/educators/lessons/grade-5/Alexander_Calder_Master_of_Balance

Alexander Calder: Master of Balance

How do balance and motion connect art and science?

Overview

Key Staff

The lesson can be taught by a classroom or science teacher. It may be helpful to work with an art teacher as well.

Key Skills

Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Life and Career Skills: Initiative and Self-Direction

Summary

Students will learn about the function and form of levers. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the function of levers by viewing the mobiles created by sculptor Alexander Calder. They will build a simplified mobile, experiment with balancing levers and discuss finding equilibrium.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Name the functions and parts of a lever.
  • Understand the difference between the three types of levers.
  • Differentiate between potential and kinetic energy.
  • Study and interpret the mobiles of Alexander Calder.
  • Make connections between science and sculpture.
  • Build a simplified mobile.
  • Balance objects by changing and moving objects on a lever (simplified mobile).

Teaching Approach

Arts Enhanced

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Simulations and Games
  • Discussion
  • Visual Instruction

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher

Preparation

What You'll Need

Materials
Resources
Required Technology
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

Check to ensure that all the Web links are still active prior to teaching the lesson.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should either build or purchase a mobile to use for demonstration. Mobiles can be purchased in the infant/toddler section of most stores.

Teachers should be familiar with:

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with simple machines and should have basic knowledge of potential and kinetic energy.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Laboratory Space
  • Visual Arts Studio

Grouping

  • Individualized Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction

Staging

Students will need a flat, clean workspace to create the mobiles. Create a sample mobile.

Instruction

Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Engage
Apply

Engage

1. Introduce a simple machine called a lever. Explain that levers are often used to do work with less effort, such as lifting heavy objects. Draw an image of or visit a see-saw on the playground. Use the see-saw to point out or demonstrate the following vocabulary:

  • Fulcrum: a fixed point
  • Load: weight on one arm of the lever
  • Effort: force applied to move the other arm of the lever
  • Equilibrium: balance when the load and effort are equal

2. Discuss the three types of levers. Project or hand out Lever Worksheet #1 that can be found within the Resource Carousel. Explain the three types of levers. Act out or use props to demonstrate each type if necessary.

3. Have students explore the three types of levers. In pairs, student should continue to read and investigate more about the three types of levers. Then, they should complete Lever Worksheet #2. If possible, bring in objects or photos that correspond to the ones listed on the worksheet. Use the Lever Worksheet #2 Answer Key provided to review Lever Worksheet #2 with the class.

Build Knowledge

1. Explain the relationship between levers and mobiles. Explain that a mobile is a cascade of levers. Each lever is suspended from above and has objects or other levers suspended from its ends.

2. Show the sample mobile you made to the class. Point out how the mobile is made up of a series of levers in equilibrium. Levers and objects hanging from mobiles are placed so that all parts of the mobile are balanced. Point out the fulcrums and arms of the levers.

3. Demonstrate potential and kinetic energy on a mobile. Explain how a mobile has potential energy when it is still. Demonstrate and discuss how potential energy converts to kinetic energy by lightly blowing on the mobile and vice versa when there is no air current.

4. Have students explore the concepts behind building a mobile. Students should create virtual mobiles by arranging and rearranging objects to try and find a balance.

5. Project or display images of the mobiles of Alexander Calder. Show images of his hanging mobiles and standing mobiles. Explain that mobiles are kinetic sculptures—three-dimensional works that include moving elements and a balance of objects. Note how the objects appear to float in space.

6. Discuss how mobiles are a form of art. Elicit from students what they like or dislike about Calder’s work, and why. Ask students what comes to mind when looking at the mobiles. Show Calder’s Constellation, 1943 mobile, but do not reveal the title of the work. Ask students what they think the piece is titled and why. After some discussion, reveal the title, and ask students if they think Calder was effective in communicating a constellation.

7. Have students explore the work of Alexander Calder. Explain to students that Calder’s mobiles were informed and inspired by his knowledge of physics, mathematical concepts, the cosmos, and astronomy. Before Calder enrolled in art school, he had received his mechanical engineering degree, a decision influenced by his fascination with construction and mechanical apparatuses and machines.

Apply

Students will practice balancing a simplified mobile. Provide a visual demonstration and verbal instructions for the steps below.

1. Build the arm of the mobile. Students should tie a string around the middle of a ruler (this may need to be taped to the ruler to hold it in place). Tie or tape the loose end of the string to a sturdy place, such as the edge of a desk, so that the ruler is dangling in mid-air.

2. Attach cups to the mobile. Using scissors or a pen, poke a hole in the rim of a paper cup, insert a string through the hole and knot it so that end stays in the hole. Do the same to the other paper cup (using the same size string). Tie the loose ends of the strings so that each cup is hanging from a different end of the ruler.

3. Balance the mobile. Place various amounts of small objects in the cups in an effort to find equilibrium. Encourage students to experiment with the position of the fulcrum, the weight of the loads in the paper cups, and the lengths of the strings.

4. Make observations. Students should complete the Mobiles Worksheet, that can be found within the Resource Carousel, as they experiment and take notes on what happens as they alter factors in their mobiles.

Reflect

1) Using their notes from the Mobile Worksheet, ask students to share their findings. Discuss the following:

  • What was challenging about finding the proper balance?
  • What did they notice about changing the position of the fulcrum?
  • What did the notice about altering the weight of the loads?
  • What did they notice about changing the lengths of the strings?

Standards

The Common Core State Standards Initiative seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment through a set of common learning goals and assessments. In 2010, Standards were released for English language arts and mathematics. Common standards have not yet been released for science, social studies, and other subject areas, including the arts. In addition, some states have yet to, or have chosen not to, adopt the Common Core standards.

During this transitional period, ArtsEdge will present all relevant state and nationals standards as they apply to our lessons.

National Standards for Arts Education

For the full text of the content and achievement standards in Arts Education, visit our Standards section.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Art

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions

National Standards in Other Subjects
Mathematics

Math Standard 1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process

Math Standard 9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics

Science

Science Standard 10: Understands forces and motion

Science Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

Credits

Writers

Eileen Ewald
Original Writer

Jill Gerlman
Adaptation

© 1996-2014 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center

with the support of

Department of Education



The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2014 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions

Close

You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:
http://absoluteshakespeare.com

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.

Cancel

Close