Week 4: PuppetPals #3, ColorSplash & Adobe Photoshop

This week, the Prep class finished their PuppetPals project, The Grade 1-2s used ColorSplash to paint colour back into a photo, and the Grade 3-6s were introduced to Photoshop Desktop, creating lower third captions to photos. I’ll start with PuppetPals, then on to ColorSplash and finally Photoshop at the end of the post.


So because of last week, the Preps (unlike the Grade 1-2s) had to finish their project on PuppetPals. We did a refresher on what they were supposed to do (introduce each other on PuppetPals using some key “get-to-know-you” questions) and then gave them the time to complete. Many students needed a lot of support in doing this – mainly due to an ability to focus on the given task – so in some cases I had to have my finger on their ipad record/pause button, as they went through each question. The results were varied, but the core skill of telling a story using a digital tool is definitely there. Here is an example of one of the Prep videos below.


Excuse the American spelling. I like to keep the spelling as the app is called so people can track it down.

I’ve known about ColorSplash for a while now, and have been excited to try it out on students. Basically, it’s an app that allows you to either take a photo or import one in, turn it black and white, and then get you to paint the colour back in to any given area. I thought this would be an excellent way to highlight focus in a photo, so I tied it into “Healthy Choices” – which was technically only the Grade 1 topic for the term, but I stretched it to the Grade 2s as well.

I went out and bought a variety of fruit and vegetables from the supermarket. I asked the students in their pair groups to select a few and then pose for a photo (which, due to time and practicality, I took for them). They then were tasked with painting the colour back in, but only on the food, to highlight the healthy choices you can make with food.

I spent a little time modelling how to do this in the class. I showed how you can zoom into the photo using the pinch gesture, how to paint carefully around and inside the object, and how to switch back to the black and white brush to refine and edit any mistakes. The photo on the iPad retains the colour information, even if it’s not visible, so the students didn’t need to pick out colours, they just needed to use their fingers to paint the colour back in.

I was impressed how careful the students were in trying to do the best job possible. The photos came out quite well. When they were done, they handed the iPad to me, I gave them some feedback – sent them back if I think they needed to do further work – then uploaded them into their class’ Google Drive folder so we could share them at the end of the lesson. Below are some examples from the Grade 1 & 2s. (P.S – The Instagramy border and crop was done by me)


An aside, first.

As much as possible, I try to use Adobe tools where I can. Thanks to the new agreement between the Victorian Education Department and Adobe, state schools can now subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of programs for a hugely subsidised rate. Full disclosure, I am an Adobe Education Leader, so part of that role is to promote and teach Adobe tools in the education system. So, I suppose, there’s a bit of politics involved there as well. But, I honestly believe that Adobe’s tools are brilliant at giving people license to be as creative as possible.

Not everyone agrees. A conversation with a friend of mine – a graphic designer – has stayed with me. He was very supportive and excited learning about my new specialist classes, but questioned the idea of using Adobe tools in the classroom. Adobe tools – take Photoshop as an example – are hugely complex, industry standard applications. His argument was that in using such tools, the students will spend more time learning how to use the tool, and less time being creative in it’s use. To him, it would be better to use simplified, cheaper programs that achieve much the same thing.

I completely see where he’s coming from. But there are a couple of arguments I’d make against that. Firstly, you don’t need to teach everything about Photoshop (to stay with that particular example) to still have a successful unit of lessons. In the same way that a child does not need to know every word in the English language to be able to read effectively. Secondly, I know Adobe tools. I’d hardly class myself as an expert, but why spend the time sourcing and then learning new tools, when the ones I really want are readily available. Thirdly, I know kids. I know how well they can adapt to technology. I went in confident that they would get there. Finally, and this comes from my principal, even at this age – it gives them valuable job skills. These are tools and techniques that professionals use. I teach with Adobe tools on the desktop from Grades 3-6. I can only imagine how well a student will be skilled when they’ve gone through four years of learning Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere and the like. It’s very exciting.

So, in introducing Photoshop – in which most students had heard of before – I thought the key thing to start is to talk about layers. Layers is central to how most things in Photoshop work. If you understand layers, you have a solid foundation to build upon.

So, I printed and laminated three sheets. One with a background photo, one with a rectangle shape and one with a layer of text. The key thing being that the last two layers were clear aside from what was on it. Putting the three together creates a composite. But the composite is made up of the three layers.

By showing them in a physical form, the students understood that layers together combine to form the piece of art or the composite they want to make.

I brought Photoshop up on the screen and gave them a quick tour of the interface. The menu bar, the tool bar, the options bar and the panels. I didn’t go through every little thing, obviously, but I did point out the tools they’d be using for this project, as well as the layer panel and the properties panel. In reflection, I probably should have pointed out the history panel as well, so they knew where to go if they needed to go back and fix mistakes.

We then talked about what a lower third was, an industry term that refers to (often) boxed information on the lower part of the screen (or the image).

I then explained I wanted them to caption an image using the shape tool to draw out a rectangle, the type tool to write some text, and then the move tool to position them together. I also talked about formatting options, such as rounding the rectangle corners, creating a drop shadow, how to change the font, the text size and fill as well.

For the grade 3-4s that’s as far as I went. The grade 5-6s I also mentioned how to use opacity on the shape layer to give it a slightly transparent look. I also showed them how to unlink the corners of the rectangle, so that they could play around with the corners to see what looked good.

Most students didn’t finish this lesson, so I’ve extended it to next week’s lesson. Those that didn’t finish didn’t have much to do, so I will still go ahead with the new project next week as well.


Week 3: PuppetPals #2 & Black and White Portraiture

This week, the Prep – Grade 2s practised a story to tell on PuppetPals. The Grade 3-6s continued their unit on Photography, looking at Black and White Portraiture. I’ll start with PuppetPals and go through the Portraiture at the end of the post.


I learned something about working with the little kids this week. Don’t give them too much at one time to handle. What I had planned was that I would give the students their topic to make up a story, and get them to go ahead and rehearse it (ie: tell the story on PuppetPals without recording) and then record it as a movie when they were done. This was too much for my brand new Prep class, so I simplified it.

For the Preps, we just had a discussion about their topic (simply, friends introducing each other) and some of the questions you might ask. For instance:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. What’s your favourite colour?
  4. What’s your favourite healthy food?
  5. What’s your favourite non-healthy food?
  6. Who is your favourite teacher?

I got a Prep out to come and help me model the conversation, drilling in to everyone those six questions. I even had them up on the screen, which would help the readers amongst them remember. I then said, no iPads today, just have the conversation with your partner and have your answers ready for next week.

The same activity, with the Grade 1-2s, I was able to fit in the plan, the rehearse and record as planned. The Grade 2s, I further extended the task by getting them to take photos of themselves on the iPad, and using PuppetPals to “cut themselves out” so that they themselves could be characters in the PuppetPals play.

With the Prep topic being “All about Me”, the task was for two new friends to introduce themselves to each other. The Grade 1 and 2’s were doing “Healthy Choices” so we extended it to planning a birthday party. Who are you inviting? What activities do you want? And (most importantly) what balanced food will you have at your party?

This is a perfect example how, most of the time, I try to tie in the skill I’m teaching in Media Arts (in this case, storytelling with PuppetPals) to their Inquiry topic for the term. Below you can find an example from Grade 1 and Grade 2.


I had a lot of fun with this series of classes. Doing it with the Grade 3-6s, we began by discussing what a portrait is. Some knew that portrait also refers to the rotation of a page. But everyone had the prior knowledge that a portrait is a drawing or painting (or photo!) of a person, usually just the shoulders and head.

I wasn’t bothered by how much of the student would be photographed, but we did discuss how the subject of the photo should be the star of the photo. You might take an amazing photo of a playground with someone by themselves playing, but unless they are prominantly featured in the foreground, it’s not a proper portrait. We looked at examples of good portraits – but after the first day I always ended up with showing a picture that a Grade 4 student took.


This blew me away. Not just because I thought it was a beautifully natural photo, with the monochrome filters used evenly and not heavy handed, and not just because I thought the balance between foreground (subject) and background was perfect, but because this particular girl’s partner was away that day. Whereas everyone else had a partner to photograph, she chose to take a selfie. That’s right, this picture is a self portrait, and an amazing one at that.

For the black and white side of things, I used an app called Simply B&W. I told the students I wouldn’t make it as simple as pressing one button to convert to black and white, I wanted them to make adjustment choices. I demonstrated starting off with a preset, the brightness, contrast and grain, as well as border and vignette. Then they all went out to take the photos, then come back in to process them through the app and upload it to Google Drive so I could share them with the class.

They really took it seriously. There were some amazing photos. Here are a selection.

Week 2: PuppetPals & Rule Of Thirds

This week, the Prep – Grade 2s looked at using PuppetPals. The Grade 3-6s started their unit on Photography, looking at the Rule of Thirds. I’ll start with PuppetPals and go through the Rule of Thirds at the end of the post.


Given that the curriculum for Media Arts specifies developing stories using characters and settings with images, sounds and texts – it made sense to use a digital tool that younger students can cope with easily and intuitively.

To this end, I introduced the Prep-Grade 2 classes to PuppetPals, an app on the iPad that allows students to create their own puppet shows. There are a few different versions of PuppetPals out there. They are free initially, but you can pay for add-ins as well. I used PuppetPals HD. I have seen my 3 year old daughter play with it, and she can figure it out pretty well, so I knew that these kids would have no problem.

PuppetPals essentially gets kids to choose characters, choose backgrounds (sort of like a stage play) and then make up stories just by moving the characters about on the screen. Kids can move them around, rotate and resize them to their hearts content. There is also the facility to record it and then export the play as a movie.

The free version of PuppetPals comes with a small selection of characters and settings, but you can pay $AU1.49  for character packs that come with a few themed characters and backgrounds (eg: Wild West) or you can pay $AU7.99 for the entire catalog – 18 of them at the time of writing. Obviously features and prices change, so don’t hold me to that. I just paid the $AU7.99. Since all the iPads in my room are connected to the same account, they all loaded up with them. They are not all installed, you still have to go and install them yourself. I allowed the students to pick and choose which packs they wanted to play with. As a result, all my iPads have different packs loaded, but that’s fine.

Character Packs
Character Packs

This week was really about the students learning how to use the app and having fun with it. I watched them create zombie stories, fairytales, wild west adventures. It was great fun to see. I picked out a couple and mirrored the iPad on the TV to share with the class. At this stage, I didn’t want them to record anything. Just to “rehearse” as it were.

The Grade 2s I gave them an extra job to do. As part of the paid “Director’s Pass” that gives you the whole catalog, you can also take a photo of someone – cut them out (so you mask out the background) and then have them in the app as a character themselves. You can also take a photo of a background and use that as well.

Real actors as Characters
Real actors as Characters

Here is a video that goes through the features:

Next week, I intend with these kids to tie in their term 1 inquiry topics to Media Arts by giving them a set topic to do their story on. We’ll see how that goes. But the kids certainly had fun.


I did a photography course several years ago when I bought my first DSLR camera. When it came to composition, the teacher told us that the first rule of photography is the Rule Of Thirds. The second rule is, to go ahead and break the rules as you see fit. I also told my students this, and they had great delight when I told them that this would be the only time a teacher would say they were allowed to break the rules!

What I haven’t been able to obtain as yet is a collection of still and video cameras. I’m hoping a fundraiser later in the year can help pay for them down the road. So for now, we’re using iPads.

Ahead of time, I got all the iPads out and turned on the Grid function on the camera app. This overlays a Rule of Thirds grid on the camera which makes it easier for the kids to use.

With the grade 3-6s, we went through what the Rule of Thirds was, and some examples using both my own photos and ones I found on the net. I then took them out for a “field trip” into the playground and asked them to use the Rule of Thirds to line up their object of interest in the photo. We got some interesting results, and I’ve put some of the highlights down here below.

Before we went out, we talked about framing the image, looking at something from different angles, and trying to create interesting shots. I’m quite pleased with how they came out.

Next week, we’re going to look at portraiture – and just for fun, we’ll be doing them in black and white.