Tony Dusko Animates Learning
It’s a time-honored elementary school cliche: when the semester is slow, vacation fast approaching or there is a substitute teacher, the class watches a video to kill time. But Tony Dusko, a Pennsylvania-based 5th-grade teacher by day and animator by night, has bigger aspirations for what his students watch. Beginning with a short cartoon of a grilled-cheese sandwich telling his class to get ready for lunch, Dusko discovered that his 5th-graders had a voracious appetite for animated lessons.
Drawing on a degree in fine art and studies with Academy-Award nominated animator Paul Fierlinger, Dusko has created a series of films to engage his students in a variety of subjects; from learning about owls to being a good friend. His shorts make for lively and fun viewing, and represent a simple and effective way to break through the electronic clutter of his young students’ lives: His characters are quirky shapes and colors, his sound-effects are expressive, and his sense of humor is appealing to all ages (watch Some Facts About Owls, above and check out more of Tony’s work at notebookbabies.com). Recently, I had a chance to ask Tony a few questions about how and why he does what he does. –John
How did you get started with your educational animations?
One day I decided to make an animated character to tell the kids to be quiet when they are in line to go to lunch. I was sick of telling them myself every day.
What was your students’ response like?
They couldn’t believe their eyes or that I could do something like that. Then they begged me to make more.
How do you think a dynamic medium like animation helps kids learn?
I am not sure why it works but I am certain that it is an effective way to communicate information when done well. Perhaps it is the combination of movement and sound using simple colors and shapes. Or maybe it is just a medium that kids are used to from TV.
How bad is the competition these days for kids’ attention, with mobile phones, the internet and videogames?
There is competition with these other forms of stimulus but as a teacher you have to stop complaining about this and utilize your own style and humor to find fun ways to get and keep the kids engaged. Embracing new technology in the classroom is definitely a way to help.
Do you worry about kids’ reading skills in the future?
I do worry about reading skills, which is why I constantly stress the importance of good reading strategies no matter what subject I am teaching. However, the good news is that most teachers are united on this front and new technologies are constantly emerging to help kids and teachers with reading instruction.
What has influenced your visual style?
Certainly growing up with a father who is an artist has helped me be fearless in all my artistic endeavors. And I have been inspired by all the great artists from Picasso to Andrew Wyeth. However, my strongest influence in recent years remains the amazingly simple and random drawings of children. I love to look at what they draw when they have so little preconceptions and so much imagination. Somewhere in middle school or high school this starts to disappear.
If you were going to do an animation for kids about some of the challenges facing the world today, where might you start?
I would concentrate on subjects like recycling, conserving more and throwing away less, doing the right thing, and how to be a good person.