Saturday, 15 April 2017

Computational Thinking in Art -TLLP Activity 1

This spring, I will be presenting at the Thames Valley District School Board’s S.T.E.A.M. conference. When I put my application in, I was taking a risk. I agreed to present results from a few activities I had never tried. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to ask my students to do and I had no idea what they might create. I did know that I wanted to investigate one of the key pillars of computational thinking, decomposition.

Decomposition is, as it sounds, the breaking down of a complex problem or system into manageable parts. During this process, patterns are often revealed and a deeper, richer understanding of a solution can be reached.

In mathematics, the connections are obvious. Breaking a problem into smaller parts has always been a hallmark of problem solving methodology.  However, I wanted students to learn to develop this skill to investigate art and literacy.


Connections are numerous. I have highlighted a few from the Grade 5 Visual Arts & Language curriculum.
Visual Art D2.2 Grade 5 students are learning to explain how the elements and principles of design are used in their own and others’ art work to communicate meaning or understanding. EX:  Piet Mondrian’s paintings use colour, line, and geometric shape to create an impression of movement.  

Oral Communication 1.4 Grade 5 students are learning to demonstrate an understanding of the information and ideas in oral texts by summarizing important ideas and citing a variety of supporting details.

Oral Communication 1.7 Grade 5 students are learning to analyse oral texts and explain how specific elements in them contribute to meaning.

Reading 1.7 Grade 5 students are learning to analyse texts and explain how various elements in them contribute to meaning.

Writing 1.6 Grade 5 students are learning to  determine whether the ideas and information they have gathered are relevant, appropriate, and adequate for the purpose,


Students were organized, in advance, into 6 groups. I was sure that students with academic or language needs (I have a high ESL population) were separated into different groups. I also made sure that every group had at least two students with strong literacy skills.

I was fortunate to be accompanied by two Teacher Candidates from Althouse College at Western University. Consequently, each group had ready access to an adult who could help them (a) stay on task and (b) support them when challenged.

We began by looking at the concept of minimalism, using the following Google Slide Each group was provided with an editable copy of this slideshow on a Chromebook. This is important because the display on the Chromebook is far superior to that of a classroom projector.

After introducing four paintings by Yves Klein and Barnett Newman, students were encouraged to discuss their opinions and ideas about the pieces with these guiding questions.

Slide 7: In the space below type in Words that come to mind when you and your group first look at any of  these paintings.  Anything goes. Whatever words pop into your head. You don’t have to agree.

Slide 8: What do these paintings have in common?
What rules do the painters seem to be following?
Use the space below to type your ideas.

Slide 9: Can an artist tell a story with a painting like this one (or one of the others)
What story is he trying to tell? (Picture of Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue)
Share your ideas in your group.

A member of the group was responsible for typing responses into the provided space.
You don’t have to a
Here is what one group chose to share (See Slides 7 - 10)

A class discussion followed and all ideas were shared. Responses were also screened with the class projector. A final conversations about minimalism and simplicity of design followed. Opinions were varied.

“It isn’t art, it is just three lines of paint. I could do that.”

“I’ll bet it looks better in real life.”

“It is art. It makes you think.”

Anecdotal notes were taken to evaluate students on Visual Arts D2.2 (above) and the Learning Skill of Collaboration as outlined in the Growing Success Document

Page 17
The student:
• accepts various roles and an equitable share of work in a group;
• responds positively to the ideas, opinions, values, and traditions of others;
• builds healthy peer-to-peer relationships through personal and media-assisted interactions;
• works with others to resolve conflicts and build consensus to achieve group goals;
• shares information, resources, and expertise and promotes critical thinking to solve problems and make decisions.


Engagement was high and the discussion was rich. The students liked creating a story for the final picture “Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue.” Students seemed comfortable sharing their ideas about the art piece because of the simplicity. This was a wonderful stepping stone to get to the next activity. All students met expectations and some exceeded it.

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