KidPix or other Graphics Program Activity

It's important to have a visual component to any class you might teach. Some students are visual learners and will integrate the content you're trying to teach more easily if they have a visual means of expressing their understanding. Other students (maybe even you) are not visual learners. It's especially important that you continue to challenge these students (and yourself) to increase their ability to communicate visually. Doing so doesn't mean you have to invent a bunch of new things to do: Many of the activities you already do in class can be augmented by including a graphic component.

If you're looking for activities which incorporate graphics, the Crayola Web site has an educator's section at Not surprisingly, the activities use Crayola products, but many can be adapted for technology use. The Kennedy Center also has a set of art activities at

This week, you might want to work with KidPix (, a commonly found, inexpensive graphics creation tool. If you don't have access to KidPix, you can use PhotoShop, ClarisWorks, or any other commercial software. You also might want to try a shareware graphics program such as Paint Shop Pro (available from for Windows or a demo of FreeHand for the Mac (available to try at'll use your graphics program to draw a picture to show your understanding of a concept from your subject area. If you are an elementary teacher, pick a project which seems interesting to you. Please do create a picture from scratch; even if the product isn't all that pretty, I want you to grapple with this process.

The important thing isn't so much whether you would do any particular activity of those listed; consider what the activity adds to your existing instruction and how you might challenge your students to think along lines which would not ordinarily occur to them.

Overview of graphics programs

Graphics programs have been available to casual computer users since the mid-1980's. They have come a long way in that time, going from black-and-white, 72 dots per inch simple programs to highly complex programs which can be used to create and manipulate extremely high quality images. For a long time, graphics programs have been separated into paint and draw categories. Although many graphics programs combine elements of paint and draw, it's useful to separate the two for explanatory purposes.

About paint programs

Paint programs use a system called bitmaps, in which a picture consists of a series of dots. The tools available in a paint program are used to change the colors of the dots on the screen; a blank document actually consists of a series of white dots. If you were to look deep inside the file created by a paint program, you'd see something that looked like this:


Here's a quick drawing created with Color-It:

Not great art, but a quick figure to show the type of illustration which can be quickly and easily created with a paint program.


An extreme closeup of the eyeball area of the illustration above shows the dots which compose the image. Each of the dots is called a 'Pixel', which is short for 'Picture element'. Notice that the dots are square, so that they fill the picture in solidly. Notice also that the more the picture is enlarged, the fuzzier it gets.

One of the things which made the original Macintosh computers so amazing (and they were, trust me) was paint programs. Specifically, the original MacPaint had black and white painting tools which painted at 72 dots per inch, which was the same resolution produced by an Imagewriter printer. The computer screen matched the printed page, which was WYSIWYG (pronounced 'Wizzywig'): What You See Is What You Get. Not revolutionary now, but big stuff at the time.

These days, paint programs can paint at a variety of resolutions and offer a dizzying array of image manipulation tools. Scanned or digital photographs, which are also composed of dots, can be manipulated to show almost anything. Professionals will refer to a fake photograph (Osama bin Laden at Disneyland, for example) as having been PhotoShopped, where PhotoShop is used as a verb.

The figure below shows a typical tool palette from a paint program. The program pictured is Color-It!, which is available from MicroFrontier (

An advantage to paint programs is their intuitiveness and flexibility. Many of the tools available are similar to the painting tools which students are used to from the physical world. Notice that in this palette there is a paintbrush, a pencil, a rubber eraser, a stamp pad, and a spry can; all attempt to mimic 'real' painting tools.

A drawback to paint programs is that once created, it's difficult to edit material. This is true of physical painting as well; once there's a splotch on your paper it's tough to get it off.

About draw programs

Pure draw programs use a system of vectors. Drawings consist of a series of lines, arcs, and closed figures. The system is more like theoretical geometry than it is like art. Looking deep into a draw program file, you might see something like this:

Starting 16 pixels over and 70 pixels down, create a rectangle
in which the bottom right corner is at 42 pixels over
and 85 pixels down.

The drawing of the school building at right (also not great art) is composed of a series of colored and white rectangles and lines. This kind of very clear, very sharply defined drawing is typical of what can be easily produced with a pure draw program.

An advantage of draw programs is that the shapes which make up the picture are infinitely editable. Notice that one of the rectangles is selected: As the drawer, I could make the rectangle larger or smaller, move it, or delete it. None of these actions would impact the rest of the picture.

A disadvantage of draw programs is that the tools found in them tend to be less creative. Also, draw tools can't be used to manipulate photographs, limiting the range of situations in which they can be used.


; Draw tools, like paint tools, tend to be standard across different programs. A student who learned to use ClarisWorks, the program whose draw palette is shown, would be able to easily pick up another draw program and use it.


Here is an extreme closeup of the top of the door section from the schoolbuilding above. Because the picture is composed of mathematically-describe lines and shapes, the picture does not get fuzzier as it is enlarged. This is a big plus for draw programs, because it also means that a draw program can take advantage of a very high resolution printer. In a paint program, once the size of dots created by the paint program is bigger than the size dots created by the printer, the paint program can't take advantage of the printer's capabilities. A draw program can.




Choose one of the projects from the table below and use graphics software to complete it. Be sure to choose a project in which you clearly understand the concept to be illustrated. When you have completed your drawing, submit it in the .doc sharing section of our course.

Subject Area Description
Math How much more volume does your family car occupy than you do? Draw a picture which illustrates how you would estimate the volume of each in cubic inches, and estimate what the volume would be.
English/Language Arts Draw a map of your classroom. This map might be used to illustrate a story.
Science Take an item from your pocket or purse. Observe its visual characteristics and draw a picture of it.
Social Studies Draw a political cartoon on a topic of your choice (remain within reasonable boundaries of taste).
Art Create a picture which uses negative space in some way. If it's not clear from the picture how negative space is used, include a sentence or two of explanatory text.
Music John Lennon claimed he saw notes as colors. Create a picture which shows your understanding of a familiar song. Do not simply illustrate the words.
Business Draw a picture which illustrates the law of supply and demand.
Physical Education Illustrate a rule from a game. (Example: The infield fly rule)

Using KidPix

If you choose to work in the College of Education computer lab, you should try using KidPix. This program is easy for younger students to use, but has enough capacity to keep students up through middle school interested. It's also widely available in area schools, available for Macintosh or Windows computers, and best of all--it's very inexpensive. The illustrations and directions below show how to use the basic features of KidPix. There's much more to the program than what's covered below, so I hope you'll spend some time exploring.

Starting KidPix

To open KidPix, double click on the KidPix icon (or choose it from your computer's Start menu). In the screen which comes up, click on "Kid Pix". The computer should speak the words "Paint a picture".

The basics

KidPix has a three part interface: First you choose a tool from the main toolbar. Click once and the tool is selected. Second, choose a color by clicking on the color palette. Last, modify how the tool works by clicking on the modifier palette.


Tools for painting

The illustration below names the various tools and gives hints about how to use them.

Re-opening saved work

On Windows computers, KidPix saves files in a generic form called BMP. That's fine, but it means that you need to take an extra step to reopen work that you've done previously. Here are the steps:

  1. Open the KidPix program by double-clicking its icon or choosing it from the Start menu.
  2. Click on the "Kid Pix" portion of the screen. The computer should say the words "Paint a picture".
  3. Pull down the File menu and choose "Open a picture. . .". Navigate to where your picture is saved and open it.

On Macintosh computers, you should be able to simply open your picture by double clicking its icon.

As you work with KidPix, feel free to call or e-mail me any questions. Good luck and happy painting.

All materials on this site copyright 2002, Jon Margerum-Leys and the Regents of Eastern Michigan University. Questions regarding this site or requests to link or copy site materials can be made through the site feedback form.