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  • Words by Stacey Bowers / Photography by Mark

Not Just Child's Play: Creative Collaboration in the Classroom


A group of third graders huddles around a table at Seventh Street Elementary School, their arms weaving over each other and brows furrowed as they thoughtfully stack Legos.

“Who knows how to build a house?” one asks.

“I do!” another shouts.

They’re collaborating to build a set with the plastic bricks, which they’ll use to film a stop motion animation starring Lego characters in a story the students wrote. Each student wrote his own film, their teacher, Melinda Bissett, says, and they’ll take turns helping each other film each story using a little camera on a flexible tripod and a heap of Legos Mrs. Bissett acquired with a grant from Thea’s Art Closet, a program of the Thea Foundation, which partners with DonorsChoose.org to provide funding for creative materials requested by underfunded classrooms across Arkansas.

“It takes grant opportunities like those offered through DonorsChoose to fund arts-related projects in my classroom and at my school,” Mrs. Bissett says. “I have had several fun and exciting projects funded through DonorsChoose to help make my classroom not just a place to learn, but a place where students experience hands-on, minds-on learning.”

Mrs. Bissett’s Legos project may seem like child’s play, but if you listen closely as each group of students creates its stop animation set, you’ll hear young people cooperating, problem solving, storytelling, paying attention to detail. Mrs. Bissett explains to the students how, because stop motion requires a series of several photographs recording very small movements, they’ll need to move their Lego person’s arms and head when it’s walking, mimicking human movement. Mrs. Bissett tells them to walk a few steps and really pay attention to how they move.

The students will learn the fine details of filmmaking, from lighting, to set consistency, to editing, to patience, and each student will walk away with a finished film of his or her own storyboard. Mrs. Bissett says that some of her students were so motivated by this project that they built their own sets at home, unsolicited, out of cardboard boxes.

When asked why she likes this class, one student says through a smile, “We get to be ourselves in this class.”

Mrs. Bissett says her students “need a creative and challenging environment to truly thrive and express themselves,” and she provides that by seeking funds for creative materials where she can, through Thea’s Art Closet and DonorsChoose.

To see who is fundraising now through Thea's Art Closet, click here. If you're a teacher wanting more information about how to receive funding, click here.

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