When Linda Ruel-Flynn looks at a computer, she doesn't just see a monitor, keyboard, and a bunch of wires. She also sees an artistic tool, much as a painter sees a canvas. As an art instructor for first and second graders at Swift River School, in New Salem, Massachusetts, Ruel-Flynn has used computers, a scanner, and Adobe Photoshop image-editing software in her art lessons. This gives her students hands-on experience in using the computer and other forms of technology to create art. Technology, Ruel-Flynn says, engages her students on various levels. "We use this technology ... to provide a way of getting students to see where abstract art comes from and how computers can play a part in our creativity," she explains.

The arts in general provide students with opportunities for more than just emotional release. Studies have shown that students who are constantly involved in some form of the arts — music, theater, drawing — are often successful in other subjects, particularly math and reading. Adding technology to the mix helps teachers bring art to their classrooms in new ways. And with art and music budgets being slashed in many schools throughout the nation, software programs allow teachers to provide some exposure to art or music to their students. That software, combined with digital cameras, scanners, and mini-synthesizers, can help students master visual and performing arts skills while making it easier for them to express themselves, be more productive, and to better manage their creative ideas.

Digital Sunflowers

As part of her fall "Seasonal Flowers" curriculum, Ruel-Flynn combines conventional art — in this case paintings — with computer technology to help her students see varied dimensions of flowers in art. Students first gather sunflowers from the fields surrounding the school, then, with Ruel-Flynn's guidance, they discuss the color, shape, texture, size, and structure of the flowers. Ruel-Flynn then has the children use a 3-by-4-inch mat board "frame" to focus on specific parts of their flowers. The children then draw what they see using oil pastel crayons (such as Cray-Pas) or watercolors.

The drawings provide concrete examples of the many different interpretations students can have of the same flower, depending on where they positioned their frames and the drawing medium they used. Ruel-Flynn scans the flower images into the computer and saves them in JPEG format so they can be easily imported into Adobe Photoshop. In the school's computer lab, she introduces the children to some Photoshop basics using an overhead projector that connects to her computer. Every child's computer screen shows the same flower image ready to be manipulated. Ruel-Flynn teaches the students how to change the image working with a limited set of program features: size; blur and texture filters; and color and brightness adjustments. The goal is to have students "play" with the software, applying special effects to their scanned pictures to create new and exciting abstract art. The technology allows the students to create new computer-generated digital art from their existing watercolor and pastel drawings. Completed pictures are printed on a color laser printer.

For the final activity, students host an art show for fellow schoolmates and parents, where they display their original and computer-generated digital art side-by-side. "Children at the PreK through grade 2 level have a deep investment in any creative endeavor," says Ruel-Flynn. "With a computer, a color or shape can be erased easily without children feeling they have ruined the entire picture. Technology adds a safety component to artistic expression, allowing students to explore the possibilities of computer-generated art, giving them new opportunities for self-expression and a new voice to share their detailed observations of color, line, and form."

Music Maestro

Computers have helped Kay Greenhaw enhance her K-5 music curriculum at Leona Doss Elementary School in Austin, Texas (www.austinschools.org/doss/). "Technology offers another way to reach students who otherwise might be bored by [the] fine arts," she says. "It can suddenly be cool to listen to classical music if you're playing a computer game." Greenhaw uses everything from programs she has created to the Internet in order to bring music instruction to her students. While Ruel-Flynn works directly with students using the software, Greenhaw has created programs that teachers can use with students or students can use independently.

To help her students learn how to play the recorder, Greenhaw created a Web site — Rockin' Recorders (http://studiokay.com/recorder/Homex.html) — with lesson plans, student files, and other teaching material. Students visit the site while practicing their instrument. Musical notes are displayed along with song lyrics, and music plays as well. Children can also download a song to their computer to play back at a later time without needing to connect again to the Internet.

To teach and reinforce music instruction, Greenhaw created two programs using Knowledge Adventure's HyperStudio. Her Music Memory Review Software (http://studiokay.com/prod01.htm) program plays music selections to help students identify compositions and composers and contains music drills and questions. Greenhaw's other program, called the "Nutcracker Experience" (http://aeideas.com/nutcracker/), combines music, animation, games, and QuickTime movies to teach and reinforce Tchaikovsky's music and the "Nutcracker" ballet. The program, designed for elementary-school children, offers guided listening activities and games. Players begin in Clara's room where objects link to games, a story, or different selections in the ballet. Each selection has a simple animation that correlates to the music structure. Students can visualize the form of the piece by seeing repetition and contrast in the animations. Teachers can use this software to introduce the "Nutcracker," or as a model for creating their own personalized multimedia-enriched learning software. Adding computers, scanners, image editors, or digitized music files doesn't mean you have to toss out your existing curriculum or redesign your lesson plans. Rather, think of technology as a way of adding tools to enhance your conventional classroom instruction. You can start simply by encouraging children to go online to research arts- or music-related topics. (See "Art & Music Technology Tools" on page 75.) You can follow Ruel Flynn's lessons and invite your students to use computers to create new art. If you're adventurous, try creating your own exercises with Knowledge Adventure's HyperStudio or Microsoft PowerPoint. You can even have older students use the software to create simple multimedia presentations with guided listening activities and entertaining games. These can be shared with younger children at your school.

Incorporating technology into your art and music plans takes lots of planning and effort, says Greenhaw. "But the impact on the kids will be awesome," she adds. "It's just a fun way to study music [or art]."

Art & Music Technology Tools

The Internet, textbooks, and software are valuable resources for all aspects of an art or music curriculum. Below are several helpful Web sites and software programs to help get you started.

  • Harden's Artchive (www.artchive.com/ftp_site.htm) This virtual museum is the next best thing to visiting a real museum. Works by dozens of artists are accessible alphabetically or by category. There are also links to artist biographies and other art resources.
  • Education World (http://db.educationworld.com/perl/browse?cat_id=1135) This site has a vast collection of resources for educators interested in integrating visual art into the K-12 curriculum.
  • Classical Net (www.classical.net ) This site includes loads of information about classical music, including links to classical music Web sites, descriptions of different musical periods, a composer index with time lines and biographies, and more.
  • Music Education Online (www.geocities.com/Athens/2405/index.html) This site offers dozens of articles on the importance of music education, a message board for music educators from all over the world, plus links to various music sites.
  • Taking Great Pictures (www.kodak.com/US/en/nav/takingPics.shtml) Kodak's collection of tips, tutorials, and reference materials teaches how to take better pictures.

Software for Arts Education

  • Adobe Illustrator (Mac/Win), Adobe Systems, Inc., www.adobe.com, $99 (Academic), Grades 5–12
  • CorelDraw 10 Graphics Suite (Mac/Win), Corel Corp., www.corel.com, $138/$134, Grades 5–12
  • Golly Gee Blocks (Mac/Win), GollyGee Software, www.gollygee.com, $24.95, Grades K–12
  • HyperStudio (Mac/Win), Knowledge Adventure, www.knowledgeadventure.com, Student Ed., $70/Teacher Ed., 2-CD package $199, Grades 3–8
  • JumpStart Music (Mac/Win), Knowledge Adventure, www.knowledgeadventure.com, $10, Grades PreK–2
  • Kid Pix Deluxe 3 (Mac/Win), Broderbund (The Learning Company), $64 www.broderbund.com, $64 (2-CD package), Grades PreK–3
  • Kid Works Deluxe (Mac/Win), Knowledge Adventure, www.knowledgeadventure.com, $68 (2-CD package), Grades PreK–3
  • Macromedia Flash 5/Freehand 10 Studio (Mac/Win), Macromedia, www.macromedia.com, $149 (Academic), Grades 5–12
  • Music Ace 2 (Mac/Win) Harmonic Vision (www.harmonicvision.com), $99 (Educator version, tracks progress for up to 240 students), Grades 1–7