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Graphics Program a Big Draw for Students

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At four-year-old San Elijo Middle School (near San Diego, CA), technology teacher Allen Brooks presides over a state of the art 38-station computer lab that includes a dedicated Windows 2003 system with a teaching station for him, roaming profiles that allow any student to work at any computer, a large SMARTboard electronic display board with software and projector, a sound system, and more. The school opened in fall 2004 and serves students in grades 6 through 8 in the rapidly growing inland area of San Marcos.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students spend just two weeks of the semester in Brooks' technology class, so one of his challenges is to introduce both broad and deep tech topics and skills in that short time, including spreadsheets and word processing using Microsoft's full suite of office software.

Brooks' favorite software in the lab is Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo, which he introduced to his classes for the first time last year. Using the program, the 400 or so seventh- and eight-grade students who moved through his classes last year turned out some surprisingly sophisticated graphics projects.

In fact, a contest Brooks held among his students produced artwork that had other teachers at San Elijo asking for the software product in their classes as well. The assignment, which was to create an ad, promotion, or slogan, had students using layers, floating objects, cleaning up backgrounds, and using specific tools and techniques. The results surprised nearly everyone involved with their complexity and creativity.

This year, the school is rolling out Paint Shop Pro Photo to all classrooms within the next few weeks.

"I like graphics, but I'm not good at it," Brooks said in explaining what he finds appealing about the program. "I struggled to find graphics programs that I could use beyond drawing circles [and] squares and making buttons for Web pages." After playing with the Corel product himself, he realized he had discovered a graphics program for the non-graphically inclined. When the next school year rolled around, he introduced it to his classes.

Prior to that, he had spent plenty of time searching for a good graphics program, making phone calls, and testing products. Nothing he explored, he said, comes close to Paint Shop Pro Photo in either price or (especially) ease of use. "The product is dummy-proof. I got into Corel Paint Shop Pro and said, 'I get it.' All of the sudden the light bulb came on."

In a greeting card project for the holidays, Brooks had students create cards in Microsoft Publisher, then import and convert images from formats such as .JPG and .PST to include on the cards. He realized that he's clearly teaching useful skills, he said, when parents began telling him that students are using their new-found graphics skills to help with projects at home. "It's gratifying when parents say that [students are] coming home and using the techniques I taught them."

The graphics software is "so easy to teach and so engaging.... You can't ask for much more," Brooks said. "I'm a neophyte in my own right, teaching graphic arts" to students who also don't know much about the topic. In fact, Brooks said he estimates that less than 1 percent of his 400 students last year had experience with some sort of graphics program.

A big plus with the Corel program, Brooks indicated: its Learning Center feature, which goes beyond the standard F1 help offered in most programs, and which Photo Paint Pro also includes. Learning Center offers "focused guided direction," Brooks said, so that students who don't even know they're working on a "collage," say, or with a "clone brush," can go to the software's online Learning Center for help and advice on that technique.

Brooks' next big wish: To negotiate a deal with Corel that will allow him, "for a dollar or two per person in the district," to get a copy of Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo on every computer and to every one of the 16,500 students in the San Marcos Unified School District, including versions for their home computers.

Corel shipped a new version, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, this week. See the "related article" link below for more information.

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About the author: Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, CA.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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