Learning Resource Type

Learning Activity

An Exploration of Balance with Alexander Calder

Subject Area

Arts Education




Students will construct hanging mobiles in the style of Alexander Calder using coat hangers and assorted materials while exploring the principles of balanced and unbalanced forces.

This activity was created as a result of the Arts COS Resource Development Summit.

    Science (2015) Grade(s): 3


    Plan and carry out an experiment to determine the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object using one variable at a time, including number, size, direction, speed, position, friction, or air resistance (e.g., balanced forces pushing from both sides on an object, such as a box, producing no motion; unbalanced force on one side of an object, such as a ball, producing motion), and communicate these findings graphically.

    Unpacked Content



    • Experiment
    • Variable
    • Motion
    • Force (push and pull)
    • Balanced forces
    • Unbalanced forces
    • Cause and effect
    • Number
    • Size
    • Direction
    • Position
    • Friction
    • Air resistance
    • Communicate
    • Graphically
    • Net force
    • Sum


    Students know:
    • Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and direction.
    • An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object.
    • Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object's speed or direction of motion.
    • Objects in contact exert forces on each other.


    Students are able to:
    • Collaboratively plan an experiment to determine the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object using one variable at a time.
    • Carry out an experiment to determine the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object using one variable at a time.
    • Collect and record data from experiment.
    • Describe how the investigation plan addresses the purpose of the investigation.
    • Communicate findings graphically.


    Students understand that:
    • Cause and effect relationships provide evidence when investigating balanced and unbalanced forces.

    Scientific and Engineering Practices

    Planning and Carrying out Investigations

    Crosscutting Concepts

    Cause and Effect
    Arts Education (2017) Grade(s): 3 - Visual Arts


    Demonstrate skills using available resources, tools, and technologies to investigate personal ideas through the art-making process.

    Unpacked Content



    • Creativity
    • Criteria
    • Critique
    • Design
    • Media
    • Mixed media
    • Monochromatic
    • Principles of design
      • Rhythm
    • Technology
    • Visual image

    Essential Questions

    EU: Artists and designers shape artistic investigations, following or breaking with traditions in pursuit of creative artmaking goals.
    EQ: How does knowing the contexts, histories, and traditions of art forms help create works of art and design? Why do artists follow or break from established traditions? How do artists determine what resources and criteria are needed to formulate artistic investigations?

    Skills Examples

    • Use a variety of materials to create a three-dimensional mask showing a student's personality.
    • Use torn paper scraps to create rhythm in a landscape.
    • Plan a community/city; then, build a model of it with recyclable materials, such as cardboard, boxes, containers, and tubes.
    • Collaborate with a group to demonstrate how to care for tools used in class (such as paintbrushes).
    • After looking at Vincent van Gogh's painting, Bedroom, create a narrative painting depicting a memory of a student's personal bedroom.
    • Use appropriate visual art vocabulary during the art-making process of two-and-three-dimensional artworks.
    • Collaborate with others to create a work of art that addresses an interdisciplinary theme.
    • Read and explore books like Imagine That by Joyce Raimondo or Dinner at Magritte's by Michael Garland and then create a Surrealistic style artwork.
    • Recognize and identify choices that give meaning to a personal work of art.
    • Create a drawing using monochromatic colors (paint, oil pastels, etc.).
    • Explore individual creativity using a variety of media.
    • Understand what effects different media can have in a work of art.

    Anchor Standards

    Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.


    Learning Objectives

    Learning Objectives

    • Students will construct a hanging mobile in the style of Alexander Calder.
    • Students will explore the principles of balanced and unbalanced forces and communicate their findings.

    Activity Details

    1. Show students images of the mobiles of Alexander Calder from the Calder Foundation Website. Discuss how mobiles are a form of art. Ask students what they like and dislike about Calder's mobiles and what comes to mind when they see them. When showing examples of Alexander Calder’s artwork (specifically the hanging mobiles), connect his work to a previous lesson the students might have learned about the principles of balanced and unbalanced forces/motion, stability, the center of gravity, etc. Explain that he uses a combination of engineering and art to create his artwork.

    2. Have students explore building a mobile using the vectorypark.com online lever game.

    3. Have students explore constructing mobiles by tying a string around the middle of a ruler and tie or tape the loose end of the string to a sturdy place so that the ruler is dangling.  Use a hole punch to put a hole in the rim of two paper cups and attach the cups to opposite ends of the ruler by tying the loose ends of the string to the ends of the ruler.  Have students place various amounts of small objects in the cups to find an equilibrium.  Students can experiment with the position of the fulcrum (the string tied to the middle of the ruler), the weight of the loads in the cups, and the lengths of the strings and record their observations about their experiment. 

    (Mobiles worksheets are available on the ArtsEdge digital resource.)

    4. Have students work individually or in groups to create an artistic mobile of their own using materials that they have brainstormed and identified as useful and appropriate.  Students should write statements to go with their mobiles identifying what they used for the lever and the fulcrum as well as what materials they used for their loads and how they found the equilibrium for their mobile. Ask students to tell how their knowledge of levers and equilibrium helped in their design choices and execution of their artistic mobiles.

    Assessment Strategies

    Assessment Strategies

    Students will be assessed by the observations they wrote down during their coat hanger experiment. 

    Students artistic mobiles will also be assessed for creativity and innovation in material choice. 

    Students can respond to the following questions for further assessment: 

    What is a mobile?  

    Why is it important for engineers to know about balanced and unbalanced forces?

    Why is it important for artists to know about balanced and unbalanced forces?  


    Background and Preparation

    Background / Preparation

    This learning activity should be done after a lesson on balanced and unbalanced forces.

    Students will need access to computers and internet to explore the vector park digital game. The teacher will need access to a computer and a digital projector to show students images from the digital tool, calder.org.

    The teacher should prepare materials for the experiment; rulers, string, tape, paper cups, and a hole punch.

    The teacher should also prepare various materials for artistic mobiles, including but not limited to; hangers, wire, string, tape, small toys (plastic zoo animals, cars, etc.), construction paper, foam shapes, streamers, balloons, and a variety of other materials.

    Digital Tools / Resources