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Of mice and kids.

Of Mice and Kids

I don't mean the furry little things in cages, of course--I mean a computer mouse, the magic box that turns lines into shapes, shapes into colors, and kids into computer artists.

In the artroom at Keels, our four Amiga computers are used as learning centers. While mastering basic computer skills early in the year, the students work in groups of four to six, taking turns at the keyboard. Later they are free to use the computer as an alternative medium, to explore possible solutions to art "problems." Rather than plan specific lessons for the computer, I prefer to have students learn to use the computer as a tool with which to experiment and make choices. They can apply the results of these experiments to their artwork in any medium.

The computer is also useful when we integrate other subjects with art. I work with the science and language arts teachers, studying their curricula and choosing appropriate topics--such as sailboats, flower parts or mountain ranges -- for crossover into art. Students use the computer to illustrate stories they've written, or to show in visual terms concepts they've learned in their other studies.

We begin the school year with drill and practice exercises that familiarize students with the functions of the keyboard and the mouse. We start by having students type their names, for example. Kindergartners and first graders have to be shown how, but in the upper grades the students work in twos using worksheets: one reads the instructions while the other follows them, and then they switch.

Once they've mastered the basic equipment, we begin to concentrate on the functions available with our software, Deluxe Paint. Commands such as Freehand draw, Erase, Clear, Brush and Fill quickly become familiar to the students as they work on their first assignments. I often begin with a traditional freehand drawing exercise on paper, and then ask the class to try it on the computer as well. Contour drawing can be done quickly enough on the computer to allow students to catch the feel of the moment -- and with the added impact of color, it's fun, too.

Kindergarten children usually start their work on the computer by drawing basic shapes and lines. Older students progress quickly to the more powerful tools on the menu which enable them to create circles and boxes, or airbrush, mirror and magnify parts of their compositions.

We've also created our own games to play on the computer. One, a variation on Pac-man, came about because our mouse has two buttons on it: push the left button and you can draw; push the right button and you can erase. To reinforce that idea, I let each student create a small area of dots and lines on the screen. When the screen is full, we use the cursor as a kind of Pac-man to "eat up" the dots and lines. The whole class gets involved in the action!

I think one of the computer's major advantages is its color capabilities. The students can experiment with colors until they find a combination that satisfies them. And mixing colors is easy on the screen, once they know the fundamentals of color theory. The colors can be filled in or erased almost instantly, and there's not need for the artist to start all over again every time he or she wants to try something new.

One of my students expressed her enthusiasm for the computer this way: "The computer is kind to me," she said. "Nothing I do is right or wrong." In a school environment, where much of learning is geared to the idea of "right or wrong," the computer offers students the chance to go back and change what they've done, the chance to make mistakes. That can be a very liberating thing!

PHOTO : Story illustration by Matthew Pendleton, second grade.

PHOTO : Gum machine, created for study of basic shapes, by Toreo Cooke, kindergarten.

PHOTO : Sailboats, drawn by Tabitha Raines using the freehand draw, erase and brush commands.

PHOTO : Mountains, by Andy Akiho, fourth grade.

Martha B. McClain teaches at Joseph Keels Elementary School, Columbia, South Carolina.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McClain, Martha B.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:688
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