An insider perspective on learning from home

Susan Bye

Susan Bye

Senior Producer, Education, ACMI

Hear from ACMI education producer Ellen Molloy about how she combines her personal and professional experiences to inspire learning.

Learning from home

Studies in graphic arts, multimedia and primary education came into their own when I joined the ACMI Education team, and now my experience as a parent of young children is providing new insights into screen literacy and child-centred screen culture. I really enjoy the communal experience of watching television with my three- and six-year-old, and I have noticed how much my opinion influences their viewing choices and interests. For instance, when my three-year-old announced that ‘Giggle and Hoot is boring’, I could hear myself having said the same thing a million times before. I’m an influencer! And I need to make sure I use this taste-making power productively, while also being aware I should enjoy it while it lasts.

Enjoying TV together

I love TV, and I love ABC Kids. There are also some great children’s programs on NITV. Yet, despite the quality control offered by these national TV networks, I have to do some careful curation. For instance, we don’t do shows that feature goodies vs baddies as they motivate some disturbing post-show combat devoid of any of the narrative nuance that might have been part of the TV narrative. As tastemaker, I have also vetoed boring, repetitive story lines. After all, I also have to enjoy what we are watching. And of course, we are all in agreement that the best shows are both fun and funny. Research suggests co-viewing with children is a great way to support screen literacy, and whether you are a teacher or parent, these Co-viewing questions from the ACTF offer a simple and effective framework.

Engaging learners through the moving image

I am used to being the educator delivering programs but, as the parent of a little boy learning from home for most of this year, I have been able to check out the online classroom experience from the other side. And in the early days, preppies and Google Meets equalled chaos. Students (and their parents) were quick to learn the basics of the platform, but for teachers who were having to rethink their practice on the run, it was a challenge to think about screen-based content that would work well in a screen-based classroom. (If you are in doubt about what to use, head over to the ACTF for news about quality children’s TV and keep an eye out for beautiful animations such as the award-winning Lost and Found.) This got me reflecting on the many effective ways the moving image can be used to engage students in an online environment.

When our ACMI Education team decided to run virtual lessons for schools to assist with learning impacted by COVID-19, I was able to put this reflection into practice. In particular, I wanted to draw on the magic of animation and its special ability to connect with young learners. In my work at ACMI, I have always loved exploring animation with young students as a way of building their interpretative and critical thinking skills. Quite often in schools, TV and film texts are plugged into a wet day timetable or used as end-of-year timetable fillers. But if you ask young students to reflect on and respond to TV shows and films they love, there is so much they can tell you about story, characters, emotions and relationships. (Check out Flynn on his beloved Ponyo.)

My secret weapon

Little J and Big Cuz and Bluey have been on my radar for a while. I’ve watched these Australian animated TV series with my children and have been impressed with how each of these charming and heartfelt programs manages to explore child-centred concerns with such a light touch. Yet, I couldn’t find the ‘just-right’ way to use them in a workshop or talk. Then, when we began planning our virtual lessons, I decided Little J and Bluey would be my secret weapon for actively engaging early primary students in a 45-minute online program.

Me and My World virtual lesson

Supporting my child in online classroom sessions consolidated my thinking around the learning and discovery embedded in beautiful and well-constructed programs such as Little J and Bluey. So, I decided they would be central to the lesson I was developing for early years students around community, identity and diversity: Me and My World. The curriculum connections were clear, as was the potential of Little J and Bluey. But I also knew that in screening online videos, we would have to contend with the vagaries of the internet. For this reason, choosing content students may have seen, or that they could watch on catch-up before or after the ACMI virtual lesson, would be a great way to ensure a smooth-running program. I also included some student-made animation in the program to demystify the creative process and inspire young learners to make their own screen stories.

I’ve now delivered the talk many times, and it has really hit the spot with schools looking for new ways to engage students. It’s exciting for them to participate in an outward-facing excursion-style program that is a bit different from what they are used to. It has been so satisfying for me to see that students enjoy the shows I have selected, and that the shows’ familiarity helps guide and stimulate responses and reflection. When I am presenting, I love to see how the students start off as squirming jack-in-the-boxes and transform into focused viewers when the animations are on screen. How rewarding to see their smiles and their enjoyment as they immerse themselves in these charming narratives.

A very special birthday

Not only do I have the chance to test ACMI Education programs and content on my children (my very own mini-focus group), I have also been able to apply all that I have learned over the years about online delivery to enhancing family life during COVID-19. When my son turned six in August during Victoria’s second lockdown, I was determined to make his birthday lots of fun. I also knew his school friends and families were more than ready for a special experience to break the monotony of every day seeming the same. So, I designed and hosted an online interactive Lego-inspired brick party. Using the family’s free Zoom account, we locked in a 40-minute window on a Saturday afternoon for 20 Preps to join our birthday celebrations. Using screen-based content, images and videos, I engaged our guests in basic games that kept them guessing, moving around and interested. While I hosted the party from one room, the rest of the family were on another device so as they could participate in the fun and games. The party was a huge success, there was no clean up and, as anyone who has anything to do with young kids can tell you, short and sharp is the way to go. My partner observed that, “This might be a memorably eccentric one-off, or the first in a long line of future socially-distanced birthdays!”

Express animation

During my time at ACMI, I have developed and delivered countless creative workshops, but animation will always be my greatest love. I know heaps of shortcuts and techniques for young animators to achieve quick results and this has stood me in good stead as I cook up activities to keep my children amused. We have been using Stop Motion Studio, a free app on the iPad that allows us to make simple animations and record voiceovers. This is not only fun and a great way to learn through play but also to connect imaginatively with the outside world. In my sons’ animations, characters take train trips, go places we would like to visit, and do all the things we can’t do at the moment (but look forward to doing again). The commentaries my boys add to their animations are very cute and delight the rest of the family during Sunday Zoom catch-ups. It is so sweet when their younger cousin screams, “Again! Again!” and my boys swell with artistic pride.

Check out ACMI resources

If you are looking for further inspiration for making the most of animation and the wonder of the moving image in your classroom, take the time to browse our ACMI resources. You can find simple activities for making animation toys, a step-by-step introduction to stop motion animation as well as guides to analysing classic animations such as The Lost Thing, Horton Hears a Who and Ernest and Celestine.