by Janet Friedman

Newgrange School, located on the border of Trenton and Hamilton, is a small private school, serving approximately 80 students from about 40 districts throughout New Jersey. Students range in age from 9 to 19 and typically spend at least three years at the school. Newgrange focuses on remediating dyslexia and other learning disabilities, such as central auditory processing disorder and motor-visual discrimination. Since most of the students need a multisensory curriculum, classes are small and emphasize visual and kinesthetic learning styles.

Curriculum Focus

Mike Gerrish, the art teacher at Newgrange, has designed a curriculum that is a creative combination of art and computer technology. Gerrish was motivated to develop this curriculum to address two problems: the need to deliver lessons in alternative ways and the common side effect of low self-esteem among Newgrange's students. In his words, "Art can heal." Art is a medium of communication that does not require sophisticated verbal or writing skills, and it can serve as an alternative means of expression. As he sees it, technology also offers these benefits. Computers are a visual medium in which language can be secondary. It seemed a natural combination for a school focusing on students with learning disabilities, and in 1997 Newgrange set up a state-of-the art desktop publishing and imaging center.

Art is a medium of communication that does not require sophisticated verbal or writing skills, and it can serve as an alternative means of expression. Technology also offers these benefits. Computers are a visual medium in which language can be secondary.

Gerrish believed that placing a computer lab in an environment that is non-threatening, namely the art room, would decrease students' stress and open their minds to using computers creatively, rather than simply for word processing.

Gerrish had observed that students enjoy interacting with computers, and in fact, seem to use them intuitively. Computer-based learning is an interactive scenario in which the role of the teacher changes to facilitator and partner, while the role of the student shifts from passive receiver to active decision-maker. Often, students become the experts on computers, and almost always students with learning disabilities are able to exhibit skills on computers that reveal their higher potentials. Computer-centered learning leaves behind the negative associations that students may have formed with traditional classroom methods.

In his art classes Gerrish presents a lesson simultaneously in two modalities: hands-on and through the computer. "Assignments pair art media with parallel tasks carried out on the computer using scanning, digital cameras, and keyboarding." He feels that using the two modalities gives depth to the students' understanding of a lesson's concepts.

Examples of Art/Technology Lessons

A sampling of projects that Gerrish has developed combining traditional art media and technology can be found on his website: There he tells about their first project, an invitation from Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor's mansion, to create original decorations for the children's holiday tree. Newgrange students created nature-based monoprints and designs inspired by the Fauvist work of Matisse. Simultaneously, they learned about patterns, using ClarisWorks' draw and paint functions.

Later, in a unit on sculpture, students assembled images of themselves using found objects to reveal a hidden characteristic or ambition. Then using the digital camera and computer, they altered their self portraits. Both the art and computer activities were bound together by a descriptive poem, and the total experience concluded with a trip to the nearby Grounds for Sculpture.

A third, and particularly metaphorical lesson, was called "Windows 98." Connected to the release (and free sample) of Windows 98 (Microsoft), the class explored stained glass windows, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Students experimented with hand tracing and colored designs, progressing to computer-generated designs, and onto self portraits altered to produce stained glass-like images (See sample on page 9). A field trip to a local church brought the art lesson to life a second time around.

Class Observation

Last spring I observed Gerrish's students wrapping up a project that was being submitted to a contest, "Multimedia Mania," sponsored by North Carolina State University's College of Education and Psychology, Knowledge Adventure, and other software publishers ( The primary goal of the contest was to garner models of technology integration into a typical curriculum. Using HyperStudio (Knowledge Adventure) small groups from Newgrange's upper division had worked out a lesson that explored realism, surrealism, and abstract art. They then defined and used that knowledge to present an art sample, analyzed its components, and decided to which school it belonged. Working in cooperative groups, students researched the topics, chose the art work, and designed the visuals, learning the technology along the way. Their work will be examined by an international team of educators. Because the work had to be executed by the students, with the teacher acting only as facilitator, the students were thoroughly involved. After class I could not help noticing how they left the room, still talking about the project, working out details, and looking like young Silicon Valleyers on their way to a power lunch.

Technical Details

The Newgrange art-computer lab has several generations of PC's, with one Macintosh, ranging in speeds from a Pentium 200 MHz with 64 MB of RAM to a Pentium III, 450 MHz processor. Students use ClarisWorks (now Appleworks, Apple), HyperStudio (Knowledge Adventure), Art Dabbler (Fractal Design), Internet Explorer (Microsoft), and Windows 98. Touch pads are available as an alternative to the mouse. ClarisWorks provides word processing, drawing, painting, and database functions. Hyperstudio is a multimedia program that allows users to incorporate animation, sound, text, and images in a format that can be used to tell a story.

Art Dabbler is similar to Adobe Illustrator, allowing students to learn design and illustration skills. Students use it to try out a digital version of what they are doing on paper. For example, an illustration is placed on still frames with changes in position to create an animated format, producing a video clip.


The computer lab is set up in one half of the art room. A large screen TV that serves as a monitor faces the art tables in the other half. Gerrish likes to take advantage of the many web sites from museums around the world to supplement his lessons. This set up facilitates Gerrish's lesson plans which usually include half of the class doing a lesson in a traditional art mode, while the other half uses the computer to realize the lesson's principles.

Future Plans

In the future, a software controller, Visions (Alterus), will allow Gerrish to display his monitor, or any student's monitor, to every screen in the classroom. He also plans to broaden the use of technology in his art curriculum to develop multi-curricular electronic portfolios for all students which will be displayed on the school's intranet; to develop a website to display student artwork; to introduce a broader spectrum of multimedia components to the junior high population; and to break up the senior curriculum into marketable skill sets such as printmaking in the traditional mode and mastery of software such as Adobe Illustrator or Shockwave. Gerrish points out that even though the software may change, the goal is to give students an idea of what computers can do and maybe even introduce students to a career path in technology.


Gerrish gleans ideas from a variety of periodicals: School Arts, Arts Education, Multimedia Schools, Technology and Learning, and Converge: Graphic Art Design. His web site - (access through provides an ample supply of tested lesson plans and samples of students' work. also lists the following links as valuable resources:

LD Online:

Dr. Robert Brooks:

Arts Dyslexia Trust:


Museum of Modern Art::

Philadelphia Museum of Art::

Mark Harden's Artchive:

Additional Web Sites of Interest: Multimedia Mania Contest:

Newgrange School:

Janet Friedman is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey. She is a reading specialist at The Newgrange School.

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