Maths and art combine to make magic

9th June 2006 at 01:00
An image-manipulation program based on a grid gives pupils freedom to explore their imagination, says Frances Farrer

The use of computer programs in art classes is sometimes viewed with distrust. But when Margaret Horn, of Birchensale Middle School in Redditch, West Midlands, purchased GridMagic, it was intended to extend artistic skills rather than supplant them. Margaret believes it helps with vital training in close observation: "Pupils must be taught how to look. If they don't respond to a traditional image, they can look at this."

The school values its art work: its corridors are lined with collages and in the courtyard there is a copperwork fountain constructed by Year 5 pupils under the guidance of a local smith. The school has a gold arts mark from the Arts Council, and the artistic work of less academic children is valued.

GridMagic creates effects from pictures and designs, and enables remarkable graphic manoeuvres to be accomplished swiftly and simply. Pupils can photograph themselves digitally, experiment with colourising, make negatives, repeat, distort, twist the image and place it into a mosaic grid, automatically fitting, enlarging, reducingI. The software has elements of Paintshop, Paintbrush, Photo Editor and the Windows wallpaper editing utility. There are also mathematical possibilities, including downloadable projects that use diagonal lines and tile transformation.

The program is marked as "Where Maths meets Art", though many teachers say the program is more useful in the art room. Stella Goldsbrough of Langar Primary School in Notting-hamshire, uses it in ICT club sessions. She says it attracts children of different abilities and gives practice in logical thinking.

In her Year 6 group, Daniel said: "It's easy to make quite complicated designs," while Stella remarked: "You can be really creative using different variables;" and Jonathan said: "It helps you to develop a good understanding of maths."

Birchensale's Year 5 set out to create individual Andy Warhol-style presentations, using 12 images from the program and saving them to a memory stick. The class had worked on proportion and had used grids to draw self-portraits. The portraiture task required them to investigate how to use expression and colour to show character, and to note colour effects.

Leanne and Zo spoke of showing emotions by creating different facial expressions. Sophie and Maria had sent 12 images to a portfolio for use as mosaics, and had created borders and backgrounds. Jack and Aneek liked their sketch version: "It looks like it's carved in stone!"

Daniel and Joseph had ambitiously set out to create portraits of the whole class. They were experimenting with darkening and lightening images, and solarising to create white hair. James summed up the exercise: "Art is to do with experimenting."

Margaret Horn sees potential in using GridMagic with packages such as Photoshop, as well as with traditional media. "When they have done these portraits they can make a work of their own, in materials of their choosing," she says. "Some children don't have the physical skill of drawing, and this offers them instant success."

The program is graded, and well supported by teacher's guides. You can start by making simple bookmarks, cards and mouse mats. Ultimately, you can aspire to greetings cards, badges and stickers.

These are the likely products of out-of-school clubs such as Playing for Success in Nottingham, where Heather Frost sets out to provide numeracy, literacy and IT skills. She praises the maths aspect of the program: "We trialled it with Years 5 and 6. The main benefit for us is IT skills, as the children we work with haven't got computers at home. It's complicated enough to make them have to listen and concentrate, and, for maths, it reinforces concepts such as symmetry, and tessellation."

l Gridmagic is produced b y Q4 Technologies of Nottingham.

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