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Using Animated GIFs

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by MARK WEST 05/14/10

Using Animated Gifs

Animated Gifs have a bad rap. Heralded in 1987 by CompuServe on their early bulletin board system in pre-Internet times as a way to display pictures (anyone else remember the motto, "choosy developers choose GIFs"? And yes, it's pronounced with a soft g). GIFs offered more colors than other formats in 1987 and with the revised format in 1989 animation was available in 256 colors with a new "interlacing technology". Animated GIFs were quickly adopted by the evolving Internet of the 1990s, and for the most part, are becoming as obsolete as 8-track tape players. However, in education, we don't pitch it out until it's no longer useful. There are teachers still using cassette tapes (not mp3 players), and some even use 35mm film. Why neglect something that can work just because it's gone out of vogue?

Of course, sometimes you can find a "spot graphic" as a gif animation that you can't find as a movie and still images can't show your students the retrograde motion of Mars, as an example. If you can't find a QuickTime .mov or perhaps an MPEG file, search for an animated gif of it.

Sometimes animated GIFs can supplement your instruction, but look cartoony or have very little educational value. But I wouldn't complete write them off simply as a fad of the 1990s (which they were).

While animated GIFs can look poor quality, check out this one at Wikipedia which shows a progression of the seasons from NASA satellite imagery If you're trying to teach about the climate, this does something that no traditional classroom globe does. And it looks good. Consider also this roating globe or this animation of Newton's cradle both are good quality GIF animations. Just because animated GIFs aren't cutting edge (and you won't see this quality in an animated GIF), it doesn't mean we shouldn't consider them.

Some Sites With Animations

  1. Discovery Education offers a wide variety of clip art, including 64 animations.
  2. boasts 20,000 stock animations. Looking at the animals section, the bear isn't the best, but the bat flying animation is pretty good. Animation categories include: Aliens. Animals, Arrows, Astronaut, Babies, Body Parts, Books, Bullets, Butterflies, Cars, Cartoons, Computers, Construction, Counters, Creatures, Email, Explosives, Fire, Food, Games, Holidays, Houses, Insects, Lines, Love, Messages, Money, Music, Smiley Faces, and Sports.
  3. ARG! Animated GIF Cartoons and Alphabets offers 15,000 animated GIFs. Categories include St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Car Animations, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Patriotic Cartoons, Graduation, Business Cartoons, Real Estate, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Halloween, Cartoon Backgrounds, Dancing Words, Web Buttons, Still Cartoon Portfolios, Abnormal Toons, Discussion Board, Flash Games, Flash Cartoons and more.
  4. has 13,000. Categories include: Alphabets, Animals, Clothing, Computers & Technology, Creatures and Cartoons, Everything Else, Food and Drinks, Geography and History, Hobbies and Entertainment, Holidays, Jobs and People, Nature, Religious, Science and Body, Sports, Transportation, Webdesign Elements, and Words.
  5. claims their images are in the public domain (I seriously doubt their Simpson's collection is, though). Categories include: animals, arrows & pointers, bars & lines, body parts, books & calendars, bullets & balls, business/finance, cartoons, clocks & counters, computers, devilish, earth & globes, eyes, faces & smiles, fire & explosions, flags, food, funny, furniture, games, lips & mouth, love, miscellaneous, money, sound and music gifs, nautical_boats, numbers & characters, people, plants, religion, science, seasonal, site messages, Aliens & Space, stars, sports, vehicles, and more.
  6. Nasa offers gif animations that a science teacher could work into his or her lessons on space science. Newer offerings tend to be MPEGs, but older items don't mean they shouldn't be usable).
  7. Here are more GIF animations for use in the science classroom. and more GIF animations for use in science and history
  8. Education World links more sites explains various file formats and discusses legal issues about animated GIFs.
  9. Science, History, Phys. Ed, Computers, and more
The location of the Insert Media From File icon on the Toolbox
   This is an animated GIF I made
   to show you the location of the 
   "Insert Media From File" icon 
   on your Toolbox.

Inserting an animated GIF is not really any different than down and using some multimedia element. You can use the "Insert Media From File" icon that is on your ToolBox or simply click and drag the image into a flipchart.