One of the most interesting conversations I had during the #gettingUnstuck event last summer was about the idea of combining art and coding to give projects a unique aesthetic. The teachers participating in the conversation lamented the fact that most teachers, when working with students on a coding project, focus on very serious stuff. Even when we add that little extra A to STEM and make it STEAM, the “art” part is secondary and expendable.

If this pushing aside of art has been true all along, how much worse is it during the pandemic? I can’t help but think that teaching art mediated by screens is much harder than, say, languages or history. Bob Ross notwithstanding, art education is intrinsically hands-on. Furthermore, there is immeasurable value in exploring iterative thinking through art. I believe all artists iterate, not because something is necessarily wrong, but because it is the nature of art. If this were not true, we would not have so many studies and sketches in museums. We would never read articles about “corrections” or “changes” found during restorations of famous works of art. If DaVinci and Michelangelo iterated, shouldn’t we?

Thinking about this, I’ve gone back to one of my own Scratch projects. I wanted to think through how a teacher could approach the art part if the code were structured in a way that students could make small changes to examine form, color, and patterns.

The code is relatively simple. When the green flag is clicked, the sprite goes to the middle of the screen. Then the sprite moves 230 times in a widening spiral and creates a clone of itself as it moves. As soon as each clone appears, it starts rotating and changing color. The result is a mesmerizing vortex. Here is a short screen capture with Scratch as the cloned, rotating sprite.

Try some of the following options to alter your spinning art. Some changes are in the code, some are in the costumes and backdrops. Just have some fun and make something of your own.

  1. Change the speed at which the clones spin by changing the number of degrees. Try changing it while the code is running.
  2. Change the rotation to zero before starting the code, then change the number after all clones are created
  3. Change the rate at which the color changes. Remember you can use decimals, too. Go as small as .1 and as high as 100
  4. Change the number of steps the original sprite moves as each clone is created
  5. Change the transparency of the clones (add a “change color effect” block above the forever block. Use the pull-down menu in the block to select “ghost.” Experiment with different values
  6. Change other visual effects using the “change color block”
  7. Create new costumes or edit existing costumes. Remember you can duplicate the existing costumes prior to editing
  8. Change the size of the sprites on the stage using the % size settings under the stage
  9. Create new backdrops. If you “ghost” your clones, the background color may become more important. Even if you don’t “ghost” the clones, the contrast between the spiral and the backdrop is part of the visual effect

What else can you do with this project?
Add a soundtrack
Add a mechanism that cycles through the costumes
Add a mechanism that reverses the direction in which the clones spin
Add a mechanism that speeds up or slows down the spiral

If you do try this, either on your own or with students, share the project in the comments. I’d love to see it.

Instructional coach, technology enthusiast, macro photographer always looking for new things to learn.

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