Painting the Pixels

By Betty Watt

Grade level: Middle School (5 -8)


Students will create a science design to be painted on the wall in the hallway of the science area of the school building. The design wit be turned into a grid of numbers (a digital image). Students will measure the space available and make a scale model of the design first.  The real space will be divided into the pixels and students will then be assigned different pixels to paint.  

Teacher Background

This project will need the approval of the administration. It could become an multi-disciplinary project by including a math teacher for the scale model and an art teacher for the actual painting.  

Student Background

When a satellite or space probe sends a picture to earth it is not sending a Kodak snapshot through space. The image is sent using pixels of data. The image is divided into a grid system with an x and y coordinate. Each pixel (tiny square section) of the image has an x and a y coordinate. The computer on the satellite or space probe receives reflected light and interprets the picture as a long series of numbers. Each number represents a different level of brightness or a different wavelength of light for each square in the grid.


  1. Create a science design to decorate the halfway.
  2. Create a scale model of the design on graph paper.
  3. Produce a digital image of the design on the wall.


  • meter sticks
  • graph paper


  1. Measure the space available for the design.
  2. Determine the appropriate scale for the graph paper.
  3. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students.
  4. Each group is to create a science design that they would like to see in the hallway wall in the science area. Each square on the graph paper can be painted only one color because each square represents one pixel of information in a computer digital image.
  5. After all groups have finished, the class should vote on the design to be used.
  6. Each color should be assigned a number.
  7. The design should be changed into a grid of numbers, each group could do this and then compare the results to be sure of the accuracy.
  8. The space available needs to be marked off into the same number of squares as on the grid.
  9. Each pixel (square) should then filled in with the number of the color to be used.
  10. Paint the pixels.

Teaching Notes

Before doing steps 8 - 10,  it might be best to do those steps on a large piece of paper to see how the design chosen will look when finished.  It would best to stay in constant contact with your administrator. Advise your students that he/she will have to give approval of the design before you can continue.