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Minutes from ME


Ellipses and Colors

So far in this series children have mastered the use of the straight line tool, the rectangle, paintpot, paintbrush and eraser tools in the PAINT program found in WINDOWS Accessories folders. Now we experiment with the imaginative possibilities of the ellipse tool, which students call the "egg" or "oval". 

The ellipse moves us up a notch in visualization effort; positioning and drawing ellipses takes extra skill. A diagram of elliptical effects is shown below for grown-ups' understanding. Children can remain blissfully unaware of these technicalities and just keep on drawing!

The pictures created from ovals and "eggs" give rise to many "it looks like ..." comments which range from seashells to spirals and tornadoes via monster eyes (a Halloween inspiration), tunnels, planets, faces and so forth. These comments are heard during our "gallery stroll" at the end of class as we admire each other's work.


In contrast to drawing boxes with the rectangle tool, ellipse images do not begin exactly at the cursor starting point but grow and shrink as the cursor is moved. Try this for yourself by clicking on the ellipse tool button and moving the cursor diagonally in any direction and at any angle. Watch the effect on the ellipse being drawn, then clear the screen to try the exercise below.
Ellipse ToolBar                      Ellipse Diagram

In the diagram above the black ellipse is drawn by starting the cursor from point A and moving along the imaginary (broken line) diagonal to B. Do not release the mouse button when you reach B. Instead drag the cursor towards point C and watch the shape flip to the green version shown, drag down to D and see the vertical flip to the orange version and a final drag to E flips horizontally to the purple version. Need I mention that, if you repeat this process moving the cursor quickly, the ellipses dance? Try it!


A direct demonstration is the best way to introduce the ellipse tool to a kindergarten class so gather the children around your computer and describe the methods and possibilities, all the way through to dancing.

As the children scatter to their own computers ask them first to make a big ellipse next to (or around) a small one and make a wide one next to a narrow one. Incorporate any vocabulary words you choose for your own directions.

Ellipses Melange 1Ellipses Melange 2

A good indicator of dexterity is to have children draw four ellipses along the lines of the diagram above, starting each from about the same center point. Then on a fresh, clear screen tell the children to draw as many ellipse shapes as they wish and, when they decide there are enough, to go ahead and color them.

Ellipses Miscellany 6Spiralling!

Refresh the screen and draw ellipses inside ellipses and color them. Even try making a spiral, although the spatial recognition for this is beyond pre-readers it's a nice effect.

Random Plain BoxesRandom Colored Boxes

Finally, take a "gallery stroll" around the lab to admire your classmates creations.


In computer lab we discourage erasing, instead we "decorate" around a mistake to improve it (and be copiously praised) or start over completely.

Selective erasing in PAINT requires more advanced dexterity and usually leads to unintended and upsetting deletions. If the aim of erasing is to clean up the whole screen and start over then clearing the screen with the "File", "New", "No" clicking sequence and song is better than laboriously removing everything with the eraser tool.

The "File" route also incidentally shows pre-readers the idea of the derivative menu system - File is the first word on the top line, New is the first word on the resulting menu, No is in the center query box. Children quickly become accustomed to the sequence and this familarity will help later as they save files, print files or exit software.


Some web sites with evocative ellipse images are:
Chicago Tunnel Company Home Page
Seashell Museum
NOAA Tornado Photos

THANK YOU, Anders, for your cheerful suggestions and your great illustrations.


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