Stamford teacher helps create coloring book app


Ask an elementary student to find this scary answer in a coloring book, and they might not have many options beyond what colors to use. But Susan Striker, an art teacher at Cos Cob School, never wanted her students to work with a limited canvas. That’s why, for the past 34 years, she’s written the popular Anti-Coloring Book series, which encourages children to think independently and experiment artistically.

Now she takes her concept from page to page. The fifth book in the 14-volume series will soon be available as an iPad app, with help from Stamford resident and Greenwich High School teacher Matt Meyers. It will include all of the activities in the book – a total of over three dozen, including the bogeyman exercise.

“I see the kids — they really love what they do here,” Striker said during an interview in his art room at Cos Cob School. “But they can’t do it on an app because most (art) apps are coloring books.”

An educator who has taught for 20 years in the Greenwich area, 10 of which in Cos Cob, Striker has a passionate and distinctive approach to arts education. Rote assignments are not part of his vision.

“If you wanted to color on another app, you’d hit the coloring button, and it would color, but that’s not real life,” she said. “In real life, you pick a color, and you use your fine motor skills, your coordination, and your own brain, and you color it.”

Storytelling is a big part of the concept of his app – the imprint of a teacher who starts each lesson by reading a story to his students. Each activity in the app has a recommended book related to the same topic, and the app shows users how they can purchase those books or view them at their local library.

“What I think I do best as a teacher is connect literature with art and get kids thinking for themselves,” Striker said.

In the app, users create in white space framed by toolbars. They can work with a range of digital tools including markers, pencils, calligraphy pens and brushes. Kids can create a gallery of their best work done in the app, and for those who aren’t reading yet, they can listen to a voice question for each activity.

“Susan Striker is such an amazing educator and person,” said Cos Cob PTA Co-Chair Leila Marin. “She’s one of the most exciting and enthusiastic teachers I’ve ever known. She really looks at art from a broader perspective, incorporating both history, social studies and science. “

If the neat interface of the Anti-Coloring Book app suggests a smooth production process, it’s actually the opposite. After designing the app in 2011, Striker went through three frustrating years, working with — and spending a lot of her money on — multiple developers who proved ineffective, she said.

Finally, earlier this summer, she met Meyers, who teaches computer science and chemistry and is also an app developer. He’s been coding the Striker app for a few months, and it’s almost done.

“A lot of developers think they can get away with doing just about anything,” Meyers said. “It really bothered me. Sue is very dedicated to teaching and education. I felt like she needed this app, and I wanted to help her and make sure everything was done the right way.”

To raise the remaining funds for app development, Striker launched a Kickstarter campaign. It aims to raise a total of $5,000.

The app is expected to debut in Apple’s App Store in early fall and will sell for $1.99. Striker plans to use it in his classrooms and hopes it will be used in other schools in the district as well.

If the Anti-Coloring Book app is successful, Striker intends to create apps for all books in the Anti-Coloring Book series.

“It’s exciting,” said Striker, as she drew in the app. “It’s really as I imagined.”

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