Self within Community

Language Arts - Grade 10

This unit of inquiry is not a recipe book but rather a launchpad to inspire new BIG IDEAS. We encourage you to use and/or modify one, or several of the BIG IDEAS below. Adapt it to the grade/ ability level of your students.


Enduring Understandings

Positive personal and cultural identity calls for awareness, understanding, and appreciation of all the facets that contribute to a healthy sense of oneself.


Guiding Questions

How can the individual exist mindfully and in tune with the diversity of people within the community?


Mind Opening

Choose or devise practices to encourage students to be open to new experiences and ways of thinking in your classroom. For example, the MindUP in-school program.


Discovery and Inspiration:

Launch the Project

Introduce the Theme: Present the Enduring Understanding and Guiding Questions using vocabulary that is appropriate for your grade level.

About Vancouver Biennale: Play a short video.

Create Project Space: Brainstorm ideas to make the project theme visual and visible using bulletin boards, and/or a project corner to share relevant materials and inquiry questions and processes.

Reference Resources:

• Introduction to Sculpture and Public Art Unit Plan for information on how art has evolved over time and the unique experience sculptures and/or public art brings.

Vancouver Biennale 2014-2016 Exhibition Theme: Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver

Vancouver Biennale Legacy: A-Maze-ing Laughter (Yue Minjun, China)

About Artist and Artwork (PDF)


Other Resources

Tennyson’s In Memoriam (excerpt from section XLV)

Michel Serres’ Malfeasance quote from the book: “My real name, the only personal and authentic one, I don’t know; nor would I remember it were I to know it.”

Let’s Dance, Starling video

Synchronized fish swimming video

Synchro Japan Team 2000 in Sydney video


Learning to Learn:

Art Inquiry

Make a visit to A-Maze-ing Laughter and encourage students to freely explore and interact with the art pieces individually and in groups. This Art Inquiry process enables the students to practice observing, describing, interpreting, and sharing visual information and personal experiences. Use the Art Inquiry Worksheet to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs.

Have students explore the sculpture(s) and look for a connection with the guiding question of how can the individual exist mindfully and in tune with the diversity of people within the community?


Shared Insights

• Sharing Art Inquiry Experience: Ask students to share the Art Inquiry Worksheet responses in class.

Artist Themes – Research: In small groups students rotate between information stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Station topics include: (1) education and training; (2) lifetime of artwork; (2) materials and processes; (3) beliefs and values. At each station, students answer questions and complete a task. For example, at the station “life’s work” students might plot the artist’s various installations on a map of the world.

Artist Themes – Identity: Referring to how the artist, Yue Minjun depicts his own iconic laughing image, with gaping grins and closed eyes in a state of hysterical laughter in A-Maze-ing Laughter. Discuss how people from all cultural background identify with this very popular artwork with the face of a Chinese artist.


Inquiry Challenges

Reflection on Identity: Have students look at the cultural identity (religion, dress, customs, food, expectations, language) of their classroom and discuss its diversity and similarity.

Explore Self as Image: Have students look at popular culture images from different countries within their peer groups and explore how they relate self to the popular images.

Reflect Self within a Group: Have students select from the following activities to promote group cohesion and group awareness to heighten sensitivity to one another. Keep a journal on the reflection of each activity and the discussion during debrief.

Name Wave: One student will start by saying his/her name with a gesture. This is repeated around the full circle. Then a new round gets started with the person to the left with his/her own name and a new gesture.

Debrief: How did this activity make you feel? Did you prefer to repeat other people’s names or to hear your name repeated? How did it make you feel to hear other people repeating your name and gesture?

May I Come Over? Standing in a circle, one person starts by making eye contact with another person, putting their hand out and asking “May I come over?” If the person responds with “Yes” then the first person takes the other person’s place. At the same time the person giving up his/her spot needs to ask another person if he/she can come over.

Debrief: Why do you think we did this activity? What happened (or what would happen) if someone said “No”? Is it difficult to wait for your turn? Is everyone keen to keep the rhythm going?

Circle Dash: (A Silent Game) Students stand (or sit on chairs) in a circle. When they make eye contact with another student, they must switch places. Once students get the hang of it, add a person in the middle who tries to steal a spot while they are switching spaces.

Debrief: Is this a competitive game? How does it feel to be in the middle? How do you feel about the person in the middle? How does it feel when you make eye contact? When do you normally make/avoid eye contact with people? Why do you think the etymological origin of the word pupil is in the words, ‘little doll’?

Cover the Space Variations: (A Silent Game) Begins with students walking around the space trying to spread out and be aware of one another and cover the entire space evenly. As students are walking around choose one student as their defender and one as their nemesis (in silence). The goal is to keep their defender between them and their nemesis. Allow three to five minutes for the students to work through this game. Students are then instructed to silently pick two other people in class, without telling them who they are. Then, students are asked to try to make an equilateral triangle between themselves and the two people that they picked.

Debrief: How did this activity make you feel? Was it easy to stay quiet for the whole game? If it was difficult, why was it hard to remain quiet? Did you work with the other people to complete your task or was it more competitive? If you worked with others, how did you communicate with people without speaking? Why do you think we played this game?

Explore the nature of Multiculturalism and Melting Pot: Divide the class into groups and have students discuss the nature of Multiculturalism and Melting Pot theory as it manifests in their classroom. Culminate with class presentations – vignette, skits, oration – on their discoveries.

Novel/poetry study: Several grade appropriate novels/poems/short stories (To Kill a Mocking Bird, Lord of the Flies, Instructions for a Bad Day) expand on the theme of individual vs. society and acceptance of differences. Use the shared inquiries and visits to the Biennale installations suggested in Discovery and Inspiration to broaden and bring to life the selected readings.

Advertising: Resources such as Adbusters will help students identify hidden meanings in advertisements. Have the students select their own Top Five misleading ads and reshape them to reflect the reality of the classroom/school/community.


Student Creations and Taking Action

Referencing the notes, select one or more responses from their journal that are particularly meaningful to develop into a poem or a piece of creative prose to share with the class.

Develop a creative response (in prose or poetry) to a question like “Who am I” or “What is ‘Self.’” Include a visual representation of their response in abstract form.

Encourage students to contribute to the community through which their self is recognized and constituted by collectively deciding on an issue or initiative in their area with which they can involve themselves. They can pick something that has a social justice value or something that builds a community.



• Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the Enduring Understanding and relevant Guiding Questions.

• How did the unit of study open inquiry, create cross–curricular learning opportunities and/or apply learning to real life situations? Has this unit of inquiry changed your opinions, values and world view? In what ways, if any, has it helped you grow as a learner?


Ideas for Cross-Curricular Access

•   Arts Education (Visual Arts): Creation of a group/class art project that is made up of individual creations. What parameters and processes would need to be developed and in place?

•   Mathematics – Permutation: Students of the class can be used to physically work through permutations within groups/class. Reflect and discuss how the number of permutations is a function of members in a group. Relate this discussion to individual place within a group and other applications of permutation within groups or communities.

•   Science – Sustainability of Ecosystems: Have students investigate and discuss specific species of birds or fish and their movement in synchronicity with their community. Discuss how ants are believed to be able to communicate with one another ‘telepathically’ in their colony. How does group mindfulness aid in group harmony and effectiveness.

•   Socials – Identity, Society, and Culture of Canadians. Have students consider instances when self is connected with the group or community such as the Metis rebellions; nationalism/patriotism – soldiers in service of a country or ideal; the debate on self-government. How could these events in Canadian history have been re-thought using our understandings of self within a group and individual mindfulness of diversity.


Written by: Aron Rosenberg, 2013 UBC Secondary School Teacher Candidate

Edited by: Jennifer Massoud, Secondary School Teacher

©2013 Vancouver Biennale