Good teachers are always on the alert for the teachable moment -- opportunities that arise when students are excited, engaged, and primed to learn. Recognizing that computers are here to stay, savvy teachers are now also on the lookout for intrinsically motivating software that maximizes the learning potential of instructional technology. Programs like Broderbund's Kid Pix (http://www.broder.com) can be invaluable for instigating investigation and encouraging creativity. Kid Pix and other graphics programs can help capture children's imaginations when used in a teacher-initiated lesson or as part of a child-centered activity.
The role of technology in the classroom
The use of computers and computer software should never be thought of as an end unto itself. Rather, technology and software should be used in service of the needs and demands of the curriculum. Technology and software are simply powerful vehicles that, when used effectively, can transport children as far as their minds can take them. Technology serves education best when it is strategically integrated into well-planned, curriculum-oriented activities. Educators should use Kid Pix as a classroom resource only when they see that it will enhance their students' skills, interest, or understanding.
Why should I use Kid Pix?
In HIGH/SCOPE BUYER'S GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S SOFTWARE (High/Scope Press, 1993), author Warren Buckleitner enumerates several criteria to consider when evaluating the merits of children's software. Kid Pix meets several of the quality standards Buckleitner lists. This popular drawing program is:
Easy to use. Kid Pix mimics non-digital drawing models by beginning with a blank screen, similar to a blank piece of paper. There are pull-down menus at the top of the screen and fourteen easy-to-use, intuitive drawing tools on the left. Each tool has a corresponding sound, and the program has a feature that allows for the creation of additional sounds, so that users can input cues or instructions.
Kid Pix offers a range of activities for novice and experienced users alike. The program's tools include: over 100 colored stamps of pictures that appeal to children; sound effects which can be turned off and on; an "Electric Mixer" that allows students to scramble and animate images; a "Wacky Brush" that produces squiggles, dribbles, and other design elements with kid appeal; a random paint mixer that creates colorful patterns; and a "small kids mode" for younger users.
Interactive. Children create images in Kid Pix by manipulating one or more of the drawing tools they've selected. Children interact by: creating images; making decisions about what to do next; reacting to what they've designed; and sharing their creations with others. There is also a "Hidden Pictures" option that works as a great prediction activity for individuals or small groups.
Childproof. With its "small kids mode" feature, even three-year-olds can operate Kid Pix. Pre-schoolers can experiment with the program's tools and options without the possibility of accidentally locking up or erasing an item, or quitting out of the program.
Child-controlled. In addition to its intuitive interface, Kid Pix makes every effort to make its operations fun. Its erasing tools, for example, include: a "Black Hole" that swallows up images; a "Drop-Out" that chunks part of the picture until nothing is left; "Sliding Doors" that slide over and obliterate the image; and a "Firecracker" that clears the screen with an explosive blast.
Designed to create learning. Kid Pix can be integrated into almost any curricular activity. Teachers can examine their curriculum with an eye to opportunities for students to create graphic elements that demonstrate or apply curriculum-based themes, concepts, and/or skills. Students can create an almost endless variety of products, including posters, newsletters, greeting cards, business cards, place mats, slide shows, booklets, etc. During a unit on ancient Egypt, for example, students could use Kid Pix to: create travel posters; conduct a slide show presentation for younger students; write and illustrate a newspaper; create storyboards illustrating a variety of topics; illustrate biographical or other essays; devise fictive autobiographies; create images for poems and stories; make business cards relevant to occupations studied; conduct research and create graphs to convey information about the society; or design greeting cards that demonstrate familiarity with Egyptian culture and holidays.
The Kid Pix Teacher's Guide includes many suggested applications for enhancing creativity. Individual projects are described, including autobiographies, story maps, picture poems, and comic strips. Ideas for collaborative projects include theme quilts, totem poles, slide shows, and alphabet and number books.
How can I use Kid Pix?
As with any computer software program, Kid Pix can be used in a variety of classroom settings. If only one computer is available in a classroom, it can be used as a teaching station to introduce new software. The computer can also be put to use for collaborative projects. In early childhood classrooms, children can sit on the floor around the computer while teachers conduct large group lessons. With older students or larger groups, a video output device will allow teachers to display the computer screen on a large-screen television monitor, or on a LCD panel that can project your computer image via an overhead projector.
A single computer in a classroom can also be used by teachers themselves as a teacher workstation. A computer can be an educator's tireless assistant, helping him or her create teaching materials, research and prepare lessons, or publish a classroom newsletter for parents and colleagues. Classrooms with a single computer can also serve as a learning center (or learning station) for individual or collaborative exploration.
If a classroom's learning station is lucky enough to have more than one computer, groups or individuals can all work on the same project simultaneously, or each computer can be dedicated to a different purpose. Either way, Kid Pix can be installed on every computer and used by itself or in conjunction with other software programs. Kid Pix can be used in tandem with reading and writing titles, math and problem solving products, multimedia encyclopedias, or online investigations.
When can I use Kid Pix?
As mentioned earlier, Kid Pix can be used to support and enhance just about any curriculum topic or skill application. As in the wNetSchool lesson Virtual Cities: A Multimedia Tour, students can use Kid Pix to make their own slide presentations, illustrating concepts they've learned and information they've researched. Students can also use Kid Pix to create maps, calendars, and graphs, demonstrating how graphics can be used to interpret and convey quantitative information. Students can incorporate photos or graphics into Kid Pix to illustrate their work.
In classes conducting email exchanges, Kid Pix can be used to illustrate students' lives, stories, and environments for their cyber pen pals. Kid Pix can also be a great addition to a literature-based reading program. Using the program to illustrate stories -- including those students write themselves -- can extend and enrich writing and reading experiences. Graphics products like Kid Pix increase students' motivation and writing skills, and can support teachers moving toward whole language, literature-based language arts curricula.
Elementary school students can use Kid Pix illustrations as story-starters, as Bob Kovacs does in his lesson, "I've Never Seen That Before!" (http://www.polaris.edu/iltli/LsnLab/Kovacs.htm).
All in all, Kid Pix is a multi-faceted, easy-to-use software program that can be adapted to enhance just about any lesson or subject area. Immensely popular with teachers and students alike, Kid Pix was the winner of the Painting and Drawing Program section of Scholastic Software Club survey of the best software of 1997. Kid Pix can be an invaluable classroom resource for motivating students and marrying their understanding of curriculum topics to their creativity. Kid Pix is definitely a worthy pick for any classroom!