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Running in Rectangles

Introduce, or refresh, the concepts of 3-dimensional shapes and volume with your students. Investigate Joel Shapiro’s use of 3-D shapes with an analysis of his “Untitled” sculpture installed at the American Embassy in Guangzhou, China.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. During an investigation into the concept of 3-dimensional shapes, introduce students to the sculptures of American-born artist, Joel Shapiro. Encourage students to research Shapiro’s unique style of sculpting. Once their research is complete pose the question, “What connection does Shapiro’s sculpture, Untitled, installed at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou, China have to our study of 3-D shapes such as rectangular prisms and cubes?”
    2. Organize students into small groups. After reviewing how to calculate volume, challenge students to create a Shapiro-like sculpture using recycled cardboard boxes, duct tape, Crayola® No Drip School Glue, and brass fasteners. Provide class time for student discussion into the engineering of creating a sculpture that is figurative, yet playful, as Shapiro describes his Guangzhou work.
    3. Once students are set on a collaborative piece using the recycled materials provided, challenge them to calculate the volume of each rectangular prism, cube, etc. to be used in creating their sculpture. Measurements and calculations should be well documented and prepared for presentation with their final artwork.
    4. Provide Crayola Portfolio Series Acrylic Paint and paint brushes for applying the color to student sculptures. Recycled newspaper will also be helpful in covering work areas. Allow sufficient time for paint to dry. Ask students to discuss the significance of the shade of blue used in Shapiro’s sculpture to Chinese culture.
    5. When all sculptures are complete, student groups present their work to peers. Included in the presentations should be a discussion of how the team calculated the volume for each component of their final products. As a reminder, all calculations should be prepared in such as way as to be posted, or labeled, appropriately on each component.
    6. Display sculptures in a prominent area of the classroom or school. Invite students to share with their parents the inspiration for their artwork and cultural significance of Shapiro’s Guangzhou sculpture.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend literary nonfiction at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    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.

    LA: Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.

    SCI: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution.

    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: Give examples of and explain group and institutional influences such as religious beliefs, laws, and peer pressure, on people, events, and elements of culture.

    SS: Explore ways that language, art, music, belief systems, and other cultural elements may facilitate global understanding or lead to misunderstanding.

    VA: Students combine ideas to generate an innovative idea for art-making.

    VA: Identify and analyze cultural associations suggested by visual imagery.

    VA: Identify how art is used to inform or change an individual’s or society’s beliefs, values, or behaviors.

  • Adaptations

    Invite students to investigate other American artists’ works that have been designed specifically for display in American embassies abroad. Compare and contrast these artworks. How does each reflect an appreciation for the culture in which the artwork is housed?

    Challenge students to use their knowledge of scale to determine the size of the group sculptures if re-created for display at a local mall, shopping center, municipal building, library, etc.

    Research the Peace Corps. What is the history of this organization? How might Shapiro’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer while in India have influenced both this adult and professional lives?

    Students research color significance in their home culture. Invite the class to do this for present-day, 100 years in the past, and 200 years in the past. Has the importance of certain colors in their culture changed over time?


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