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Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs

Immerse yourself in the Pennsylvania folk art tradition of hex signs. These colorful creations incorporate history, math and art.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. In the 1700’s German settlers came to Pennsylvania bringing their unique culture, art and language to the new world. Over time these immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. The settlers decorated their barns with colorful hex signs. These circular designs features symbols like birds, hearts, tulips and six-pointed stars. It is believed the term "hex" came from the German word "sechs" for six. The bright, colorful designs were not only decorative, but also thought to bring good luck and happiness.
    2. Invite students to examine samples of hex signs. Like a fingerprint, each hex sign is unique. Symbols and colors are chosen based on personal meaning. One thing most hex signs have in common is the use of symmetry and geometry. Challenge students to identify these elements in the sample hex signs. Discuss how the concept of symmetry is illustrated in hex signs. How are geometric shapes used to create the unique designs?
    3. Students will create original hex signs to illustrate their learning. Begin by cutting a 12-inch circle out of construction paper to create a background for the hex sign. Use colored pencils to sketch a design. Encourage students to incorporate the information discussed in class into their artwork.
    4. Students use markers to color in the design. You can create a variety of different effects with markers. Make thick lines by drawing with the side of the marker and thin lines by drawing with the tip. Stippling—using the tip to make a pattern of dots— can be used to fill in large areas of your design. Cross hatching—filling in an area with closely-spaced parallel lines with hatch lines drawn across each other— is another creative way to fill in spaces on the drawings.
    5. Students display their completed original hex signs in a prominent place in the classroom for easy viewing.
  • Standards

    LA: Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    MATH: Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.

    MATH: Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

    VA: Describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts.

    VA: Analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.

  • Adaptations

    Students research the symbolism of various images and colors used in hex signs.

    Hex signs were created to have personal family meaning. Students review samples of traditional hex signs. Brainstorm why the families chose the elements in each hex sign.

    Take a virtual field trip through Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Hex signs are still proudly displayed around the area. View and discuss the hex signs reviewed.


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