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All About Penguins through Geometry & Art

Observation is an important skill for artists and scientists alike. Conduct an investigation that includes the shapes of this flightless bird, the penguin. Use icy, sparkling colors to create an arctic realm that will delight students of all ages!

  • Grade 1
    Grade 2
    Grade 3
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. No matter how we choose to introduce a unit of study about penguins, it always a favorite among primary students. Why not combine the observation skills of a scientist, artist and the geometry found in nature to create images that show student knowledge, understanding and higher levels of thinking such as analysis and synthesis?
    2. On a classroom whiteboard, draw a T-Chart and ask for student participation. Label one side, “Birds that Fly” and the other side, “Flightless Birds”. Ask students to brainstorm the facts that they currently know about birds in each category. Prompt students to share what they can about environments, colors, prey, nesting places, family groups, etc. Compare and contrast the information on the whiteboard to begin a discussion about penguins.
    3. Important information that students should be able to identify before going further: penguins are birds that live in different regions of the earth, but all penguins live naturally in the Southern Hemisphere; penguins are not able to fly, but they spend up to 75% of their time underwater in the oceans; penguins waddle, slide on the snow and ice, hop and of course, swim; penguins are shaped for moving quickly through the water so they can catch their prey; penguins can swim fast; the average speed is 15 miles per hour; penguins dine on fish; and Emperor penguins live in Antarctica and are the only penguins that stay there through the cold winter.
    4. Discuss with students the shapes they see when they look at the pictures of penguins. Are they square? Rectangular? Round like a circle? Are penguins shaped more like an egg or an oval? Ask students to brainstorm ideas about the shape of penguins and why that is so important.
    5. Provide white drawing paper to each student; 9” x 12” paper (22 cm x 30 cm) works well. Before children put pencil to paper have them stand by their tables. Practice drawing large “imaginary” ovals in the air. Use the big muscles of the arm to draw in the air. Switch to using just the hand and wrist to draw the oval in the air. Ask student to take note of how their ovals have changed the oval becomes significantly smaller when using hand and wrist. Explain to students they will draw on their paper using the hand and wrist to make their oval shape. By practicing first in the air, students may have greater success drawing a large oval; suggest the size of soft ball, but oval instead of round. Demonstrate on the whiteboard for students before they begin.
    6. Have students check with each other to see if their oval is larger than their hand. For success of the drawing the student should not be able to cover the oval with their hand.
    7. Details, details: Where are the penguin’s eyes and beak? What shapes are the shapes? How large? How about the flippers, where are they on the penguin’s body? Do the flippers stick out away from the main shape of the body, do they lie down flat, or could they be drawn either way? Observe the feet of the penguin next, talk about how much of the foot can be seen? How long are the penguin’s legs? Discussing each part and shape of the anatomy helps increase the observation skills of the child.
    8. Ground the drawing. Help the younger artists learn about overlap by showing them how to draw a line that seems to pass behind their subject on the paper. Explain that this is the horizon, or perhaps the edge of the ice where the penguin is standing. The line can be drawn horizontally close to the mid-section of the image. When the line has been drawn using pencil, show students how to color over the pencil line with a white crayon using pressure.
    9. Students closely observe the patterns of black and white and perhaps yellow and orange if using an Emperor penguin as the model. When these details are examined and drawn in place it is time to have students begin to use Crayola® Crayons and Crayola Glitter Crayons to color. Suggest using pressure to color especially in the white areas. When glitter paint wash is applied, the white crayon will resist the paint. No need to color the back ground, the wash will fill that area.
    10. Use the cool colors of Crayola Washable Glitter Paints. Water the paint down to create a thin wash. Using large paint brushes, instruct students how to paint a wash of color over their crayon drawings. Exhibit the paintings mounted on black, blue or purple construction paper cut to 11” x 14” (27 cm x 35 cm).
  • Standards

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    MATH: Reason with shapes and their attributes.

    SCI: There are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water.

    SCI: Designs can be conveyed through sketches, drawings, or physical models. These representations are useful in communicating ideas for a problem’s solutions to other people.

    SS: Construct and use mental maps of locales, regions, and the world that demonstrate understanding of relative location, direction, size, and shape.

    VA: Use observation and investigation in preparation for making a work of art.

    VA: Experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.

    VA: Discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork.

  • Adaptations

    Teaching young students to draw using basic shapes is often helpful to encourage them to make connections to the 3-D shapes in the real world. Teach this lesson in the same sequence but instead of penguins change the subject to owls, song birds, birds of prey.

    Provide students with images of insects. Have them discuss what basic shapes they see as they observe the pictures. Find out if they know their shapes by helping them to identify circle, oval, square, rectangle, triangle, rhombus (sometimes described as “diamond”). Ask students to draw each shape and label them accordingly.

    Cut out multiple basic shapes from scrap paper. Have students use the shapes to create imaginary creatures by collaging them to heavy cardstock. They can draw and color backgrounds and details. Have them create a name for the animal or insect. Ask them to explain; habitat, attributes, food source.

    There are many resources available for this unit of study. Here are a few annotated websites that may be helpful for furthering student research about the subject of penguins. Resources: Kidzone has many ideas for teaching about penguins; this site has information about the types of penguins around the world.

    National Geo has outstanding images for students to observe and investigate:

    Take your students on an electronic field trip to Antarctica to see the penguins:


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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