Calder-Inspired Mobile Project

This blog post comes from Kristen Kullberg,  A.K.A. “Ms. K,” the arts integration coach and a middle school language arts teacher at Sacred Heart School in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC.
Ms. K writes about the local artist Kevin Reese serving for a week as an artist-in-residence at the school. In her detailed account, she shows the preparation and deep learning of the students and teachers in the lead-up to and during the week. Sacred Heart has been a vital part of DC-Project Zero and WISSIT and has embraced Project Zero ideas across grades, from PreK3 through grade 8. Kristen serves on the faculty of the Project Zero Classroom summer institute at Harvard and is an Education Coordinator for WISSIT.


As a part of our ongoing effort to empower our youngest learners and acknowledge them as leaders in our community, Kevin Reese will be spending a week in February guiding us through a collaborative art project inspired by the work of Alexander Calder.  The week will begin with the design process and end with the installation of a few smaller mobiles. Early childhood will be our design leaders using colors, shapes and symbols that they believe capture what is most special/important about our school community. Kevin will work with elementary and middle school classes to execute the design (cutting, sanding, painting, etc.).  Once the pieces are finished, Kevin will lead us in putting the mobile together, focusing on construction elements such as balance and movement.  Finally, Kevin will install it in the front hallway of the school.  

Then, we’ll party!

Plan for the Residency:

    • Thursday, Feb 9: Pre-Residency Visit Kevin comes to Sacred Heart to meet with our design team (PreK3, PreK4, and Kinder).
    • Friday, Feb 10: A Perfect Balance Performance Kevin performs a one-man play inspired by Calder’s life. The play was written and directed by Mary Hall Surface, a renowned local playwright.
    • February 13-17th: Calder Residency! Kevin spends the week at SHS facilitating the design and construction of our collaborative art installation! 

Some Background Reading:

Meet Kevin Reese:
Students create art that lasts with sculptor Kevin Reese The Washington Post
In Lofty Artwork, Students See Ambitions Rise The Washington Post
Kevin Reese Strikes a Perfect Balance TimesNews

Preparing Our Learners:

Invite your students to get to know Calder a little bit before Kevin comes. Getting our learners to start thinking about mobiles, the power of community art, Calder’s life, and maybe even design elements (such as color, shape, line, balance and movement) will make our collaborative art experience even more powerful. Don’t worry about promoting expertise – Kevin will teach us all we need to know during his residency! Right now, it’s all about starting the conversation. 🙂

Books to Explore (Just ask Ms. K and she’ll get them to you!):

Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone

Thanks to the National Gallery, every classroom has received a copy of this dynamic book! Read together as a class to begin building knowledge of Calder’s life and adventures. Share this video reading with parents and invite families to explore together! Check out this time-lapse video of a DIY Calder mobile to get your kids thinking about the design and construction process.

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell  

If your kids are interested in learning more about the power of community art projects, this is the book for you. Check out the official website for classroom activities that will push your students’ thinking deeper. Share this creative performance of the book reading with your families and invite all to reflect on the power of collaboration!

Alexander Calder and His Magical Mobiles by Jean Lipman

This book has great photographs that invite us into Calder’s artistic process.  Looking for images for a See-Think-Wonder? This is a great option for you! Be on the lookout for community Chalk Talks soon to appear in our hallways featuring Calder’s art found on the pages of this book. Explore this time-lapse video of the iconic Calder mobile in NGA’s East Building to get your kids thinking about movement, balance, scale and design.

Calder Game by Blue Balliet

This chapter book invites you to follow a young boy in England on his fun-filled search for a mysteriously missing Calder sculpture.  Check out the various extension activities including an interview with the author. Have readers ready for something new? Grab this book and get them going!

Thinking Already Happening in Our Classrooms:

Some of our classrooms have already begun their exploration of Calder and his mobiles. Click on the class names below to see the documentation of student thinking already in progress.  Please share what you’re doing with your students so the story of your learning can be added below. Have fun with this!  

PREK3 looked closely at one of Calder’s mobiles and recorded what they saw, thought, and wondered about. Then, they decided to try it out on their own!

PREK4 came up with shapes and colors that symbolize what is most special about DC.  They worked in small design teams to create drafts before collaborating as a class to put it all together as one cohesive design! 

KINDERGARTEN  used the Thinking Routine See-Think-Wonder to look closely at the Calder mobile showcased at the National Gallery of Art. Then, they visited it in person!

ART CLASS with Ms. Lafferty has been a space where 7th grade students get to experiment with balancing points as they design and assemble their own mobiles!

7th GRADE is considering Calder’s inspiration for his mobile hanging in NGA. First, we looked at a photograph of the mobile and asked ourselves, “What’s going on here?”  Then, we read about Calder’s life in Sandy’s Circus before refining our initial thinking.Could this mobile represent what he saw one fateful morning on the boat? Read and see…!

Community Chalk Talks will be coming to our hallways this week. Don’t be shy – join the conversation!

Reflecting on Our Artful Week!

As our week with Mr. Reese draws to a close, many of us have a lot of love to share! Mr. Reese brought our school community together to accomplish a collective goal and, as a result, we’ve filled our main hallways and office with 16 mobiles! Although this was a community project, each class and each student had a unique experience. Below are some photos and a video highlighting some of our most special moments from the week. Please feel free to send more documentation along to Ms. K and it will be added to our collection. 🙂

Fourth and fifth grade students worked hard to sketch, sand, and balance their shapes! Check out highlights from our design process: video!