Research & Play, Thoughts About Life

My Teaching Philosophy

“The best way to learn is to teach.” (Richard Feynman)

I usually introduce myself as an animation researcher and storyteller. Animation is the field I am most passionate about, as it combines both art and science. Art manifests itself through drawing, sculpting, designing characters and worlds as well as storytelling, theatre and character arcs. Science combines mathematics, programming as well as elements of physics, like optics and mechanics. My teaching philosophy thus starts from a point of infinite curiosity for how the world is connected from both a rational (science) and a spiritual (art) perspective.

Arm waving

My current role is as unit leader for two units on the BSc Computer Animation and Visual Effects course at Manchester Metropolitan University. The units are 3D Character Development for Level 5 students and Character Animation Techniques for Level 6 students. Before this lecturing post, I undertook an Engineering Doctorate research role with the Centre for Digital Entertainment at The University of Bath. There my research in the field of computer animation was combined with lab tutoring in adjacent subjects. I also taught one year on the aforementioned units before becoming unit leader.

Teaching in Higher Education (HE)

To facilitate learning in higher education (HE) I believe the most important factors are to have a passion for the subjects being taught and to share knowledge adaptively, regarding students with empathy and respect for their individual traits. A passion for learning is essential for refreshing the material, encouraging multiple perspectives (Jonassen 1991) and increasing students’ retention though a plethora of resources (Black and William 2009).

Being able to adapt the information difficulty level to the audience members is a technique for improving learners’ retention (Campbell 2020). Learners’ retention can be further enhanced by the three tier model described in Sundqvist et. al (2019), where support is adapted to the students’ needs. Tier one represents general support, available to all students, followed by tier two of intensified support for smaller groups and finally tier three of special support for individuals that need more detailed explanations.

Also, by including a level of empathy in the delivery method, information becomes relevant to the individual, rather than a set of abstract concepts. This is linked to inclusive practice through understanding and getting to know students as individuals. This practice has been shown to create a sense of safety and belonging among groups of students (Hockings et al 2012). Furthermore, empathy allows the material to be made relevant to the learning orientation of each student (Entwistle and Peterson 2004), leading to a deeper understanding of the subject.

Learning Theories

An influential piece of reading for me was Illeris (2018) because it summarized the most popular learning theories from the past century. The learning theory proposed by the author also resonated well with my teaching methods. Considering content, incentive and interaction dimensions when designing and delivering a course allows me to offer a holistic learning experience. The incentive dimension has the highest priority in my opinion, followed by content and finally the interaction dimension.

Incentive comprises motivation, emotion and volition (Illeris 2018) and is linked to the “why” metaphor described by Simon Sinek (TED Talk 2010) and to the learning orientation described by Entwistle and Peterson (2004). I believe the reason why people learn is due to an inner drive, that ignites their curiosity both academically and vocationally (Entwistle and Peterson 2004). This can be linked to personal beliefs, innate talents or discovered passions and career goals. This “inner spark” then leads to content acquisition and the desire to meet learners with similar interests. Although useful to some extent, external motivators like marks and positive praise are used sparingly as this type of behaviourist approach to learning can lead to negative, competitive effects (Palmer 2005).

Regarding the content dimension, there are a few theories that influence my teaching. I relate to constructivism theories proposed by authors like Piaget (1926/1959), Jonassen (1991) and Palmer (2005) where knowledge is cumulated from previous experiences and is context, sometimes motivation driven. Before a student can reach mastery, however, cognitivism approaches (Ertmer and Newby 2013) help shape the introductory stages of knowledge (Jonassen 1991).

The method I use frequently to organize content is to find the building blocks that compose a complex piece of knowledge and to rebuild the latter using both logical scaffolding (Bruner 2002) and storytelling (narrative) methods. A data visualization pipeline, for example, can be explained through a story of a pirate using a map to look for treasure.

My teaching process usually starts with a holistic view (Pask 1988) of the broader picture, identifying patterns and analysing their component parts or building blocks. A serialist procedure (Pask 1988) then follows to further refine understanding of each component and how it fits into the overall structure of the piece of knowledge we wish to understand. Both theoretical and practical or experiential learning (Kolb 1984) are used to achieve this.

Afterwards, I like to bend the structures created by breaking and making new patterns (De Bono 1970), allowing students to view theory and practice from multiple angles (Jonassen 1991). Both lateral and vertical thinking (De Bono 1970) are thus employed to shape the knowledge concepts. The building blocks of knowledge can then be repeated in the design, delivery and assessment steps using constructive alignment techniques (Biggs and Tang, 2011) to consolidate the information.

It is important for me that students go beyond memorizing information and strive to analyse, create and find different applications for it (Bloom, 1956, Anderson 2000). Although previously learnt concepts influence the acquisition of new content (Hockings et al 2012), I also believe the brain can form new patterns due to its plasticity (Amen 2011), when employing a growth mindset.

Allowing students to reach beyond the facts and into a deeper understanding is a combination of individual motivation (Palmer 2005) and creating a safe and encouraging environment for learning. The latter implies interaction with peers and the teacher, who can influence each student’s experience, since learning is both an individual and a relational process (Murphy and Brown 2012).

Learning by Playing

A safe, inclusive environment for learning starts by viewing diversity of skills, knowledge and background as strengths (Thomas and May 2010). Each student should be given equal opportunities to express and share their opinions through diverse means (eg. text, speech, images). Some of the techniques I use to encourage students to collaborate are taken from improvised theatre (Johnstone 1999), where play is used for learning and connecting with others.

An example of an improv technique is endowment, or playing to each other’s strengths, which is great for group projects. To end, I would like to quote Dr Karin Purvis’ professional opinion on play, to show that accurate theoretical concepts, should always be combined with a fresh, personal and playful approach to knowledge:   

“Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 – 20 repetitions.” (Dr Karin Purvis)


  • Amen, D. G. (2011). Change your brain, change your life. [Place of publication not identified], CMI/Premier Education Solutions.
  • Anderson, L W.; Krathwohl, D. R., eds. (2000). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn and Bacon. 
  • Biggs, J. B., and Tang, C. S.-K. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does. [Philadelphia, Pa.], McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education.
  • Black, P., Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessmentEduc Asse Eval Acc 21, 5
  • Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Company.
  • Bruner, J. (2002). Making stories: Law, literature, life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Campbell, Anthony J. (2020). The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn is to Teach. [Accessed 29/10/2020] [Link here]
  • De Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: a textbook of creativity. London, Ward Lock Educational.
  • Entwistle, Noel & Peterson, Elizabeth. (2004). Conceptions of Learning and Knowledge in Higher Education: Relationships with Study Behaviour and Influences of Learning Environments. International Journal of Educational Research. 41. 407-428. 10.1016/j.ijer.2005.08.009.
  • Ertmer, P. A. and Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.
  • Hadjianastasis, Marios. (2017). Learning outcomes in higher education: assumptions, positions and the views of early-career staff in the UK system. Studies in Higher Education, 42:12, 2250-2266.
  • Hockings, Christine & Brett, Paul & Terentjevs, Mat. (2012). Making a difference—inclusive learning and teaching in higher education through open educational resources. Distance Education – DISTANCE EDUC. 33. 237-252. 10.1080/01587919.2012.692066.
  • Illeris, Knud. (2018). An overview of the history of learning theory. European Journal of Education. Research, Development and Policy, 53 (2018), pp. 86-101
  • Johnstone, Keith. (1999). Impro for Storytellers, Theatresports and the Art of Making Things Happen. Published by Faber and Faber Limited.
  • Jonassen, D. H. (1991a). Evaluating constructivistic learning. Educational Technology, 31(9), 28-33.
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.
  • Murphy, Mark. and Brown, Tony. (2012). Learning as relational: intersubjectivity and pedagogy in higher education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 31:5, 643-654, DOI: 10.1080/02601370.2012.700648
  • Pask, G. (1988). Learning Strategies, teaching strategies and conceptual or learning style. In R. R. Schmeck (Ed.), Learning strategies and learning styles (pp. 83 – 100), New York: Plenum Press.
  • Palmer, D. (2005). A motivational view of constructivistinformed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15), 1853-1881. doi:10.1080/09500690500339654
  • Piaget, J. (1926/1959). The Psychology of Intelligence. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Sundqvist, Christel & Björk-Åman, Camilla & Ström, K. (2019). The three-tiered support system and the special education teachers’ role in Swedish-speaking schools in Finland. European Journal of Special Needs Education. 34. 1-16. 10.1080/08856257.2019.1572094.
  • TED Talks. (2010). How Great Leaders Inspire Action | Simon Sinek. [Accessed 29/10/2020] [Link here]
  • The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. (2019). Inclusive Teaching Through Active Learning. Brown University.
  • Thomas, L and May, H. (2010). Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. The Higher Education Academy. 
Thoughts About Life

The Start of a Year in Manchester

It’s been two months since I moved to Manchester and I’ve already had two colds and a flu. I guess the colder weather and the interaction with students can do that to you. As you may or may not know, I had previously lived in Bath, the posh little Las Vegas of the UK. I moved up north to start a 12 month contract as a lecturer in Character Animation Techniques and 3D Character Development at Manchester Met.


3D model created for one of my lectures.

Although I knew I was setting myself up for a big challenge, I accepted the offer anyway. The old saying goes that “Those that can’t do, teach.”, but I would like to change that to “Those who teach have to DO more.”, because they have to keep ahead of the students. So how has it been so far, you ask? Hard to say. I do enjoy the interaction with the students who are curious and ask questions, but find it difficult to connect with the ones that just want a good grade. I enjoy preparing slides, but dread spending my nights finishing them. I am excited by the idea of doing my own research, but hardly find the time to do it. 

Other than that, I’m experimenting with various aspects of teaching. For example, I included some storytelling and improv in my 3D Character Development class. Students were asked to sketch out characters and storyboard their journey. They then shared their creations with their peers. In my Character Animation Techniques class, we recorded students doing various types of silly/normal walks to use as reference for the walk cycle part of their coursework.   

I’d also like to add some thoughts on the city. It is slowly growing on me and I am starting to feel less lonely, as I’m spreading my net over improv jams and writing groups. The practical, industrial buildings of Manchester are mixed with Victorian neo-gothic, Baroque and more old fashioned architectural styles. The brick walls are darker, skies are greyer, men have more tattoos and talk funny (to me). The Christmas market, parks/squares like St. Peter’s Square or Whitworth Park, the museums that I still have to visit (eg. Alan Turing was here!) and last, but not least, The Peak District, which is close by, bring a smile on my face.

To conclude, as I sit here sniffing my nose and drinking my honey and lemon tea, I am prepared to embrace this year. I would like to put my creativity to work at this university and see what good comes of it. However, I am still skeptical of the academic system, and its business-minded view of the students. Grades, the fees students need to pay, my not-so-perfect content, the amount of material already available online, make me feel that the university system in general is failing slowly, if not becoming deprecated.

I strongly believe education needs restructuring. Creativity should be elevated through fear-free, grade-free environments, where minds can thrive. To this thought, I bring Sir Ken Robinson’s view on education. I imagine a world where knowledge and resources are shared, affordable, if not free, rather than bottled up and sold by a company/university for impossible sums of money. My view of education is the old fashioned Aristotle with his students discovering the mysteries of life and sleeping under the stars…with a thermal blanket…it’s really cold up north. Alas, I am but a (hungry) dreamer.

Chasing the Light, Essays, Stories, Thoughts About Life

The Songs of Birds


God gave the sweetest melody to the smallest of birds. A cluster of goldcrests fly from branch to branch. Their little tails shake with anticipation, while their beaks are picking at the sweet flowers. Ah and the tree, a magnificent giant covered in ivy! I can’t even see its trunk or begin to decide what family of trees it belongs to. It stands there, with its crooked branches pleading to the heavens. Covered in parasitic veins and leaves, it breathes heavily. The bark bleeds under the tight grip of the ivy, but it still finds love for the little creatures that play amongst its withered forms.

The tree reminds me of a man, whose once rich possessions have succumbed to decay and misfortune. His status, albeit stained by wretched gossip, strains to stay afloat. He sits on a chest in the middle of his once grand, now empty, ballroom. His eyes close with delight as the soft voices of songs once sung there caress his soul. ‘I have lost my worldly glory.’ he whispers. ‘I have seen the cruelty of man at its peak and have tasted the bitterness of poisonous lips!’

‘Alas’, he sighs, ‘But I cannot forget the beauty of man’s soul when he loves. And when one loves, one sings! I shall have one last ball here, with the last of my earthly possessions. Let the grandest singers and musicians come and share their tunes! And after everyone has heard their songs and got their fill of gladness, I shall go into the world happy. Poor in my attire, but rich in my heart.’

Such is this tree as it listens to the goldcrests and black birds nesting in its wounds. For this tree is wiser than me. It bears its pain with patience, listening for what rings true and lets it rest on its shoulders. It does not shake the winged messengers away, but rejoices in their gifts. The tree knows that its roots are deep inside the earth and that the ivy is tight around its neck. It also knows that the songs of birds speak of a world it cannot yet see, but whose beauty and truth bring a promise of freedom.

Chasing the Light, Thoughts About Life

Pebbles in the Storm

‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ (Christ)


Girls in front of a mosque in Mumbai.

This week has been heartwrenching, but also eye-opening and fun. It started with a three day training led by Ash Perrin from the Flying Seagull Project. It ended with a masterpiece film, Capernaum, directed by Nadine Labaki and starring syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea. The voices that echoed throughout the week, however, were the voices of children.

Children in refugee camps. Children running away from authority. Children making their own justice. Angry, sad, hungry, tired, alone children, who have lost so much and yet still find the strength to take care of each other. Like Zain (Capernaum) helping his sister hide her period from her mother, since the blood stain meant she was ready for marriage, at eleven. Or how Zain took care of an infant whose mother had been arrested due to illegal immigration.

Oh, child of the past, where are thou now? What deserts are you wandering through? Who feeds you and gives you drink? Who tells you bedtime stories and gives you shelter? For I have sheltered you in the depths of my heart and people have told me to leave you there. I added more and more layers of wood and brick and your voice became like a distant whisper.

‘Be more mature.’, ‘You have to drop the silliness.’, ‘You’d be so pretty with some makeup on.’, ‘It’s time you got a real job.’, ‘You’ve been in school long enough.’, ‘Stop running after princes and fairy tales.’, they said, sometimes even my family, although I know they meant well. But this week something changed. I was allowed to play. Actually I was told to be sillier, goofier, wilder! Improv for me is usually a place to play and be free, but the Flying Seagull Project (FSP) training was much more than that.

FSP have brought smiles to thousands of refugee and underprivileged children. Dressed up as figments of our imagination, Ash and his crew believe that childhood is a right that everyone should have. They bring games, songs and magic to children all around the world to help them play again. After training with FPS I believe that us grown ups can also learn a thing or two about the joy of being daft.  

Oh, how the tables have turned! Grown ups teaching children to play and children teaching grown ups to raise their young. But we need this, because in order to clean and bandage the wounds of our Earth, we need grown ups to be childlike and humble, while children need to be heard and taken seriously.

So if you have reached the end of this article, take a moment to think. How can you be a pebble in this stormy sea we live in today? Your ripples might seem swallowed by the waves, but they are never lost. The Flying Seagull Project (and I :D) will bring hope, courage and smiles to children. Capernaum and other similar films will help fight child neglect. How can your gifts be used to bring a voice to children…and not only the ones out there, but also the one inside your soul?    

Chasing the Light, Flash Fiction, Stories, Thoughts About Life, Traveling

Lost in the Forest of Dean

Silence never felt so deep and yet, I was not alone. I looked up at the haunting sway of trees, their branches both sheltering and menacing me. A gun was shot in the heart of the forest. My heart stopped for a moment. My flee from the Dean’s castle had not gone unnoticed. But I could not marry this shadow of a man. He who had lurked in darkness, watching his own men die on the battlefield.


I knew a place where I would be safe, The Speech House. The lady of the house would surely host me and send my pursuers away. I stepped over the moss covered branches, pressing them deeper into the mud. My feet were cold and wet, but eager to make haste. The sky was on the brink of sunset and I seemed to have lost my way.

A crow hissed a warning as I got closer to its nest. I took that as an omen to turn away. How long had I been running for? Hours, perhaps, but they weighed on me like days. At last I could see the welcoming lights of the manor house on top of a hill. The statue of a stag watched over me as I squelched my way up the hill. I could hear hushed voices amongst the trees.

My dress got hooked by a thorny branch. I turned to untangle it. My eyes filled with fright at the sight of four men with their hunting dogs on thick leather leads. As I forced myself free I could hear the sound of the leads being set loose. With the last bit of breath I flung myself over the massive oak doors of the Speech House. They were locked! ‘Let me in!’ I cried. The dogs were almost at my feet, their growls drew nearer with every pound on the door. I covered my face in anticipation of a fierce encounter.


The doors of the bus open. I have been waiting in the snow covered night for half an hour in front of The Speech House, in the Forest of Dean. ‘Are you going to Coleford and then Gloucester?’ I ask the driver, a young man, not more than twenty two. ‘Yes, there are no other buses coming this way.’ ‘You saved me!’ I say. ‘I would have been stuck here for the night if it wasn’t for you.’ I get in, shivering from head to toe. At least I can get home now. What an adventure it was!



Thoughts About Life


It’s 1:19 AM and my ears are still pounding with throwback music from Moles. Believe it or not, this is the first time I went there in my 3 years of living in Bath. The music was not bad, it was nice to hear some oldies but goldies from the 90s and 80s. I love dancing, I love telling a story with my arms, while my feet tap the rhythm. I like to dance like no one’s watching, which might upset a few people who need their personal space and make one or two hen party girls jealous.

Dancing is a form of acceptance to a group. I got accepted in a couple of them, with smiles and encouragements from strangers. But I would always sneak away to some other corner of the room. It’s almost like I didn’t feel I belonged to any group as I prefer dancing on my own. Isn’t that a metaphor for life? A couple of Las Vegas looking lovers kiss after a mad dancing routine. Haha, they thought they were the best dancers here…but then I came along 🙂 Enough not so humble bragging, let’s get to the point.

Dancing is not just a form of socializing, being accepted in a group or showing off your calves. It is a form of expression. What can you express? Who you are, how you connect to people, what you feel. Music is the paint, you are the painter. If the paints you are given cripple and fragment before your very eyes with repetitive beats, that don’t mean anything, how are you to paint your masterpiece? DJs, give young people good music to dance to, so that they can feel what a person lived through their song and reflect it with their own expression and experience. Does that make sense?

There was only one song when I felt truly alive. I can’t remember its name, I just remember what I saw as my feet drummed the floor with the patterns of a raindance. I saw the deep rainforest and a leopard’s deep, dark eyes staring back at me. It was telling me I need to live. In order for one to live, one needs to cling on to what is worth living for, friendship, love, adventure, true, meaningful connections, their Creator and really good music.

Thoughts About Life

Thoughts about growing

Easter is coming and my heart yearns more and more to find its path. I discovered a freelancing course called The No Pants Project, which sounds ideal for me :)) I get to rediscover my gifts, what I enjoy doing and how I would like to serve others.

anita_gifAlso, I am amazed at how many self-improvement coaches are out there. From superstar Tony Robbins to philosophical Jordan Peterson. My mind listens, my heart smiles, but my soul asks: ‘How is all this related to Christ?’ Some things are, which encourage me to grow, some things aren’t and are best left aside.

‘Life happens for you, not to you.’ (Tony Robbins)

Thoughts About Life

Welcome to Anamation

…which is what one of my favorite Animation professors wrote on my review sheet one day, instead of the actual word. He made a tiny mistake, I thought it would make a brilliant name for an animation studio or a hacker-space, or a blog…who knows 🙂 My name is Anamaria Ciucanu, by the way and I come from the lovely town of Piatra-Neamt, Romania. See the About section form more technical details 😉



Teddy’s Dream – Created in Maya, year 2012