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Sculpting Guangzhou Giants

Introduce, or refresh, the concept of surface area to your students with an investigation into the Joel Shapiro “Untitled” sculpture in Guangzhou, China.

  • Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. During an investigation into the concept of surface area, introduce students to the sculptures of American-born artist Joel Shapiro. Encourage students to research Shapiro’s life and his unique style of sculpting. Once their research is complete, pose the question, “What connection does Shapiro’s sculpture installed at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou, China have with the concept of surface area?” Allow time for discussion.
    2. Organize students into small groups. After reviewing how to calculate surface area, 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 surface area of 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 will prepare to present their work to peers. Included in the presentations should be a discussion of how the team calculated the surface area of their final product. As a reminder, all calculations should be prepared in such a way as to be posted with the sculpture display.
    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: Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

    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 will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students will reflect on, share insights about, and refine works of art and design.

    VA: Students experience, analyze and interpret art and other aspects of the visual world.

  • 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 calculate the volume of each group’s sculpture. Given the measurement of an average jelly bean, how may beans would fit into each sculpture?

    Investigate other works of Joel Shapiro.

    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?


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