Teaching Ideas

Early Learning

For Ages 3-5

Art Discussion

  • Before looking at this painting, ask the children to define “power.” If they were going to create a picture of power, what would they paint? Why?
  • Now turn attention to the painting and have the children share what they notice.
  • Which part do you think is the machine? Point out the people and talk about how large the machine is compared to the people.
  • Which do you think is most important in this painting—the machine or the people?
  • In 1940, Fortune Magazine published a series of six paintings commissioned of the artist Charles Sheeler. The paintings used the theme of power to showcase America’s technological advances. The paintings were meant to declare America’s industrial strength in the post-World War II world.
  • Sheeler chose six subjects to fulfill this theme:
    a water wheel (Primitive Power)
    a steam turbine (Steam Turbine)
    the railroad (Rolling Power)
    a hydroelectric turbine (Suspended Power)
    an airplane (Yankee Clipper)
    a dam (C_onversation: Sky and Earth_)
    Show children images of each of these paintings or the machines themselves. Which one do you think is the best choice for the idea of power?
  • Challenge the children to search the room for examples of power.
  • The focus of this painting is a hydroelectric turbine at a dam in Guntersville, Alabama. Hydroelectricity is the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water.
  • In this painting, a turbine is about to be lowered into a hole, where an electric generator will be connected to the shaft that sticks up in the middle. Water will pour into the hole from below. The speeding stream of water will turn the propeller blades and generate electricity.
  • Show the first two minutes of this YouTube video to help illustrate the process.
  • Have four children help demonstrate how a turbine works.
    One child will represent the turbine. She will stand still in front of the group.
    One will represent water flowing into (and out of) the turbine. She will stand to the left of the turbine, and will “flow” towards the turbine. As the water comes into contact with the turbine, the turbine should start spinning.
    Another child represents electricity. The electricity will flow out of the turbine (on the right) towards an electric device.
    One child will be the electronic device powered by the turbine. The device will begin “playing” once it comes into contact with electricity.
    You can also have several children represent water—the turbine will turn faster if there is more water moving into it.

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • In 1940, Fortune Magazine published a series of six paintings commissioned of the artist Charles Sheeler. The paintings used the theme of power to showcase America’s technological advances. How does this painting exemplify power?
  • The focus of this painting is a hydroelectric turbine at a dam in Guntersville, Alabama. Hydroelectricity is the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. How would this painting be different if it included water in the imagery? Would it change the focus of the work? Why or why not?
  • Imagine that you are being commissioned to do a painting about power in the 21st century. What would be the subject of your painting?
  • Imagine that this painting was used to illustrate a newspaper article. What do you think the headline was? What specific elements connect this work of art to the article?
  • Search for any humans in this painting. How many do you see? What role do humans play in this painting?
  • What kind of commentary might Sheeler be making about the relationship between humans and machines?
  • How does Sheeler's use of color "humanize" the machine?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • Ask students to write a cinquain inspired by this work of art. A cinquain is a five-line poem with the following structure:
    Line 1: one noun (person, place, or thing)
    Line 2: two adjectives (describing words)
    Line 3: three verbs (action of -ing words)
    Line 4: four-word phrase describing the word from line 1
    Line 5: one word that renames the word from line 1
  • Have four students help demonstrate how a turbine works.
    One student will represent the turbine. She or he will stand still in front of the group.
    One will represent water flowing into (and out of) the turbine. She or he will stand to the left of the turbine, and will “flow” towards the turbine. As the water comes into contact with the turbine, the turbine should start spinning.
    Another student represents electricity. The electricity will flow out of the turbine (on the right) towards an electric device.
    One student will be the electronic device powered by the turbine. The device will begin “playing” once it comes into contact with electricity.
    You can also have several students represent water—the turbine will turn faster if there is more water moving into it.