Laura teaches! Meet with her at Skinny’s two hours before class and teach her how to use Holder animation. She practices it till she’s comfortable with it. It is interesting in that almost always something invariably goes wrong the first time you try it, as there are host of things that can stop your animation dead in its tracks. (as we shall see…)

Laura starts the class with a beautiful mermaid drawn on the Whiteboard. This immediately has the attention of the girls in the front row. Then she goes about the process of duplicating the mermaid, getting a holder, and dragging the duplicate in it and creating yet another duplicate for the holder. At one point she starts running out of space, so A’Feyah suggests shrinking down the holder, which didn’t affect the size of the final animation, which is determined by the size of the original sketch. This was kinda cool to see, as it meant the kids were trying to think out what Laura was doing as she demonstrated the process.

In fact a number of kids of were thinking their way through the steps, figuring out on their own why Laura was doing what she was doing in between her explanations. Even though the process of setting up the holder, the duplicated frames and the animation script and the repainting was pretty involved, the kids stuck with it. When Laura finally started the animation, there was an audible gasp as the beautiful mermaid flipped her tail back and forth. Suddenly the kids were all excited and full of – can you make her wave her arms? – and other questions. To which Laura replied that they’d all be able to do whatever they wanted to do on their own computers. So lets go!

They all started on their own animations, and were attempting a bunch of really ambitious things, but it was like navigating down the Mississippi, with sandbars around every corner. Trick number one was just trying to figure out which was the original painting and which were the duplicates, and then trying to get them in the right spot in the script. I would suggest that straight from the start, the original is the “original,” and then the duplicates that are made are named “original F1″ original F2” and so on. Many of the kids would get the original in their holder, and the duplicate outside, which works fine Etoys wise, but it would get confusing quick when they were trying to figure which was which in their script, leading to a complicated debugging process.

Another issue was just the creation of the script, as the different parts came from so many different scripting categories and viewers. It wasn’t enough just to see the completed script on the board, because it was so tricky to remember where all the tiles came from. Also since multiple tiles would become one in the final script, and the tiles themselves would actually change as the parts got replaced, it was tricky for the kids to hold it all in their heads. I had actually created a hand made cheat sheet for Laura to use when teaching, showing a print out of the animation script, with underlines and arrows listing the original location of each tile. (i.e. Original Sketch – Miscellaneous>Sketch hide)

This of course would be great for the kids to have a copy of too. So they can refer to it when they are trying to both remember and then locate the command they need.

This I think would go a long way towards fixing what we saw over and over again, which were scripts that were almost, but not quite right. Where everything looked fine, but it just wouldn’t work, until you debugged the script and saw that someone had actually instead placed the original sketch in the holder and the duplicate outside of it, and so the script would actually be telling the sketch actually “inside” the holder to look like the holder. (Or some variation on that.)

Another show stopper and definitely one to tell the Etoys programmers about, is the fact that it is very easy for the second sketch to not be in exactly the right place in the holder. The first sketch of course has a rectangle around it, but the second one has nothing to let you know it’s in place, and it’s very easy for it to be inside the holder, but just a hair off. This shuts down everything dead and is a huge mystery until you move that second sketch just a hair – and it pops into place and everything starts working. Saw this happen over and over again. Would suggest that the programmers add rectangles to second sketch within the holder also, so the kids know when it is locked into place also. (Note – it could be a gray rectangle instead of black to differentiate – also in the case of more than two frames, each of them should still have some kind of indication)

Ayele also hit upon what could have been a great timesaver, cept it didn’t work. He had rotated his second sketch inside the holder, to make his race car jump up, but when he ran the animation nothing happened. Turns out Eetoys only pays attention to the original pixels in the sketch, and not its size or rotation. Thus there are no shortcuts, if you want something rotated, you have to rotate it by repainting it rotated.

Couple other interesting things about this class. One was that I turned Tracy into a student teacher with some of the kids who were having trouble. Kinda worked, though admittedly an uphill battle. Also in my nonstop battle to keep these kids motivated, I added to the chocolate repertoire mp3s of Soulja Boy as interpreted by Alvin and the Chipmunks. (Which I had created for them using audio captures from the YouTube videos.) As motivation it worked beautifully, but curiously the only program on the XO that can play an mp3 is Etoys, and its implementation is fraught with danger. Not only do you have to answer all the pop ups correctly, if you make a mistake, it crashes Etoys and can even toast the original mp3 file. Resolve to come back on Thurs with ogg versions to see if they works any better.

Also no end of fun, on the way back to CruzBay, me and Laura followed behind the Safari taxi carrying the kids. As we wound through the awe inspiring scenery of the Virgin Islands National Park, the kids kept yelling back to us that they didn’t get enough chocolate, while they chatted back and forth with each other with the built in mesh networking of their XOs.

Welcome to the future my friends.

It for now.

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