Drawing the Connections: Making RSA Animate-style Videos in Class
Fall semester 2012 was coming to a close, and I noticed some important skills that my middle school students were still struggling with in my social studies class.
In particular, they were having trouble making connections between things that they read, not only across multiple sources but even within a single source. They were seeing each paragraph, each sentence as an individual disconnected fact. My guess was that this came from years of “read the chapter, answer the question, spit the question back” instruction that didn’t require them to put the facts together into a story and make connections between them. I wanted to say: “It sounds silly, but yes, what you are reading in the third paragraph happened because of what happened in the first paragraph.” I knew that if they couldn’t make connections, they would struggle in making argumentative points and supporting those points with information from the text they read.
This was particularly apparent when it came to our textbooks where it seemed that the words they were reading were just that…words. If they read Benjamin Franklin traveled to France, in their heads he just magically appeared there. If they read George Washington crossed the Delaware River, they never pictured a boat…or even water. I watched as my students used the textbook to play a matching game with the questions they received for classwork or homework. One student actually told me that he was having trouble because in the past he would just write down everything from the paragraph figuring that some of it had to answer the question. With this approach, obviously my students struggled with summary too: taking something long, and making it short…getting right to the point.
As I thought about these problems, I decided that making RSA Animate-style videos would provide a context for working on these skills. RSA videos invite students to visualize their information, make connections, and re-tell their facts in a story that has a very tight story line that flows: skills that transfer nicely to any traditional essay. I decided to plan this project around a very straight forward topic—the Louisiana Purchase—and to examine it in a very straight forward way so that the processes of making connections would be the central task. I also decided to use the textbook as the main source. I have faced the reality that the kids will be reading a social studies textbook and anything I could do to make it less scary allow them to read it more fluently will be a huge help in the next 4-8 years of their life. I was really pleased with the results.
Over the next few pages, I walk though the process of creating these videos in detail and invite you to contribute your own experiences with making RSA-style videos. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen these particular videos, visit the links below that will take you to some professionally-made videos that have become popular with educators. This will give you a picture of what we were striving for in our project as well as some sample videos to show to your classes should you decide to try the project yourself.