Flower Power! 8th Grade Graphic Design


Inkscape – The Open Source guru of graphic vector design

As, I stated earlier… my students are working on developing their graphic design skills in their 8th grade class.  Specifically they are working toward developing their skill set to produce a very nice silk-screened t-shirt for their graduating class.  They will eventually design three t-shirts each and the class will vote on which t-shirt they end up using.  This has been a wonderful assignment with which the class has been highly engaged.

Can I just say, that Inkscape is the way to go if you really want to put a powerful software program into the hands of 8th graders?  Its totally free and is a Godsend! What you see above is the result of 2 class periods working through a tutorial on how to develop floral designs.

Blogs are still your friend!!!!

In my last post, I mentioned that you shouldn’t re-invent the wheel and that still holds true.  The lesson that the students followed to create their floral designs are from a design studios blog : Verysimpledesigns.  If you click on this link you can follow along with the video tutorial and be producing some of your very own floral designs. My students are excited about incorporating some of these designs into their t-shirt design.  I’m not going to write the instructions step-by-step because Verysimpledesgns does an excellent job of laying out the instructions.  What I really want is for you to embrace the blogs that exist, grab lessons that will enrich your students’ lives and help them to understand that learning is a collaborative and constructive effort.

You cannot rely on video

Lets be clear about one thing… you cannot just turn on the video and expect everything to turn out great. It won’t.  You still have to facilitate, demonstrate, and intervene to help students master the techniques being taught. Be an active participant with the students and learn with them as you progress through the tutorial.  The fun part is when a student says “what if I do this…” and you let them…. Control-Z is always your best friend and everything can always be undone.

Try it out!

So try out the tutorial. Download Inkscape and let your students have some fun while learning graphic design.  Share your experiences here. What are your thoughts on incorporating this type of lesson into your classroom setting?

*The images here are actual student products… simply amazing!


Synthesizing photosynthesis in 7th Grade


Blogs are your friend!!!

Okay, I am a firm believer in never having to re-invent the wheel.  There are so many great educators in the world and many of them share their ideas and lessons freely on the Internet.  I ran across one such lesson which utilized technology to help 7th grade students learn about photosynthesis.   Educator Tara Raymon’s blog details a very nice lesson that is highly engaging for students.  You can access the lesson here.

Some Assembly Required!

Now every school site is different in terms of its technology resources and every teacher has different teaching styles.  That means that you cannot simply go to a blog and tell your students to start working on the instructions verbatim.  Some changes will be necessary because only you know your technology resources, skills, and the students who are in your class. Taking the time to evaluate the lesson and adapt it to your own classroom situation is vital to students successfully mastering the concept. I have 7th grade technology courses once a week for 45 minutes of instruction.  That means that a lot of what we do is built upon previous lessons in the technology lab.  Using what the students already knew, I adapted the lesson with only minor changes to help the students garner a firm grasp of the material.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… OPEN SOURCE OPENS DOORS!

I’m a firm believer in the open source movement.  It helps schools to drastically reduce operational cost of technology while putting quality materials into the hands of teachers and students.  For this lesson I utilized Mozilla Firefox as well as Tux Paint.  I know what you’re probably thinking… ‘Tux paint… isn’t that for little kids?’  Well yes… and… well no. Yes little kids can utilize tux paint (and they do so regularly in my class).  However I explained to the 7th grade students (who were already familiar with the program) that they would need to broaden the use of the program .  That I expected quality work from them.  And I was not disappointed in the results.

My Adapted (only slightly) Version of this lesson

So here’s how it all works.

I provided students with URLs to the materials by utilizing TinyURL to help them see the benefits of using a web 2.0 tool to shorten URLS and to ease in their entry of the URLs into their Firefox browser.

Step I.

Students are asked to type in http://tinyurl.com/jh6kg into the address bar of their browser.  This, of course also allows me to assess if students know what a URL is and where to correctly enter the address.  Strict attention to detail is necessary because an incorrectly typed URL will not lead to the correct page.  This is something that is vital for my students to learn before they get to the 8th grade when they will be taught HTML and CSS using only text editors.

This takes students to the NOVA website where they can launch the flash animation Illuminating Photosynthesis.  I instruct students that they are to explore this animation and to pay careful attention because they will be expected to produce something with what they are learning.

Step II

After visiting this site, I ask students to type the following URL into their address bar: http://tinyurl.com/qtfywl Once more I ask them to explore the entire site and to pay careful attention to the material.

Step III

I ask students to open Tux Paint.  They are expected to produce a picture depicting how photosynthesis and respiration occur in plants and animals.  This must be representative of a cycle. I inform students that I am looking for creativity and for everything to be neat and labeled.

I also instruct students on the popular hot-key command ALT-TAB to switch between the full screen view of Tux Paint and their Firefox windows. I allow this so that their affective filter is lowered with regards to trying to memorize the entire respiration cycle.

Step IV

Students save their work and then are told that they can type in the following URL into their address bar: http://tinyurl.com/4qkjvkw, this is a very fun and interactive review of photosynthesis and all the students loved finishing with this portion of the assignment.  I was thoroughly impressed with the level of creativity and mastery that my students demonstrated in their pictures of the respiration cycle.

So, What’s your Story?

So what’s your story? Have you used tux paint to help students demonstrate mastery of a topic? What are your thoughts and questions?  If you try this lesson, please comment, I’d love to hear how you used it or altered it to make it work for your class.  Was it a success? A failure? Share your story, we’d love to hear from you!

*Note: the pictures here are actual student work in progress… Not completed but on a great start!


Memes the Scene! Using Memes in the Classroom.

Josh CD

Memes – An introduction (or rather explanation)

We’ve all seen them.  They propagate in our email in-boxes, fill our facebook update pages, tweet their way into our twitter feeds, spread across the blogosphere, and explode on myspace profiles at a Fibonacci expanding rate. I speak of course about Memes.  A simple google search reveals many definitions and examples of memes however I prefer the one offered by Wikipedia:

meme (play /ˈmm/, rhyming with “cream”[1]), a relatively newly coined term, identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[2]

So, what does this actually look like in practice?  Well, how about the ubiquitous iTunes memes in which people are asked to post the length of their total music collection, sort the order and list the first and last songs, list the longest and shortest song, etc. ?  Note:  for this complete meme (yes there is more to it than what I wrote visit Neil Turner’s Blog).  In essence memes are those forwards and posts which ask us to share information that, usually, entertains or informs us in one way or another.  While I’ve experienced the proliferation of memes as much as the next person, I never really gave much thought of their potential usefulness.

Memes are useful??? The evolution of an Edu-meme.

Memes can be useful.  With the right amount of creative energy and slight manipulation they can become highly educational tools to use within a classroom.  It simply requires thinking outside of the box and pushing the limits of the meme. I recently received a meme from a Facebook post that a graphic design friend forwarded to me. This post asked the participant to create an album cover using various random results from websites.  I saw this as an excellent opportunity to help my students learn about and embrace some of the free technology tools that are available at their fingertips.  I’ll walk you through this step by step…

Try the Meme yourself and make necessary changes

Okay, so I tried the meme. it worked but the instructions (like so many memes before it) are vague or poorly written. Adapting this for a 6th grade classroom required breaking the meme down into very clear and concise instructions.  It also required me to develop a method for assessing students’ progress toward the learning goals.  Oh, I suppose that also means I had to come up with some learning goals as well… don’t start a lesson if its not going to educate!  So here is the edu-meme as I implemented it.

Learning Goal

The goal of the edu-meme was to serve as an introduction to Web 2.0 technologies that are free for students to use.  It also served as a means of discussing Wikipedia and its appropriate uses in academia. It allowed for discussions of copyright and creative commons. And it introduced photo-editing and graphic design concepts.

The Edu-meme

Step I – I presented the class with a scenario.  I told them all that they were to play the role of graphic designer for a new band. I stated, “The band hired you to create their new album cover, but they have some very strict and unique methods they want you to use to design it”.  I explained to students that in the business world, sometimes you are hired to do a job and it may not necessarily be the method you prefer but it is the only way you’ll get paid.  This helps to keep students on-task and focused on the instructions.

Step II – I wrote the instructions on the white board and ran through a quick demonstration of the entire assignment using my projector.

Step III – (Okay here’s the actual edu-meme instructions):

1. Go to www.flickr.com and click on the bottom right of the page click on “Interesting photos from the last 7 days” Click on the image and check the Licensing terms on the right side of the page try to find one that has the creative commons license that will allow you to make changes (this allows you to discuss creative commons).  You may also get into a discussion of Fair use copyright for education and work with images in this way.  This step is actually not the first in the meme I received, however teaching about copyright, creative commons, fair use, and finding actual images that can be used takes a great deal of time. You could actually spend an entire class period discussion this and finding the images, but its a good conversation and learning experience for the students.

2. go to www.wikipedia.org and click on “english” (or whatever your native language is). Then, on the left side of the screen click on “Random Article”.  This is the name of the band (no you may not change it… the band forbids you).

3. go to www.quotationspage.com .   On the left side of the screen click on “random quotes”.  The band has given you a little freedom here.  You can choose the last 4-5 words (only the last 4-5) of the final quote on the resulting page and this must be the album title.

4.  Go to www.picnik.com and use all the above information and photo to create your album cover.  Picnik.com is a wonderful free photo editor that the students really grasp and have a great time working with.

What was learned

  • Useful Web 2.0 tools
  • Copyright, Creative Commons, and Fair Use
  • Negative and positive uses of Wikipedia for academics
  • A quotations resource
  • A free photo editing website and how to use its tools
  • Graphic Design, and business lesson

Your Experiences….

So, what are your experiences?  Have any of you ever adapted a meme or thought about adapting one for education?  Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences below by commenting. I’d love to hear what you have done in your own classrooms!

T-shirt Design In the Computer Lab!


Art and Computers
Every year the 8th grade students create a design for their class t-shirt.  For the most part these are usually scanned drawings or signatures with the school initials and a “Class of 2011” etc. listed on the front.  This year, the parent in charge of the screen-printing process asked me if I could be in charge of helping the students create their designs.  I was delighted to accept the request.   As the middle school fine-arts teacher and the technology coordinator, I saw a wonderful opportunity to have students work on a project that would directly impact their reality.  Thus far, this has been the process…

1.    During art class we discussed how screen-printing works (placing the ink in layers upon the surface of the shirt)
2.    We visited websites such as www.threadless.com to examine how modern artists design t-shirts that have high impact with students their age
3.    Then the students were asked to create a rough sketch of an idea they had for a t-shirt

Now, this was great for an introduction in the art class… but I also teach their technology class.  Enter the wonderful world of open source!

In the 7th grade students were introduced to GIMP and Inkscape.  These lessons were basic lessons to familiarize the students with the operation of the programs and their uses. During the next computer class we reviewed the difference between bitmap and vector drawings and how Inkscape could be used to help design their t-shirts.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of Inkscape is its ability to have students work with different layers during the creation of their design. Demonstrating the layering process helped the students to understand and visualize exactly how the ink would be applied to the selected t-shirt.

Today’s lesson was great because I was able to demonstrate how to take a portrait and convert it into a single color rendition for screen-printing… if you’re interested in this process… then read on…

Step 1. Demonstrating the process

Because this was an introductory lesson and I wanted to generate a great amount of interest I began the lesson by demonstrating to the class the process of converting a portrait of a person into an image that could work for a t-shirt.  – The students became very excited and were ready to jump right in…

Step 2. Locating an Image

I wanted the students to get used to the process before working with their actual photographs of themselves, so I asked them to use the Internet to find images that they would like to try to convert. I advised them that a close-up of a face with a light source from an angle would work best.

Step 3. GIMP Begins it all!

After locating the image, students opened it in GIMP… I will now demonstrate the process:

Here is the image opened in GIMP:


Next, we used the Lasso-selection tool to outline the background and then pressed the delete key to delete the background from the image, and then used the square selection tool to draw a square around the entire picture.


Next, we selected the “Color” Menu and Selected “Desaturate” and clicked “OK” on the menu that opened up.  This resulted in a desaturated version of the image (basically a greyscale appearance).


Now we need to adjust the contrast and brightness. To do this select “Color” then select “Brightness-Contrast”.  This opens up a menu with two slider bars.  Move the contrast slider all the way to the right and adjust the brightness until the image looks right. Click “OK” and save the file.  Next, click on “Edit” then “copy” and you can close GIMP



Open the Inkscape program.  Now that Inkscape is open use the rectangle tool on the left to draw a colored rectangle on the first layer and rename the layer “t-shirt”  This represents the actual shirt color. I chose Red.


Once this is done add a new layer above the shirt layer  you can do this by clicking on the plus sign in the Layers window.

Paste the image you put on the clipboard in GIMP into the new layer you created


Click on the “path” menu at the top of the screen and select “Trace Bitmap”  This opens a new window in which you must click on “Update” then “OK” After you click on “OK” close the window.


It looks like nothing happened??  Oh… but it did….

Now use your “select and transform objects” Arrow tool on the left Click on your image and drag it to a blank area of the canvas.  You have now created a screen-printable version of your photo!



The students loved this lesson and began working with drawings as well as photographs.  As they continue their progress on this lesson I will post some images of their work.   We also had a great discussion about Open source (that’s right GIMP and Inkscape are Free) and Copyright issues.

So, what is your experience in working with GIMP or Inkscape?  Have you used these in your classroom?  Have you found any other methods that work for designing t-shirts? I try to keep most of my classroom software open source so the students can download and use the same programs at home. Have you used any other open source programs that work for this type of project?  Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts!