MAURETANIA, 1918, Bain News Service, publisher (Library of Congress)

Learning about the past

The way I learned history was to memorize dates, events, and the main people involved.  As an adult, I can’t say that I remembered more than just the basics and I didn’t really understand how Art, History, Science, Literature, and yes, even Math, affected each other.  

A classical way

My children went to a hybrid school, certain days were at school and the rest of the days of the week we homeschooled. (I eventually, fully homeschooled one child and partially homeschooled my youngest.)  With a classical curriculum, my children saw history come alive through stories, projects, skits, art, and music from each time period. While teaching my own children, I finally started to understand the effects of history on all the other subjects and history is still one of my daughter’s favorite subjects. 

Using Art to Gain a Deeper Understanding

I started teaching elementary art part-time about 7 years ago at a small classical school.  With a deeper understanding of how all the subjects interrelate to one another, I started trying to compliment what they were learning from their homeroom teacher or parent, while giving more context to my students.

My goal was 3-fold:  

  • to give young students skills that they could use in the future to help them with their creativity
  • to show artists’ work from different time periods
  • to teach students how art relates to all their other subjects in school

I will start posting some of the projects that we have done over the years.  Just a reminder:  no man or woman is perfect, so even though I choose art from different artists, I don’t condone every action they have made in their life, just that their artwork was a reflection of their moment in time.

Information and projects

World War 1 Dazzle Ships


When we studied World War 1, I stumbled across an artist who worked to help the British and Americans in the war by using patterns painted on ships.  The Germans were using submarines with periscopes to torpedo ships headed for England and Europe in hopes of cutting off England’s supplies. 

Norman Wilkinson came up with an idea, not to hide the ships, but to make it more difficult for the German torpedo gunners to estimate the size, direction, and speed of the ships.  Wilkinson tested the colors and patterns on miniature ships to see which designs were the most confusing.  By the end of the war, more than 2,000 British and American ships were painted with various designs.

Were they successful? Find out with some resources below!

MAURETANIA, 1918, Bain News Service, publisher (Library of Congress)


For a new project, I start with an introduction of some sort, a book, a 3-7 minute video, or a website that shows artwork or photographs from the event. There is usually a great discussion to go along with, or afterwards I also try to remind students what kind of resources the people of the time had, for example, radar was not available yet. Radar totally changes this strategy.


Here are some of the final projects that we did that would be appropriate for elementary and early middle school students.

All of the lesson plans include: 

  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Materials list 
  • Pictures of examples
  • Vocabulary
  • Printouts (if needed)

1.  Create a Pattern on a Dazzle Ship

In this project, students were given the outline of the ship and they created their own designs and shaded them with colored pencils in various colors.

Final Project

Here is the link to the lesson plan with printables. 

Lesson Plan

2.  Create a Monochromatic Pattern

In this project, we studied the different designs of the ships and painted a monochromatic painted design using one color with various shades.

Final Project

Here is the link to the lesson plan with printables.

Lesson Plan

3.  Creating an Optical Illusion

After looking at a few optical illusions, we created our own optical illusion of the torpedo going one way and the ship going in the opposite direction.

Final Project

Here is the link to the lesson plan with printables.

Lesson Plan

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Posted by:Karen Riley

4 replies on “World War 1 Dazzle Ships

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