Tools for Creating Animations to Demonstrate Understanding

A few years ago I worked with middle school students to create animations to illustrate forms of energy. The process of making those animations was a good way for students to break down a big topic into little easy-to-understand pieces. Forms of energy was a natural fit for illustration with animation. But when we look at most subjects we can find topics within it for students to animate to demonstrate understanding.

I was turned onto the idea of using simple animations many years ago when I read Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin books. These books make the point that if you truly understand a concept, you can illustrate it with simple drawings on the back of a napkin or other blank canvas.

You don’t need to be artistically inclined at all in order to make effective illustrations. In fact, in Unfolding the Napkin I learned that simple stick figures were often all that is needed to illustrate a concept. And if you do use the concepts of Unfolding the Napkin in your classroom, you will have to remind some students to focus on the concepts first before getting hung up on the aesthetics of their sketches.

In this ten minute video Dan Roam explains the concepts of Unfolding the Napkin.

Free Tools for Creating Animations

Brush Ninja is a free tool for creating animated GIFs. It works equally well in the web browser on a Chromebook, Windows or Mac laptop, iPads, Android tablets, and iOS and Android phones. To make an animated GIF on Brush Ninja simply go to the website and start drawing on the blank scene editor. You can draw as many scenes as you like in Brush Ninja. When you have drawn all of the scenes for your animation press the play button to preview your animation. If you are happy with your animation, you can download it by clicking the export option. If you don’t like a part of your animation, you can go back and edit any of the scenes that you need to adjust. Here’s a two minute video overview of Brush Ninja.

PowerPoint has a built-in capacity for generating animated GIFs. Years ago Common Craft used it to create a neat guide to understanding World Cup soccer. To learn how to create an animated GIF in PowerPoint, watch this short tutorial created by Mike Tholfsen.

Wick Editor is a free tool for creating animations in your web browser. Wick Editor doesn’t require you to register or sign into any kind of account in order to use it. While it is relatively easy to use, it is easier to use if you’ve watched this tutorial video before you start using it. Highlights of Wick Editor include multiple drawing tools, space for dozens of frames, and a helpful onion-skinning tool. Finished animations can be saved as MP4 files or as GIF files.

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