Inkscape is a powerful vector graphics tool that can be used in schools to teach math and technology (some of those important STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math subjects everyone is talking about these days). Inkscape is an excellent platform to teach the key 21st century skill of creativity through the medium of art. Inkscape is also open source and FREE, making it a perfect addition to any school.
In the past, I have used Inkscape with 3rd through 6th graders in the Los Altos School District (in Northern California) as part of an art program as well as in an after school GATE class. Now, I use Inkscape as a key component in the Los Altos School district’s Digital Design program. I have introduced Inkscape to over 1500 kids during the last four years, and it has been a huge success.
Inkscape can be used to teach mathematics through the medium of art. In a vector graphics program like Inkscape, lines are defined by graphs of functions. As students manipulate these lines by moving nodes or points, they are getting an intuitive feel for graphs and functions. Designing with Inkscape involves the manipulation of shapes, such as using a union of polygons to create a new shape. This shape manipulation is a direct use of geometry to create art. Additionally, Inkscape can be used to teach the connection between mathematics and art using specific projects like fractals, tessellations and patterns.
Inkscape can also be used to teach technology. Students can learn everything from RGB colors, gradients, layers, opacity, and even some basic programming concepts. In order to use Inkscape, students must learn to use selections, menus, and complex parameter settings, as well as how to export files and much more. Using Inkscape’s tiled clone feature, for example allows the creation of patterns by setting parameters and is a simple preview of the power of programming.
Many children lose interest in art as they get older. Using a professional graphic artist tool like Inkscape, brings back the excitement of creating original art. Creating a cartoon character on Inkscape is challenging and rewarding because it is unlike drawing on a piece of paper and uses a new set of skills. It is a new approach to art and it is a medium that resonates with today’s digital kids.
Inkscape allows the freedom to create and innovate because it makes experimentation easy. In my digital art classes, I have seen children visibly relax once they find that the ‘Undo’ button does work as expected. They are no longer worried about making mistakes because they can always correct them or just start all over again. Many of my students love starting with a completed project and modifying it. Without any encouragement, my fourth grade students hit the Control D to create a clone or a ‘twin’ of the character illustration and then tweak it’s parameters. These students are using each copy of their work as a sample in a scientific experiment, testing results based on different inputs.This freedom to see the ‘what if’ without fear of failure encourages experimentation and leads to innovation.
Inkscape is a perfect addition to any school computer lab. It can be used to reinforce the STEM subjects by integrating it into a mathematics curriculum or using it in a technology class, as well as to nourish creativity through the medium of art.