Creative Computing Lesson

Coding, Computational Thinking, Education, MSU MAET

Grade level: K-12 Teachers



Common Core Math (for students – not standards for the workshop)

7.G.2 Draw (freehand, with ruler and protractor, and with technology) geometric shapes with given conditions. Focus on constructing triangles from three measures of angles or sides, noticing when the conditions determine a unique triangle, more than one triangle, or no triangle.

National Core Art Standards (for teachers/students)

CR.1.1.8 Generate ideas, goals, and solutions for original media artworks through application of focused creative processes, such as divergent thinking and experimenting.

CSTA Computer Science Standards (for teachers/students)

L1:6.CT.1 Understand and use the basic steps in algorithmic problem-solving (e.g., problem statement and exploration, examination of sample instances, design, implementation, and testing).

L1:6.CT.6 Understand connections between computer science and other fields.


  • K-12 students can only engage in art using traditional means.
  • Teaching computational thinking requires specialized knowledge
  • Programming does not require creativity.
  • Computer science is primarily programming.

Essential Questions:

  • How can visual art be generated by computer programs?
  • How can play be a part of the creative process?
  • How does problem solving occur when instructing a computer?


Teaching approaches modeled:

  • Cognitive Apprenticeship: The workshop instructor will use live coding techniques (creating the program in front of an audience, explaining reasoning along the way) to demonstrate how problem solving plays a fundamental role in computer programming. By allowing teachers to experience a model of creative problem solving and how play/tinkering plays a role, they can begin to practice it themselves with increasingly less support.
  • Social Constructivism: Teachers will work in pairs and discuss in groups how creativity can be manifested through play and computational thinking. Since teachers will come with varying experience and comfort levels, I chose this approach to allow them to support each other and gain confidence through collaboration.
  • Constructionism: Teachers will create meaningful artifacts that reflect their understandings and creativity. This will allow teachers to make connections to earlier workshops on the importance of presenting and sharing work as part of the learning process.

Content and Pedagogy

An approach derived from cognitive apprenticeship will allow the learners to ease into using what may be an unfamiliar medium. In order to find how play is an important role in the creative process, an approach that uses active learning would allow the learners to experience the benefits by actually engaging in it themselves. In any teacher training, it is useful to allow participants to learn from each other, since each teacher brings a rich perspective on learning, so a social approach is useful. The primary limitation will be time, since this lesson will fit this into 1.25 hours., which may limit the removal of scaffolding.



  • Grid paper, Markers: Needed to create a visual work, useful to recording result of LeWitt’s instructions and gauging aesthetic qualities
  • Examples of Sol LeWitt’s work with accompanying instructions: Wall Drawing No. 26 –
  • Examples of other computer art, e.g. Casey Reas:
  • Computers, one per pair of learners: Necessary to run Scratch and Processing and see results of computer programming
  • Scratch: Useful for creating visual works through algorithms. Can be simulated through analog means (paper, pencil) but necessary for showing how automation allows for affordances (easily changing variables, integrating randomness) and sharing creations with other users through the website.
  • Processing: Useful for extending functionality of programs like Scratch. Necessary for calculating perimeter/area through automation, quantifying color, and exposing learners to authentic tools used by digital artists.

Technology and Pedagogy

  • Paper and Markers: Using older technology at the beginning of the lesson will allow learners to actively engage in using algorithms and sharing with others on how their work may be visually similar but allows for creative expression in choices they make.
  • Scratch and Processing: These also allow for active learning and provide a relatively easily understood context for problems solving, as results are instantaneous, consistent, and error messages easily understood. By having the instructor providing scaffolding to allow the learners to work within their Zone of Proximal Development, the learners can be challenged but can ultimately achieve using play as part of the creative process. Scratch has scaffolding built-in with the list of available blocks/instructions displayed to the user, while Processing relies on instructor scaffolding and modelling to allow users to become familiar with the features of the language.

Technology and Content

Lesson Outline:

  • The learners (teacher workshop participants) will begin by examining works by artists that use computational media. The instructor poses the questions: Why would artists choose computers as a medium? What skills can be developed by engaging students in this process?
  • To help discover how computational art fits into visual art movements, teachers will follow instructions provided by Sol LeWitt in creating line-based art using grid paper and markers. While following the instructions, the learners will have choices in which directions they will use. Once they are finished, learners will discuss with a partner on the choices they made while following the instructions and how it affected the aesthetics of their work.
  • By bringing teachers together in a whole group discussion, the instructor will introduce play as an important part of the creative process. Different choices made in LeWitt’s process would produce different effects, but the end result may be difficult to visualize without tinkering with the process. Often surprising results can occur by trying multiple methods. Using paper and markers make this difficult, but using automated methods with computers can make it easier to see the results of playing with instructions.
  • Learners will become familiar with Scratch by working with a partner to draw a simple shape, such as a square and triangle to create the shape of a house ( To create these shapes, being familiar with the instructions available are not enough, but learners will have to break down the problem into manageable parts. The instructor will guide the learners on how to make a line, rotate the angle of the pen, change color, and repeat instructions. The learners will then be challenged to create the desired shapes or shapes of their own choosing.
  • Learners will come together to share their problem solving process. How did they figure out how to make a square? To create the triangle as the roof of the house, did they decide to make an isosceles or equilateral triangle? What understandings about the sides and angles of these types of triangles did they have to use? How does trial and error or play guide how to achieve the desired result?
  • While Scratch is a powerful learning tool, larger programs often become unwieldy and students may feel limited by the instructions available to them. Artists use a similar tool called Processing to create algorithmic art that can use randomness to create interesting effects.
  • Learners will watch as the instructor builds a simple program that emulates LeWitt’s instructions for Drawing No. 26. Lines within Processing are creating using a coordinate system, so mathematical understandings must be applied to create straight and diagonal lines. Using this type of program, it becomes easy to automate the calculation of area and perimeter of the created shapes, but it requires using mathematical formulas.
  • Learners will then have a chance to modify a Processing program to change the probability to types of lines that may be created by using randomness, an important part of computational media in art. Colors will also be able to be changed through random selections of red, green, and blue components of a color.
  • The workshop will conclude by showing off the resulting works created in Scratch and Processing and a discussion of where in the curriculum these tools may be useful.


Since this lesson is for teachers within a workshop, assessment typically comes from informal feedback and responses to our workshop surveys. As formative assessments during the workshop, the instructor can look for indicators that show misconceptions being challenged and essential questions being addressed:

  • Learners are able to follow LeWitt’s instructions and create a sample work of their own.
  • Learners are able to use their knowledge of following instructions to relate to creating algorithms in Scratch to generate visual works.
  • Learners are able to use play to tinker with their programs to vary the effects.
  • Learners are able to successfully modify a Processing program to change the results, including changing colors through RGB values.
  • Learners recognize that programming languages are tools, not ends within themselves, and students need to develop creative problem solving skills to use them effectively.
  • Learners recognize that the automation provided by Scratch and Processing allow for applying math content knowledge such as calculating perimeter and area of shapes.

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