is also a very good new official website called Pivot Animator.

There are loads of Pivot movies on YouTube - a whole subculture - and whilst some of them are brilliantly animated and genuinely witty, the content may well put teachers off.  But perhaps the most off-putting for teachers is the thought of student and teacher learning a whole load of new skills before using it to teach the content or skills they wish to develop.  I'd make a few assertions here based on my experience.

  • Give students an hour, encourage discussion and sharing of skills, and you will be surprised at how far they will get with the program.. Almost certainly they will make stickfigures fight. Live with it... for now. They will love doing this.
  • Teachers need to download the version they plan to use and play with it themselves for half an hour - or just long enough to introduce the program to their class. Tell them how long you spent learning and that you intend learning much more in the lesson from them. You may well love doing this too.
  • You might find that somebody is already an 'expert'. Use them.
  • Celebrate creative ideas more than animation skill. 
  • This is all you need before starting to use Pivot to support your curriculum.
Next time give them a challenge. Talk about appropriate use. If you wish, ban stickfights. Older children may well seek to be... ummm - subversive. Emphasize appropriate use in school. Tell them if they wish to do that kind of animation, to do it in the privacy of their own homes - at least it won't make them go blind... probably.

There really doesn't seem to be much out there to support learning using Pivot Animator (though I'd be glad to learn otherwise). So, to steal a crowdsourcing idea from Tom Barrett, click the animation at the head of this page to go to a shared presentation, where you can view the ideas as they appear, meanwhile view my page from the links above. To add a slide featuring your idea for using Pivot Animator in the classroom click here. If possible add a gif illustration.