Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pixel Art Activities for any Subject with Google Sheets

Growing up with video games in the 70's and 80's, I was well aware of pixels. When video games first started out, the screen resolution was so low that all your game characters and items were made of big blocky squares called pixels. With some imagination we could see a jumping plumber or a flying spaceship in those 8x8 or 16x16 grids of colored dots.

Today video games are so hyper-realistic that you can't tell if you are watching a real-life video or a computer simulation. However, everything old is new again, so there has been a resurgence of love for retro-games and their nostalgic pixelated style.

And so we have "Pixel Art" which is making images out of a small grid with limited number of colors. As with any creative activity, pixel art can have many applications for education. Lots of educators have created pixel art templates and activities including Alice Keeler here and here and here and Patrick Johnson here.

In this blog post you can get a copy of a free 26-color pixel art template I have created for Google Sheets which includes several built-in activities. We will also look at directions for how to use and modify the template as needed for a variety of activities.

📄 26-Color Pixel Art Template

Below is a link to get your own copy of my free 26-Color Pixel Art Template. It was created with Google Sheets. Simply click the link below to make your own copy that you can edit or use however you need.

The template is made of several Google Sheets tabs. Here are the different tabs you will find in the template:
  • Directions - Brief instructions for how to use the template. Be sure to scroll all the way down to see all the directions.
  • Draw - This is a 60 column by 30 row sheet where you can create your pixel art drawing.
  • Fractions 8x8 - This tab allows you to make a pixel art drawing inside of an 8x8 grid, and then you determine the fractions represented by each color you used.
  • Fractions 10x10 - Same as above but with a bigger 10x10 grid.
  • Fractions 12x12 - Same as above but with a bigger 12x12 grid.
  • Area - This tab allows you to make a pixel art drawing and then determine the area in square units represented by each color you used.

🖌️ Conditional Formatting

There are many ways you can set up a Google Sheet for creating pixel art. You could use the "Fill color" tool to choose a color for a cell, or you could use the "Paint format" button or the copy and paste option to copy a color into other cells.

However, for this template I used "Conditional Formatting" to make the process as easy as possible for the end user. Conditional formatting is when you set up rules for the Sheet to format cells based upon what you type into them. For this template I have created conditional formatting rules that will fill in the cells with specific colors based on the lower-case letter you type in from "a" to "s".

The color key for the template is:

✅ Directions for Creating Pixel Art

Here are the directions for creating pixel art with the template:
  • Click on the tab in the template titled "Draw".
  • For your easy reference, the color key will be displayed at the top with each color in the column with its corresponding letter.
  • To color in the cells simply type in any lower-case letter from "a" to "z" and the corresponding color will be applied to the cell
  • If you want white, just leave the cell blank. Altogether this gives you 26 colors to choose from.
  • To change the color in a cell, just type in a new letter.
  • To remove the color from a call, just delete the letter from the cell.
  • To move around to other cells, use the arrows keys or your mouse.
  • To save time, you can select a bunch of cells and then copy and paste them into other sections of the sheet.
  • Also, you can click in a cell, then click and drag the little square handle in the bottom right corner to drag that cell's color into other cells.
  • Since this is a Google Sheet, don't forget that you can share the Sheet with other people to collaboratively work on the pixel art.

🎨 Changing the Color Template

Although I have provided a diverse range of 26 common colors to use, you may find that you want or need to change some of the colors for the particular art you are working on. You can change the conditional formatting rules to change the colors as needed.
  • Click "Format" in the top menu bar.
  • Choose "Conditional formatting" from the drop-down menu.
  • This will open the "Conditional formatting" panel on the right side of the screen.
  • Scroll down through the rules to find the color you want to change.
  • Click on that rule to go into edit mode.
  • Click the "Text color" button and the "Fill color" button to choose the new color you want to correspond to the letter for that rule.
  • Click "Done" when finished.
  • Any cells with that letter will now be updated with the new color you chose.

💡 Other Activities

Pixel art can be used for many educational activities. The "Draw" tab is a for open-ended drawing of whatever pixel art you would like to make. This could be used for many activities including:
  • General creativity - Have students be creative and make whatever they like.
  • Art - Have students create their own artistic works, or pixel versions of existing art.
  • Tech Skills - Great for younger students to practice typing, using the arrow keys, using the mouse, clicking and dragging, and more.
  • Characters - Making characters from a story read in class or for a story the students are writing.
  • Concepts - Illustrate a science concept they are learning.
  • Retelling - Show an event from history or from a story.
  • Mapping - Create a map of your neighborhood, state, country, famous battle, land forms, or such.

In addition to the open-ended activities you can do on the "Draw" tab, the template also contains a few pre-made activity tabs. These lend themselves specifically to math concepts.

Fraction activities
  • There are three "Fractions" tabs. Each tab provides a grid for the student to draw in. The grids are 8x8, 10x10, and 12x12
  • After creating their drawing inside of the given grid, the student them counts up how many squares of each color they used.
  • These numbers are typed into the boxes on the right of the Sheet to show the fractions each color represents.
  • Next the student can simplify the fractions (if possible) by typing in the reduced version of each fraction to the right of the original fractions.

Area activity
  • There is one "Area" tab. The student can create their drawing anywhere in the tab.
  • After creating their drawing, the student them counts up how many squares of each color they used.
  • These numbers represent the area in square units that color covers.
  • These numbers are typed into the boxes on the left of the Sheet to show the areas for each color.

🔗 Sharing your creation

After completing any of the drawings or activities, there are some options for cleaning up and exporting the results.

  • You can delete the color key at the top of the sheet if you would like.
  • You can delete any extra rows or columns if you want. Click on the row or column heading, then click "Edit" and choose "Delete row" or "Delete column".
  • You can remove the gridlines if you want by clicking "View" and unchecking "Gridlines".
  • You can print you art by clicking "File" and "Print".
  • You can download your art by clicking "File" then "Download as" then "PDF document".
  • You can take a screenshot of your pixel art by using any one of the many screenshot tools such as Nimbus Screenshot.

🏁 Conclusion

Spreadsheets can be used for much more than just crunching numbers. Pixel art is one example that can be fun, creative, and educational. If you have other ideas for how pixel art can be used in school, or if you have examples of pixel art your students have created, please consider sharing in the comments below.

If you would like to learn more about creative uses of Google Sheets in all subject areas, check out all of my Google Sheets resources here:

Post by Eric Curts
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  1. Thanks for sharing what looks to be a fun, but challenging activity.

  2. Great ideas Eric! I was just telling students about pixels and a game I played as a child, Pitfall. ha! we thought it was amazing!

    1. Pitfall was amazing! The thought of trying to swing over those crocodiles still causes me to panic!

  3. Once again, just fantastic! Such a great use of Google Sheets' functionalities! (and for once, the fear of playing with numbers and scripts is slightly overshadowed!)

    Thanks for the amazing ideas, Eric! Love 'em!

  4. This is amazing! Once again, thank you so much.

  5. Just happened to see this topic on your #gafechat. Excited for your different ideas on spreadsheets, very timely. I just explained to teacher leaders about the understanding use of spreadsheets in middle school standards. These are great ideas to share with them!

  6. I have done conditional formatting and pixel art with end of year Kindergarten up to 5th grade. They LOVE it!!!

  7. i like it. it was fun

  8. Love these ideas, thanks so much!

  9. this is awesome