Vol. 2. No. 3 R-4 January 1997
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Kid Pix Around the World: A Multicultural Computer Activity Book

Barbara Chan (1993)
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company
Pp. 96
ISBN 0-201-62226-2 (paper)
US $12.95

The mid-1990s has brought the use of computers closer to mainstream teaching. This development is looked upon by many in the profession, teachers as well as teacher trainers, as an ominous sign. Many teachers worry that computers will detract from teaching itself and do not even consider using this new medium. Kid Pix Around the World is the kind of book that can help these teachers realize that their fears are unfounded. Barbara Chan's book supplements the award-winning computer program Kid Pix, ostensibly designed to "edutain" children as they learn how to paint and draw using cleverly designed tools, by adding multiculturalism and language learning to the education side of the equation.

For those unfamiliar with this best-selling computer program, _Kid Pix is a computer art program that can be used with Macintosh or IBM PCs with or without Windows. It combines crazy art tools (such as the "Wacky Brush" that paints in a variety of ways) with surprising and pleasing sounds (lots of "shoowops" and pipe-whistle type sounds) that seem to emulate the students' whims when using the program. Two of my favorite examples are: a) When using the pencil, the program emits an exaggerated scratching sound. b) If the students make a mistake on their picture while drawing, they can press a picture of a man who looks like he has made a mistake (cleverly named "The Undo Guy"); a quick "uh oh" is heard in a deep, grainy voice and the mistake is erased. The program is literally loaded with these tools, as well as other whirligigs and pleasant bells and whistles that never get to the point of being obnoxious. It also contains dozens of editable "rubber stamps" that children can use to create interesting patterns. Children can manipulate all of these different tools to create and erase, in various and often amusing ways, screen art that can then be printed out. The program also has the ability to record sounds.

The activity book draws liberally on all of the program's capabilities. Its 96 bright pages contain a foreword to parents, teachers and "elders"; a short tutorial on the instructions used in the book (such as pink highlighted text for Macintosh users, blue for PCs and green for PC/Windows); a brightly colored map, which serves as an overview of all of the cultures covered; a "Kid Pix Travel Kit," which explains how to use some of the Kid Pix program's tools; and 20 activities. At the back, there is a helpful two-page bibliography and lastly, on the final page, a special offer to purchase the Kid Pix software at a reduced price (about $10 off the original $49.95 price tag).

The book is written for students ranging from pre-school to junior high school, for use either in the classroom or at home with [-1-] parents. The liberal and clever use of "icons" (pictures which represent certain computer commands or tools in the program) in each unit lets children who haven't learned to read still figure out how to make a particular picture with the computer program. At the same time, the teacher or parent can benefit from the more detailed accompanying text. The book encourages them to find other ways to exploit the activities to their liking. Although the book is written for English-speaking adults to guide children in an ESL setting, I have used the book successfully with my EFL students in Japan.

This book addresses three important aspects of language education. The first is the ever-growing importance of multiculturalism and the ideals of appreciating, not just tolerating, other cultures. This book is in the vanguard of looking at different cultures and their traditions by directly experiencing the culture through a series of hands-on activities that fully involve students. Students personalize something they have learned in a lesson, by writing their own song, or painting their own egg, or something similar, and then sharing it with somebody else, either a classmate or an adult who is doing the activity with them.

Next, as already mentioned above, although this is a book full of practical tips on educating younger children in ESL settings, there is no reason to exclude the book from the EFL children's classroom. Although the text is at a level that is well beyond my students' understanding, the easy-to-follow pictures in the book more than make up for that.

Finally, the book is indirectly written to address those teachers who fear this technology. The computer is treated as a tool to help supplement a sociocultural and child-centered curriculum, which is the main focus of the activity book. Computers are not at any point the focus of the book.

With the collaboration of many others in Kid Pix Around the World: A Multicultural Computer Activity Book, Chan seeks to reinforce the idea that we live in a richly diverse cultural world and invites us into a hands-on experience of what drives others' cultures. To this end, every continent has been represented, with entries including indigenous people from Africa, Australia, Europe and the Americas. The book is full of beautiful art, original poetry, songs and dance, a smattering of delicious recipes, and some unique designs for clothing.

Another important aspect of the book is that it leads people to move past the computer in several activities: students make a mini-quilt by printing out and combining some patterns created when exploring traditional American crafts; they make a recipe for ginger cookies when looking at Swedish culture; they paint a real egg when finding out about the Ukraine; and they combine bits and pieces from several of the units to make a world collage. Chan's foreword [-2-] reinforces this by asking teachers and others to "encourage readers to try each activity and celebrate serendipitous discoveries" (p.4).

The computer is used as a launching pad for self-discovery. All the units encourage painting and drawing for self-expression. "Picture Story from the Arctic" (pp.16-19) encourages storytelling and reading more books. "Canciones from Latin America" (pp. 44-47) encourages writing stories and songs. The units also encourage students to share themselves, their experiences and their ideas with others. Communicative and cooperative learning skills naturally result from many of the creative activities being implemented. For an EFL teacher, this means a lot of real communicative activites as students have to explain what they are drawing, tell the story they have written, or ask for help with vocabulary that they will need to explain the picture or story to others.

Finally, Chan reminds us older people in the introduction, "While doing an activity, children may uncover other Kid Pix features and incorporate them into the activity. Congratulate them for being creative" (pg. 4). It is something that we always need to keep in mind when our younger students do what we don't expect them to do.

I hope that this practical, richly colored paperback volume will be the first of many new activity books of its kind--books that seek to put computers in their place, and books that help teachers with the complex job of educating students in critical thinking skills and cherishing the diversity of life found in today's global village.

Larry Davies
Nagoya University


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