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Shapes in Motion: Easy Animation using Pattern Blocks

Want to add a fun twist to math lessons and engage your students? Look no further than pattern block animation. These familiar manipulatives can be surprisingly versatile tools for creating short, stop-motion animations. By moving the blocks slightly and taking a picture between movements, students can bring geometric shapes to life – imagine a blooming flower or a bouncing ball. This engaging activity is perfect for students of all ages. Working in teams, they can plan their animations, bringing stories to life, visualizing math concepts, or even recreating video game scenes. We'll provide resources to get you started, including a stop-motion animation tutorial and project ideas.


 
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Resources





 

Pattern Blocks


Pattern blocks were invented in 1963 by Edward Prenowitz as part of the Elementary Science Study (ESS). Geo Blocks, among many educational tools, were also developed in this program. These colorful shapes are more than just a math tool. They're designed with both learning and fun in mind. There are only six unique shapes, each with its own bright color, but you can use them to create all sorts of surprising designs.

These colorful shapes are more than just a math tool. They're designed with both learning and fun in mind.

What makes them special is that all the sides are the same size, except for one on the trapezoid. And all the angles (except for one kind of rhombus) are easy to measure because they're perfect fractions of a circle (like halves, thirds, or sixths). This design lets kids experiment and discover math concepts by themselves, like how shapes fit together, how big things are, and interesting patterns. So whether they're following a guide or making their own creations, pattern blocks help kids learn and develop important skills like problem-solving and thinking in 3D all while having fun.


Activity


This engaging activity is perfect for groups of 2 or 3 students. While one student could manage it solo, taking hundreds of pictures for each slight block movement can get tiring. Plus, teamwork fosters communication and problem-solving skills. To spark your interest, here are some pattern block animations my students did. I have mostly middle school boys who gravitated towards action sequences, but the possibilities are endless.


Before your students dive headfirst into filming, encourage them to brainstorm and plan their animations using the pattern blocks. This could involve sketching scenes, creating a storyboard with the blocks themselves, or simply talking through the action sequence. Think of it as a blueprint for their animation. Remember, this plan is a guide, not a rigid script. Feel free to let their creativity take the wheel and adjust the story as it unfolds.


The beauty of pattern blocks lies in their versatility. Students can use them to visualize math concepts, create mesmerizing patterns, or even bring video game scenes to life. Here are some jumping-off points to get them started:

  • Transformative patterns: Start with one design and gradually change it into another. This is a great way to showcase symmetry or geometric transformations.

  • Bringing pictures to life:  Animate a scene from a story or create their own scene using the blocks. You can find many free pattern block designs online such as this one to help students get started.

  • Video game vibes: Recreate a favorite video game scene with the blocks.

  • Scientific storytelling: Use the blocks to visually represent phenomena like the water cycle.

  • Unstructured play: Encourage students to simply experiment and see what cool things they can create with the blocks. A simple sketch or storyboard can help them organize their ideas later.


Once the planning is complete, it's time to set the stage for filming. Find a well-lit area

with minimal clutter and choose a simple background, like a plain sheet or colored paper. This will help the colorful pattern blocks shine. If you can, secure your camera or phone on a tripod to ensure steady shots throughout the filming process. The key is to move the pattern blocks in small, gradual increments and capture a picture after each movement. Your students should develop a communication plan to make sure all the pattern block pieces are in place and ready before taking a picture to avoid blurry or incomplete frames. For a smooth 30-second video, aim for at least 300 photos. The more pictures you take, the smoother the animation will appear.


Once your students have captured hundreds of photos, it's time to weave them into a polished animation. There are many free and user-friendly editing apps available but we'll be using WeVideo as an example in this guide. I provided a video tutorial on how to create a stop-motion animation using WeVideo.

pile of pattern blocks

Students should add some finishing touches to their masterpiece. Encourage them to create a title slide with their team name and credits. For an extra layer of personalization, they can incorporate a soundtrack or even use text bubbles to showcase their characters' dialogue. Feeling adventurous? Why not challenge them to experiment with a green screen effect for a unique background?


The final step is to share their creations. There are many ways to share the stop-motion masterpieces your students create. Inside the classroom, project their animations for the whole class to enjoy, sparking discussions and peer feedback (include popcorn, if you want to make it extra exciting). Many classroom platforms offer digital bulletin boards, perfect for students to upload their creations for classmates to view at their own pace. To elevate the experience further, have students present their animations to the class, explaining their creative process and the concepts explored.


Looking beyond the classroom walls? Share some of the best animations on the school website or newsletter, showcasing student work and celebrating their achievements with the wider school community. Snippets of the animations can be shared on social media platforms like the school's Facebook page or Twitter. Online video sharing platforms like YouTube or Vimeo are fantastic options for sharing student work with families and friends.


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