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Kinetic Art

Author(s): Gregory L. Vogt, EdD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, Michael Vu, MS, and Nancy P. Moreno, PhD.
Kinetic Art

“Tyne Anew” by Mark di Suvero combines artistic design with engineering skills.
Photo by Ian Britton. Tyne Anew © Mark di Suvero. Used with permission.

  • Grades:
  • 6-8
  • Length: Variable

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Students create and study unique sculptures that move in interesting ways when acted upon by the force of the wind.

This activity is from the Think Like an Engineer Teacher's Guide. Originally intended for use as an after-school program, the lessons in the unit may be used together to form the basis of a STEM teaching and learning experience for upper elementary and/or middle school students.

Teacher Background

What It's About

On blustery days, we commonly hear people use the phrase, “Look at the wind.” Have you ever wondered what it actually means? When air is moving, we feel wind, but of course, we don’t actually “see” it. Instead, we observe the movement it causes in the objects around us. Flags wave, leaves rustle, and if the wind is very strong, rain may even fall sideways. In this investigation, students will create and study unique sculptures that move in interesting ways when acted upon by the force of the wind.

Most people think of kinetic art as three-dimensional sculptures that move, though there are other types of kinetic art. In this activity, students explore sculptures powered by wind.

Objectives and Standards

Students must answer the following question.

How does a kinetic sculpture work?

Materials and Setup

Teacher Materials

  • Computer with projector and Internet access

  • Online videos of kinetic artists and sculptures (select 1 or more from 7 videos, see "Procedure," step 3)

Materials per Class

  • Crepe or tissue paper strips

  • Electric fan

  • Metal washers

  • Nails, straight pins, or other devices to serve as pivot points

  • Recycled materials (e.g., cardboard, cans, cups, etc.)

  • Skewers

  • String

  • Tape

Materials per Student Group

  • 10-cm x 10-cm sheet of paper (up to 15-cm x 15-cm square)

  • Colored markers, crayons or decorative stickers

  • Pair of scissors

  • Pencil with full eraser

  • Ruler

  • Straight pin

  • Copy of “Make a Kinetic Pinwheel” page


  1. Gather a variety of recycled materials prior to class (see "Materials per Class," above)

  2. Select videos for viewing in class (see "Procedure").

  3. To download and view YouTube videos, install the KeepVid Video Downloader (free web application), or play the video immediately at

  • On YouTube, highlight the url of the page on which the desired video is loaded.
  • Open and paste the url in the box at the top.
  • Click either “Download” or “Play Now.”
  • If you are downloading the file, KeepVid will ask you to choose the format in which you want to save the video, and where to save it on your computer.

Procedure and Extensions

Time: 1–2 Sessions

What to Do

  1. Begin the activity by asking students, Do you know what a kinetic sculpture is? (It's a special kind of sculpture that moves.)

  2. To increase students’ comfort with, and understanding of kinetic sculptures, have them start by making a mini-sculpture (a pinwheel), using the “Make a Kinetic Pinwheel” page as a guide. Instruct students to hold their pinwheels in front of the fan, or take them outside to observe their movement in the wind.

  3. Project one or more of the videos below. See "Materials and Setup" to install the KeepVid Video Downloader (free web application), or play the video immediately at

    Anthony Howe’s Otherworldly Kinetic Sculptures (The Creators Project)

    Kinetic Sculptor Puts Cyber Dreams in Motion (The Creators Project; subtitled)

    Reuben Margolin (MAKE: television)

    Reuben Heyday Margolin: Waves

    Theo Jansen: Strandbeest Evolution

    Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests (BBC One)

    Time-Lapse: Mark di Suvero Installation

  4. Show students the materials available for them to design and build their own kinetic sculptures. Encourage teams to collaborate on the design. Recommend that they draw their planned sculptures on a sheet of paper, label the parts, indicate sizes of parts, etc.

  5. Have teams gather materials and create their kinetics sculptures.

  6. Let teams present their sculptures to the class and explain what they want their sculptures to do when the wind is blowing. After each presentation, ask the rest of the class, Do you think it will do what the team says it is designed to do? Can you suggest improvements?

  7. Use the fan to test each team’s sculpture. Begin each test with the sculpture located a specified distance from the fan. Gradually, move the sculptures incrementally closer to the fan. Ask, Do the parts move as expected? Is the sculpture stable? If not, does it need a wider or heavier base? Is it top-heavy?

  8. Discuss the videos with the class. Make sure students understand that movement is imperative for their sculptures, but that aesthetics also should be considered. Ask, Why is this important?

  9. Have students brainstorm ways to improve their original designs. Students may suggest adding or removing weight, changing shapes, using other types of materials, etc.

  10. You may want student teams to design new or improved kinetic pinwheels, perhaps with even more moving parts. Again, students should draw diagrams and label the parts. They also should consider how each new design element might improve the sculpture’s motion.

  11. Have teams select materials from those offered, build and test their new sculptures, and adjust as necessary.

  12. Finally, have each team explain how it planned, built and tested its sculpture, and provide a brief summary of outcomes.

Related Content

  • Think Like an Engineer

    Think Like an Engineer Teacher Guide

    Students follow an engineer's approach as as they identify problems, brainstorm solutions, design, plan, build, test, refine and produce a product or solution. (8 activities)

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Science Foundation

Grant Number: DRL-1028771