Art & Algorithms: Hanukkah Themed Pixel Art Activities

| By Monica Brandwein, Educational Technology Consultant


Hanukkah and Computer Science Education Week week are just around the corner. How are you planning to celebrate both? In this blog post I have included a fun activity to use with your students which incorporates Hanukkah, art, and coding. This Hannukah themed pixel art activity can be done either unplugged or plugged! (Learn even more nondigital coding activities at Coding Unplugged on Dec. 12).

You are probably wondering: what is a pixel? A pixel is short for "picture element", the fundamental unit of a digital image. It is typically a tiny square or dot that contains a single point of color of a larger image. Unplugged, pixel art can be created using graph paper and colored pencils. Digitally, pixel art can be created using Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. There are also apps and websites that allow you to generate pixel art. Whether you do this activity unplugged or plugged, your students will be working as partners to create pixel art and algorithms.

Before we proceed any further, let’s define what an algorithm is. An algorithm is a list of steps to finish a task. Everyday algorithms are cooking recipes. When creating the algorithms for the pixel art you can either use directional symbols such as arrows to represent the code or you can use coordinates to specify locations (column, row). Remember to include the color in your code, especially if there are multiple colors in your pixel art.

If you have never taught algorithms before I suggest the following resources and activities:

  1. Begin with this unplugged lesson from before you teach the pixel art lesson.

  2. Create a large grid on poster board or on a whiteboard and use post its as the pixels to create the art. One student can give the coordinates or the directions while the other student places the post its correctly on the board.

Pixel Art Poster Board


Useful tips

When running the pixel art activity with your students you can have them work in partner groups. There are two ways they can work together:

  1. Students create their own pixel art image. They then share their image with a partner. After sharing their art, have the partner write the algorithm based on the completed image.

  2. Create a pixel art image and the algorithm. Share the algorithm with a partner and have your partner fill out a blank piece of the graph paper based on your algorithm.

Lesson Plan

  • Share an example of pixel art with your class (you can use my Hanukkah example).

  • Pass out the pixel worksheet and drawing supplies to students.

  • Have students begin by decoding the pixel art example on the worksheet or in the Google Sheet. When students have completed decoding the pixel art they can then move on to design their own creations.

  • Ask students to make sure to write the coordinates (the code) for their art.

  • When they have completed the code students can cut or carefully tear off the code coordinates from the art of their original designs.

  • Students will then exchange their coordinates with two other students (Example: Student A will exchange their designs with Student B, then exchange the design they received from Student B with Student C.)

  • They will then test if they can  accurately decode pixel code (by replicating the image with the code) and  check that the code they created was accurate and reproducible.

  • Here is a Hanukkah pixel art project I created: Remember to click on all of the tabs for different pixel art images as well as instructions. Here’s a resource if you are interested in learning more about the history of the pixel.  

Want to learn more about creating pixel art through HTML? Use this activity on Tynker to get started. Looking forward to sharing more unplugged coding resources with you at Coding Unplugged on December 12!