Flying Fish Mobiles – Kinetic Sculpture

Title: Flying Fish Mobiles – Kinetic Sculpture

Grade: 5

Art Discipline: Visual Arts

Time Frame:

(2) 45 minute sessions

Lesson Overview:   Students create a mobile sculpture that demonstrates balance and unity. 

GLO(s): 3. Complex Thinker;  4. Quality Producer

Arts Benchmark: How the Arts are Organized – FA.5.1.1: Uses the elements and principles of art and design, including balance and unity, in works of art.

Rubric based on Arts Benchmark:



Partially Proficient


Consistently uses the elements and principles of art and design, including unity and harmony, in works of art.

Usually uses the elements and principles of art and design, including unity and harmony, in works of art.

Sometimes uses the elements and principles of art and design, including unity and harmony, in works of art.

Rarely uses the elements and principles of art and design, including unity and harmony, in works of art.

Key Arts Vocabulary: kinetic sculpture, mobile, balance, unity

Classroom Set Up: Regular set up.

Materials & Equipment needed:

  • Construction paper and/or other heavy paper
  • Pencil, scissors, hole punch, tape
  • Color markers and/or color pencils
  • Glitter, tissue paper, sequins and other available art supplies to decorate fish
  • String (or thin string, yarn, dental floss, fishing line etc.  You must be able to easily tie a tight double knot.)
  • Paper clips
  • Drinking straws cut in the lengths of 6 inches and 3 inches (Each student will need both lengths.)
  • Photos or books that show examples of colorful fish to inspire students
  • Images of Kinetic sculpture by Alexander Calder.

There are many books and posters of Alexander Calder’s art, but the best way to experience his kinetic sculpture is to see it in motion. The Honolulu Academy of Arts Lending collection has two Calder-style mobiles that can be borrowed as well as videos on Calder’s life and work.

Alexander Calder:   Calder’s Universe. VHS, Kultur, 1998.  (This 30 minutes video covers the life and art of Alexander Calder.  Minutes 19 to 22 show Calder’s mobiles in motion.) 

Images of Calder’s work can be found at these web sites:

Prior to this lesson, students need to know how to tie a double knot. 

Teaching Tips:

  • Have the following materials prepared ahead of time for your demonstration:  
    • A 9-inch drinking straw cut into two pieces, 6 inches and 3inches.
    • Three circles cut from construction paper: 1½ -inch, 2-inch and 3-inch wide in diameter.
    • Punch a hole near the edge of each circle.
    • Attach a paperclip to each circle through the hole. The circles will hang and move freely if held by the paperclip.
    • Attach a 6-inch string to the smallest circle, a 12-inch string to the medium size circle and a 9-inch string to the large circle.
    • Two pieces of string:   15 inches, 7 inches.
  • Experiment in advance with how you will arrange your three circles in the mobile to create a pleasing design and to make sure that the suspended circles don’t touch the string or each other. 
  • For best results, use a double knot when tying the strings on the straw. 
  • This lesson can be used with any theme. Also consider creating mobiles using found objects from nature, origami that students create, recycled items, etc.

# Minutes






Session 1:

Alexander Calder, born in 1898, was from a family of artists.  His father and grandfather were sculptors who received numerous public commissions.  His mother was a painter.  His parents encouraged him to create and from the age of eight he had his own tools and workshop where he made toys from wood and wire for his sister and friends.  For Christmas, when he was eleven, he gave his parents two of his first sculptures, a tiny dog and duck made from brass sheet.  The duck was kinetic – it rocked back and forth. 

When Calder went to college, he chose to study engineering, not art.  But after graduating and working various jobs, he decided to devote his time and talent to art.  Calder was the first artist to explore sculpture that moves, known as kinetic sculpture. He created a unique form of art, the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture with hanging or suspended parts that move by air current or by touching. Calder worked to create balance in his work so that the moving parts seem to float.  He was also careful that none of the moving parts touch, which would disrupt their fluid movement.  Some of his mobiles hang from the ceiling and others stand on a base. To make a mobile, he attached brightly painted metal shapes to wire, using trial and error to balance each one.

Alexander Calder had a long and successful art career in which he created many other types of sculpture including wire portraits, motorized sculpture, monumental outdoor sculpture, woodcarvings and jewelry.

Look at these images of Calder’s kinetic sculptures.

What elements of art (line, shape, color, form, value, texture, form, space) do you see emphasized? What elements are repeated? What happens when we see shapes and colors repeated?

Calder incorporated balance, movement, and repetition with variety into his mobiles.  His works show unity, a feeling of harmony among all the parts.  With normal airflow or gentle touching, the moving parts flow harmoniously and never touch each other. What other principles of design (balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, rhythm, variety) did Calder emphasize? 

What do you think is the subject matter of this sculpture?  Why do you think that?  How do you feel when you look at the sculpture?

What type of person do you think the artist was? Calder always approached his art in a playful and childlike manner.  He was known, not only for his artistic genius, but also for being a warm and friendly person. In his lifetime, he gave away over 1400 pieces of his art to family and friends.

Alexander Calder wanted to create balance in his mobiles. Was he successful in creating balance? Why do you say that?



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Today, you will create a mobile using Alexander Calder as your inspiration.  Calder was careful to have the hanging pieces of his mobiles balanced.  This helped the mobile to move freely and seem to float. 

(Teacher note: Have prepared materials ready for demonstration – see Teaching Tips.) 

1. First I will demonstrate the method you will use, and as a group we’ll experiment with creating balance.  Then you will create your own mobile.

(Teacher note: Tie the15-inch string slightly off center of the 6-inch straw. Hold the string with the straw in the air. The straw will be off balance and tip to one side.)

Alexander Calder created his mobiles to be balanced. When I hold this straw up in the air, it is out of balance.  One end tips down toward the ground.  If it were balanced, the straw would hang parallel to the ground.


How do you think I can get the straw to be balanced?  I need to find the balance point.  I do that by moving the string toward the side of the straw that is tipping down.  It may take me a few tries to find the exact point of balance, but when I do, the straw will be parallel to the ground. (Teacher note: Demonstrate this, or let a student experiment with creating the balance.)  This will be the top part of my mobile.  The other parts will hang from this.

(Teacher note: Set this down on the table.)

2.  Next I’ll create a small mobile that will be a part of my larger mobile.

(Teacher note: Using a double knot, tie the 7-inch piece of string in the center of the 3-inch straw.  Tie the strings of the two smaller circles onto the straw, one on either side of the center string, near the edges.  Place them on the straw far enough apart so that the circles don’t touch the hanging string. Hold this up for the students.)

How do I find the balancing point of this small mobile?  Right, I can move the center string toward the side that tips down.  I can also experiment with moving the strings that hold the circles.

(Teacher note: When the balance point is found, tape the string to the straw to keep it secure.)

3. To complete the mobile I’ll attach the small mobile to one end of the (6-inch) straw and the large circle to the other end, making sure that the large circle doesn’t touch the other circles or strings.

(Teacher note: Hang the mobile and find the balancing point.  When the balance point is found, tape the string to the straw to keep it secure.)


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You will create your own hanging mobile with the theme of fish.  We have photos of fish that you can use to help you create your shapes and details.  You can also see the many colors and patterns in fish that may inspire you.  You may try to recreate a realistic fish, or you may create an imaginary fish.

Start by looking at the size of your two pieces of straw. Place the longer straw at the top of your desk. Decide where your smaller mobile will hang and place the smaller straw.  Now decide what size your fish will be and where they will hang so that they will not hit the strings or each other.

Draw your fish on construction paper and cut them out. Punch a hole in the tops.  Decorate both sides of the fish using the art supplies available.


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Session 2:

Continue creating your three fish.  When your three fish are complete, attach paper clips through the holes.

(Teacher note: Have students lay out their pieces in the arrangement they would like to have them hang.  Attach the appropriate size string to the paper clip, allowing extra length to tie a knot. Students are now ready to assemble their mobiles.)

As in the demo, tie a 12-inch string to the large straw. Now, create the smaller mobile first.  When you have found the balance point, apply tape to keep the pieces secure. Tie the small mobile to one end of the large straw. Tie the remaining fish to the other side of the straw. Find the balance and tape the string to the straw.


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When you are done, let’s hang the mobiles in this part of the room where it is not too windy. Let’s gather around and look at our work.   check mark  

Describe the elements and principles used in your mobile.  Which are emphasized? 

If you were to describe this mobile in one word, what would that word be?

What is the title of your mobile? Why?

Which mobiles would you say are mostly about color? Describe the color. Line? Describe the line. Shape? Texture? Value? Do any show form?

Which mobiles show the most unique ways of using the space? If there is one mobile that you particularly like, tell which one and why you like it.



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Closing Reflection with students.

Were you successful in creating physical balance in your mobile?

If you were to do this art project again, what would you do differently?



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Responding: (Questions to ask students before, during, or after an activity in the lesson to elicit their thinking about their own work or work they are studying):

Step 1: Describe

Step 2: Interpret

Step 3: Evaluate

What elements of art (line, shape, color, form, value, texture, form, space) are emphasized?

Describe the principles of design (balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, rhythm, variety and unity) used in your mobile.

How do you feel when you look at the sculpture?

If you were to give this sculpture a title, what would you call it? Why?

Were you successful in creating balance and unity in your mobile? Why or why not? 

If you had created this sculpture, what would you have done differently?