Created using paper cut-outs, clay, or drawn on whiteboards, animation can provide an effective means to convey abstract scientific concepts and dynamic systems. Here, minimal class time and resources are necessary. The production and post-production component of the project can be completed within 3-4 hours and only a still camera and tripod are needed.

Angélica Allende Brisk, Cambridge Media Arts Studio (original author); Ana Caldeira, Somerville, Mass. High School, Tobe Stromberg, Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge and Latin High School, Candace Dunlap, TERC (editors)


Students will create an animation to represent one of the many feedback loops that influences climate change. To create their animation, students will use clay, cut paper, whiteboard or other materials commonly found in the classroom. They will make a storyboard, plan a narration, rehearse their animation and then film their animation with stop-motion photography.

PSA Example Projects

  • Students will learn about a feedback process that affects climate change. Students will use systems thinking tools such as causal loop diagrams to illustrate how their system can change when key variable(s) of the system change.

    High Order Thinking Skills For This Activity

    Students will use the following thinking skills to develop an animation: Researching, evaluation, interpretation of feedbacks in climate systems thinking and analysis Collaboration in groups to research, plan and produce an animation

    Other Skills Goals For This Activity

    When creating an animation, students will learn and apply the following media skills: Background internet research from vetted sources Story boarding Animation production techniques Filming the animation Using animation software to animate and edit their film Collaborating on pre-planning, production and animation screening Critiques (peer review) of others work Present their narrated animations for a class critique.

  • The Feedbacks in Climate Change Animation lesson is suitable for students in middle school and high school. Examples of content areas in courses, units or lessons that are natural fits for this animation lesson include: Climate change Ecology, ecosystems and environmental science Weather and Climate Earth Science Media Studies/Journalism Systems Thinking Societal Issues

    Skills And Concepts That Students Must Have Mastered

    This Animation activity may be more meaningful for students if they have previously had some background in climate science and media production skills. Feedbacks and systems thinking may be completely new concepts for students - regardless of their age. Teachers will need to spend time having students learn about feedbacks and systems before launching this activity.

    How The Activity Is Situated In The Unit Or Course

    This animation project is well suited for a culminating project to a unit of study. Alternatively, a unit on climate change and/or systems thinking may be structured around creating this animation. In this approach, the student's ability to research and evaluate climate feedbacks and apply systems thinking strategies to interpret climate feedback science becomes the primary focus for assessment.

    Description And Teaching Materials

    The climate change feedback animation lesson follows a sequence of activities. Some of the activities can be done for homework. Pre-teaching climate change science content, systems thinking and climate feedbacks will differ from class to class based on age and needs. Students: Choose a climate feedback scenario to read, interpret and identify a causal feedback loop which they will then animate. Create a storyboard with narration for their causal feedback loop animation. Use a still camera and tripod to shoot approximately 150 shots (10 frames per second) for a ~15 second animation accompanied by student-produced narration. Use animation software to animate and edit their film. Screen their finished animated film with peers in a critique.

    Teaching Tips and Notes:

    This media project assumes that students will have prior knowledge on systems thinking strategies and causal feedback loops before they begin to create their animation. Thus, pre-plan for teaching about systems-thinking and feedbacks before you begin. Creating an animation is very student-centered which puts you in the role of facilitator. Review the CAM Animation Stop Motion Demo Tutorial Video on Creating Causal Loops. You will show this video to the class at the beginning of the production phase. Review the project's student handouts and rubrics with students before they begin pre-production. Make sure you spend enough time understanding the equipment and software you will be working with before beginning the animation project. It is important to check in with students often to ensure that the science they are presenting is scientifically accurate and rigorous enough for their age group. There are multiple times during pre-production where you can check-in with students to assess whether they are on-track in meeting their learning goals. For example, reviewing students' storyboards will allow you to ask clarifying questions and uncover any science misconceptions before the animation is done. Students should critique each others work respectfully and with a collective goal of having all projects in the class be strong. Critiques can be powerful learning tools for students. When critiquing other students' work, students should explicitly acknowledge excellent work by their classmates. Make sure you review ground rules for critiquing other students' work before you begin. Your fellow art teachers would be a good resource for help with critiquing. Ask students to consider how they will take their work beyond the classroom.

  • There are several points in the development and completion of this animation project that offer opportunities for assessment. For example: The animation storyboard and the narrative can be assessed for clarity, creativity, scientific accuracy and planning Final animations offer numerous opportunities to assess the following: editing skills scientific accuracy quality of visual and audio aspects of the video as well as editing of the final cut creation and use of audio and visual assets to communicate a key science concept public speaking skills (as students explain what they are trying to convey, especially during face-to-face screenings). Effective use of specific critique skills Peer review of team members can be helpful for students to review each others' roles and contribution to the team effort. Group screenings with constructive feedback provided by the audience (classmates, other students, families) offer students an opportunity to refine their climate science knowledge and public speaking skills. A simple form (we have used Google Docs forms) can be used to solicit student feedback on their peers (an example is provided).