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Jemicy School, MICA team up for 'Memory Tricks' animation project

By Angie Bornemann

April 11, 2012

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One thing the girls of The Jemicy School's fifth-grade class won't likely ever forget is their "Memory Tricks" project.

The project ended March 30 when the eight 11-year-old girls in the class traveled to Maryland Institute College of Art, in Bolton Hill, where they worked in a stop-motion animation (think Gumby) classroom to finish their films, each of which depicted a memory trick to help students learn various facts..

Fifth-grader Libby Griffin's film depicts a catchy rhyme to teach a multiplication fact: "I ate and I ate till I got sick on the floor. 8 x 8 is 64."

The stars of this film are colorful pipe-cleaner figures shaped like 8's.

Fifth-grader Clare Walston's film animates a "beautiful" acrostic to teach the spelling word: "Boys eat apples under trees in fall under leaves."

The stars of this film are colorful clay figures holding apples.

The project, which paired eight MICA animation students with the eight fifth-grade girls from Jemicy, was the brainchild of animator Lynn Tomlinson, a professor of animation at MICA.

A Catonsville resident, Tomlinson is an independent animator whose work has been featured on PBS and "Sesame Street." The latter is a show that she watched as a child and for which, as an adult, she animated the letter P. She joined the MICA staff as a professor of animation in August 2011.

Tomlinson proposed the project in fall 2011 and secured a $2,000 grant from MICA's Office of Community Engagement to pay for it.

Members of her fall 2011 semester animation class at MICA volunteered to mentor the girls, a role that would require them to share their expertise in a variety of animation techniques, including cut paper, pixelation (animating people) and frame-by-frame flip books.

Tomlinson also is soliciting funds on Kickstarter, a website where entrepreneurs promote a project or business and solicit donations. She hopes to use some of the Kickstarter money to buy the Jemicy fifth-graders software so they can continue making animated films on their own.

As of April 5, the Kickstarter site showed 28 backers had donated a total of $1,081 to "Memory Tricks."

Tomlinson paired her MICA students with Jemicy School students for a good reason.

Her daughter, Lucy,11, is a fifth-grader at Jemicy.

The Jemicy School, in Owings Mills, educates lower-, middle- and upper-school students who have dyslexia or language-based learning differences.

Megan McGowan, head of lower school at Jemicy, said "Memory Tricks" is a good fit for Jemicy students because "the project is multi-sensory, which is at the heart of Jemicy teaching."

It also integrates many content areas, including language arts, visual arts and digital technology, she said.

McGowan noted that students with dyslexia-based learning differences, "can struggle to get rote information," which is exactly the kind of information addressed in "Memory Tricks."

In addition to its academic merits, Tomlinson sees the project as a confidence-builder.

As MICA students began weekly sessions in mid-February with the Jemicy girls, Tomlinson worked to "put the girls in the position of power. "

"The girls are the directors," Tomlinson said.

Although she already knew some parts of the process, fifth-grader Lucy, Tomlinson's daughter, said her MICA mentor, Olivia Huynh, "helped me."

Huynh, 21 and a junior animation student at MICA from Texas, said that in working with Lucy, she made an effort to follow the fifth-grader's lead.

Lucy chose to write a story that would help students learn a multiplication fact.

"Two sixes were walking in the desert. They were thirsty sixes. 6 x 6 = 36."

When painting the background for Lucy's story, "I'd let her make spontaneous judgments, " Huynh said.

Fifth-grader Maya Gallant animated a paper cutout of a hamburger (top of bun, burger, bottom of bun) to teach the three parts of a paragraph (topic, supporting details, concluding sentence.)

She said that her mentor, Yanabella Peropat, 21, a sophomore Illustration major from New York City, "gave me a lot of freedom, but she really helped me."

At the culminating activity at MICA's Fox building on March 30, Maya and the other Jemicy fifth-graders used Dragonframe stop-motion animation software to record photographs of their paper or clay puppets in sequence so that the puppets appeared to move. Voice-overs, music and sound effects were added.

Maya said the process took "a lot of time and a lot of photos."

In all, the fifth-graders created seven (two girls worked together) animated films, each 20-30 seconds long

Tomlinson plans to present the project to Jemicy's lower- and middle-students sometime in the future. She said she is thinking about creating an animated rabbit that will pull the memory tricks out of a hat.

To check on the current status of the "Memory Tricks" project, go to tinyurl.com/micajem.