Linking history with art is a great way to help students create a "web" of knowledge as opposed to asking them to remember a list of random facts. I like to focus lessons on specific artists or points in history so that I can justify to students why it is important to know about art. If art can help students understand math, problem solving, history, etc. I feel that this can help students validate their artwork.
By creating mobiles in the style of Alexander Calder, students get to explore a point in the artistic timeline from the not-too-distant past. Asking the students to participate in preparation by bringing in any recyclable items from home gets them excited. Of course, you should also make sure to provide plenty of extra recyclable materials for the sake of variety. Allowing students to use a variety of materials leaves the end result open for interpretation. This project can work great with cardboard, soda pop boxes, soda cans (better for older kids, 7th or 8th grade, who can either cut carefully or use gloves to cut), toilet paper rolls, milk cartons, plastic bottles, chip bags, candy wrappers...the list could go on forever. I used Elmer's glue and yarn to connect the pieces, but hot glue and any kind of string, twine, etc. works well too.
For this project, I would first show my students images of Alexander Calder's work. I would show them examples that I made as well and would explain the aspects of 3-D objects and mobiles. I would then ask my students to choose an objective for their mobile which might be as simple as "I want to make a dragon" or "I want my mobile to have at least 3 pieces to it". Letting the students make a rule for their own work allows them develop their own guidelines for the project. The students could sketch out designs or look through the materials in order to get inspiration. After the planning stage of the project, students would be asked to choose materials and experiment with cutting, measuring, and comparing some materials with others. After some experimentation, students will be asked to select a final design and follow through on their design for their mobile.
At the end of the segment, we will have a final critique. Students will present their mobiles and will explain to the class why they made the aesthetic choices they did. Statements such as, "I liked this red box" must be followed by a "because...." explanation statement. This will be an opportunity for students to evaluate their work and the work of their classmates. Students will be expected to justify their work by explaining their original motives for design and how it relates to the work of Alexander Calder.
It is also fun to ask students to add up how much recyclable pieces the students used to create their project by weighing the recyclables before and after the students create their projects. This brings aspects of math and ecological awareness into the classroom. Plus, this is a simple task that excites students about their work.
By making the Calder mobiles with recyclable objects, students will be able to evaluate personal motives for aesthetic design, dramatize their own mobile in an original way, validate the importance of using recyclable material to create art, and conclude how Calder's designs relate to their own.
Being able to plan and execute a design helps students with planning and design for future projects. Drawing comparisons between artistic movements in history and their own work gives students experience in debate, constructive critiques, verbal expression, and personal validation.
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