Crafting Animal Composites with Photoshop CC (Grade 3)

This is my first big regret of the year. Not that the idea behind the project wasn’t a good one, but that the expectation was perhaps too great for my Grade 3 students, who are still very new to Photoshop.

The genesis of this project started with a conversation with the teachers in the Grade 3 team. Something I do regularly is to check in with the teams to see what they are covering in the upcoming term to see if I can those themes to my lessons. In this case, they told me that the students would soon be doing a unit on animal adaptations. They further told me that in the past they have done a fun engagement activity with the kids where they can design their own animal, using different animal bodyparts. I got the impression this was usually done as a sketch. Could this be done in Photoshop they asked?

The answer, of course, is yes – it can. The more important question is, are the students up for it? That, I was not so sure about. It usually takes some practise with a variety of tools (such as the quick selection tool, the magic wand, quick mask, etc) to make a good selection that you can then remove a background.

I planned this lesson to come right after the one they did on selecting and removing the background from superhero pictures (which is covered in a post last year here). In that case, the images were chosen by me, and had varying levels of difficulty in selecting the background correctly.

In this activity, students were to choose three animals. They were to find the pictures on Google and save them to import into Photoshop. But – there were some guidelines first. Each animal needed to be facing the same direction to make it easier. I wanted the students to visualise how they wanted the creature to look in their heads, before they finalised which pictures they were going to use. Most students followed this, but some still had some problematic choices. It says something about the kind of teacher I am, in that there were cases where I let the students choose difficult pictures so they could see where the problems would lie when they brought them into Photoshop.

In any case, the project was simple enough in concept. Bring in three pictures to Photoshop – each on a seperate layer. Choose one animal for the head, one for the body (including legs) and one for the tail. Cut out the background as best you can, and make any transformations needed to put together the animal.

The results were fairly mixed, it’s fair to say. This is perhaps one for a Grade 4 class who have a little more experience in using Photoshop. Nevertheless, the students were all pretty happy with how their menagerie came out.

Below is a video describing the workflow in Photoshop, and under that are some student examples.

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