One of my favorite things to do while reading a book is creating a vision of what the scenes and characters look like. For as long as the reading lasts,I can turn into an imaginary director –staging scenes,dressing characters,and putting on my own show. Later,if the book is made into a movie,I enjoy comparing my vision of the book to the director’s interpretation. Disappointments or pleasant surprises usually follow. As enjoyable as this exercise is,I have never tried seriously to discover why I (and many others) do this. Until one day,as I was reading the Smithsonian Institute’s “Once Upon a Real Time:Telling the Stories the Past Tells Us,”I noticed that one of the methods described to improve student understanding is encouraging them to envision story scenes and characters in their minds. It became clear that visualizing is an important part of the learning process.
I wanted to test this method on my students, and I was looking for implementations that would be appropriate for our internet-age students. My explorations led me to a free, web-based drawing and animation application called DoInk. DoInk is relatively new and tries to appeal to those who enjoy drawing and creating animations, sharing them with others, and publishing them for all to see and enjoy. Published art creations become part of a big pool of props that users can search and use in their own creations. This web-based art and animation tool is backed by a dedicated DoInk community, turning it into an active social network focused on art and animation.
One can think of many educational implementations that an application such as DoInk can benefit. Students can draw scenes and characters from stories they read, create a simulation in science, or visualize complex problems in math, in addition to other subjects. All educational disciplines can benefit from a tool such as DoInk. Students really enjoy using DoInk because they spend a lot of time working on it. They welcome working on any project with DoInk, even if it is complex.
In the ‘Escape on the Pearl’ project,I analyzed the story by looking at it from different angles. One such angle was visualizing my own version of important scenes in the story. The task was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was not enough to just open DoInk and start drawing. The drawing had to be a reflection of the times in terms of scenery, clothing, characters, etc. Before starting to draw,I had to research how the 7th street wharf at Washington D.C.,the Pearl, the people, the dresses, and the buildings looked like. Only then could I combine my vision with the authentic look of the times in order to start planning the drawing and put the animation together.
I always believed that projects in which students need to recreate a scene or a simulation of some phenomena would have the most impact on data retention and student understanding. In order to draw a simple scene from a story or a documented historical event, students need to understand a lot about the times and the people. In order to simulate a scientific phenomena as part of a science project, students have to clearly understand how everything works and how it all fits together before they embark on the task of simulating it with an animation tool.
As simple and enjoyable as this tool is, the cognitive processes that take place in order to bring such a project to fruition can be quite complex. DoInk is the type of technology tool that helps learners articulate and show what they know, reflect on what they have learned, and construct personal representations of meaning. In a conference about the brain held at UCLA, researchers said that the brain is more likely to retain information if the topic is presented in ways the brain is not normally accustomed to. As long as students have not watched the scenes, events, or simulations in movies or T.V.,creating visual representations of any of those are clearly different than what they usually do.