Teaching With Technology: Creative Computing

You can turn your computer into a magical easel-expanding your options for creativity in the classroom. Here's an overview of some of the best programs available.

  • Grades: PreK–K

I REMEMBER BACK IN 1985, THERE WAS A BREAKTHROUGH creativity program for Apple II computers called Color Me (Mindscape). It was one of the very first programs to let children use a mouse to draw with a mind-boggling 16 different colors! Preschoolers would line up at the computer for a turn, and teachers who saw it worried that children would lose the urge to draw with traditional materials.

Today, software gives children thousands of colors, with textured paper and pressure-sensitive tablets to draw on. Even with these new features, however children still love to create with old-fashioned paper and paint. While computers offer children another way to create, they'll never replace the concrete experience of holding crayons, markers, and scissors. (You can buy lots of art materials for the cost of one CD-ROM, so keep your priorities in line.)

Programs such as the following can be used to add a new dimension to children's creative and problem-solving abilities.

Kid Pix Studio Deluxe Version 1.0

(Age 3 and up) Supports: emerging writing

You couldn't talk about creativity and computers in the same sentence without mentioning Kid Pix. But before you buy this program, you should know that a major revision is in the works, due out this fall. Nevertheless, this older (1998) edition is a bit like a trusty Model-T, with a solid track record in thousands of classrooms.

Kid Pix handily loads onto your hard disk, so no CD is required. You'll find a nice range of paint tools, a vast array of tiny stamps, and a text-to-speech feature that reads back children's writing. You can create professional-looking slide shows easily out of children's work. The Learning Company, 800-716-8506; www.learningco.com; Windows/Mac; $29.95.

Disney's Magic Artist Studio

(Age 4 and up) Supports: problem solving

Loads of fun, this sequel to the 1996 program lets children paint with a variety of creative new tools, including textured and moving paint, an electric toothbrush, chalk, markers, and more. One cool new tool, the Image Launched tosses things such as kitchen sinks at the canvas. Other features include animated stickers and a step-by-step tutorial on animation. Artwork can be saved and viewed as a sketchbook or musical slideshow. It takes some persistence to figure out how all the functions work, but after a short while, a world of creativity opens to children. Disney Interactive, 800-900-- 9234; www.disneyinteractive.com; Windows/Mac; $29.99.

Crayola Creativity Pack

(Age 2 and up) Supports: creativity, art

Two excellent art programs are included in this two-CD set. Print Factory is an easy to use art and printing program designed to let children create bookmarks, cards, posters, stationery, and stickers. The software also contains onscreen patterns and directions for three-dimensional ornaments and decorations. Other features include sample templates, clip art, and ample editing tools. To get you started, the software comes with five sheets of heavy stock paper, three sheets of glossy paper, and two sheets of stickers.

You get a lot for your money in Make a Masterpiece. The art tools are interesting and plentiful. There's foaming shaving cream and popping corn, as well as realistic chalk, paint, pencil, and marker sets. Children will love the set of stickers that animate when placed on the screen. They will also enjoy the special effects tools that let them smudge their pictures or turn them into impressionist or cubist paintings. IBM Corp., 800-426-- 7235; Windows/Mac; $29.95.

SkidDoodle

(Age 3 and up) Support: creative expression

Children 7 and under love playing with this easy-to-use draw and paint program. Its clean design and intuitive interface make creating a breeze-even for preschoolers. Features include a 6"x 8" drawing area, 42 colors,12 backgrounds, 21 patterns, and 18 textures. Children particularly enjoy the 300 stamps-of animals, vehicles, and plants-all of which can be resized, rotated, and placed on the drawing screen. When compared to other popular drawing programs, this product is lacking in special effects, but there are several neat fill options that let children paint with things like jelly beans and four leaf clovers. Another plus is the ease with which children can add text to the artwork, a real bonus for beginning writers. KB Gear Interactive, 800-926-- 3066; www.kbgear.com; Windows/Mac; $69.99.

How to Introduce a Creativity Program for the First Time

Your new drawing software just arrived, and you're excited to use it. Here's a good way to get started. When the children are not around, install the program to check for any glitches. Check your printer setup by printing out a few sample pages. Now, gather small groups of children, get the program on the screen, and give a SHORT (no more than 60 seconds) introduction. Next, let a child take over the mouse. Ask her to "scribble" by simply moving the cursor around the screen and holding down the mouse button.

A guided discovery approach works well. For example, ask the child "What happens if you click here?" rather than demonstrating the feature yourself. Piaget's advice- "Every time we teach a child something, we prevent him the opportunity of discovering it himself"-is especially true when it comes to software. Once you have a few "experts" in the room, encourage them to assist their peers.

  • Subjects:
    Cleverness, Arts and Creativity, Creativity and Imagination, Communication and the Internet, Computers, Educational Technology, Teaching with Technology
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