Human Interconnectedness

Language Arts - Grade 7

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 Understanding

Despite our rapidly changing world, human interconnectedness remains vital for individual, community and global well-being.


Guiding Questions

How does humanity connect across borders? How do people express their connectivity to others? How can artwork reflect humanity?


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 & 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 

•  Human Structures Vancouver (Jonathan Borofsky, USA)

More Background Details: About Artist and Artwork (PDF)


Other Resources

Covered in the Reference Material for Inquiry Challenges list of this unit plan


Learning to Learn:

Art Inquiry

  Make a visit to Human Structures Vancouver  and encourage students to freely explore and interact with the art pieces individually and in groups OR

BIG IDEAS Anywhere educators: View the Human Structures Vancouver Guided Tour Video  MUTE ON and encourage students to explore at different angles 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 (PDF) to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs.

Additional On-Site Art Inquiry Activities:

Estimation: Guess the height of the sculpture. Relate it to other objects with similar height? Have students work in groups to calculate the height of the work in relationship to their own body or try measuring the shadow.

Choice of Colors: Ask the students to share with each other why the artist might have chosen different colors. They can also share their personal colour preferences.

Pixelated Figures: Ask the students what do the human forms remind them of? Ask them to share why the artist might have chosen this particular style of shape and form.


Shared Insights

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

•  View Guided Tour Video: View the  Human Structures Vancouver Guided Tour Video again with SOUND ON.

•  Significant Aspects of the Artist’s Life & Work : Using the following About Artist and Artwork (PDF), teacher creates stations detailing the Borofsky’s life and work.  In small groups, students rotate through these stations.  Topics might include: (1) education and training; (2) life’s work; (2) materials and processes; (3) beliefs and values. At each station, students answer questions and/or complete tasks. For example, at the station “life’s work” students might plot the artist’s various installations on a map of the world. Encourage students to draw a parallels to their own lives and reflect on the countries/cities/communities that they have lived in and the significance of these  location to them.

•  Artist Themes – Human Form: How does Borofsky’s work connect both reflect humanity and also connect humanity across borders? Show students images of Borofsky’s thematic work in locations throughout the world. Include: Molecule Man, Berlin; Hammering Man, Frankfurt and Seattle; Walking To The Sky, Seoul and Human Structures Beijing. Introduce the three guiding questions: (1) How does humanity connect across borders? (2) How do people express their connectivity to others? and (3) How can artwork reflect humanity? Have students brainstorm possible preliminary answers to these questions. Teacher records these and posts them in a visible area of the classroom. Reinforce that the purpose of this inquiry is to delve further into these questions and that answers and understandings are meant to evolve and change.

•  Artist Themes:  Connecting People Across Borders  & Indigenous Ways of Knowing: How might similarly themed artwork connect people across borders?  Interconnection is at the core of First Nations, Inuit and Métis ways of knowing. This UNESCO site describes Indigenous world-views. Prepare a Jigsaw activity that introduces students to Indigenous ways of knowing in relation to human interconnectivity. Students then think, pair, share what human interconnectedness means to them.  In groups of four they then discuss the following question: How might similarly themed artwork throughout the world connect people world wide?  Students extend this thinking by drafting a response (text, visual, media) to this question.  These drafts are peer edited to revise ideas, organization, voice, word-choice and sentence fluency.


Inquiry Challenges

•  Poetry: How can Borofsky’s Human Structures Vancouver be expressed through the written word?

Poetry Pairing, Part I:  Teachers chooses one poem from The Poetry Foundation that they feel echoes, extends or challenges the theme of human interconnectedness in Borofsky’s Human Structures Vancouver. The teacher presents the students with the following questions: Why do you think this poem was chosen? What do the installation and the poem have in common? Is it possible for language and words to express a work of art? Which do you like best: the poem, or the artwork? Why? What does this pairing say about life today? Do you think someone looking at it 25 years from now would “get” the same meaning? What about 100 years from now?

Poetry Pairing, Part II: Students choose a poem from The Poetry Foundation that they feel echoes, extends or challenges the themes in Borofsky’s Human Structures Vancouver. Students write a short paragraph explaining why they chose their poem. Students share this poem in groups of four. Students write their own poem on Borofsky’s Human Structures Vancouver which they will share the next day. They are told that they can set it to music or a beat.

Poetry Sharing, Part I:  Students share their poems within their groups. Groups then put the words of their poem into a tool like Wordle to see the “word cloud” that emerges. These Wordles are then posted on a bulletin board in the class to see what themes and key words emerged from the individual poems. Ask students: Does the word cloud make you see the themes, ideas or subjects of each more clearly?

Poetry Sharing, Part II: Students come to the front of the class in their groups to present their individual poems. Groups then present their collaborative Wordle. At the culmination of the presentations, the class looks at the entire group Wordles in an attempt to draw out common class interpretations of Borofsky’s work.

•  Literature: How are people from different cultures, races, genders, classes, sexual orientations and/or religions similar? Choose several books or excerpts from books that address these differences (see the resource list below). Discuss and chart similarities among these, with the aim of emphasizing human interconnectedness. For example, read descriptions or compare accounts Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and/or Hindu religious celebration. Have students note common characteristics rather than differences.

•  Graphic Stories

Students create a fictional graphic story that incorporates Borofsky’s art, the theme(s) of his art and/ or his life story.  To represent the story graphically students could use from a variety of tools:

  • use the online comic generator Pixton or Toondoo
  • draw the images themselves
  • find images on the internet and place these into Comic Life
  • use Adobe Fireworks to manipulate and combine images

Each of these mediums have their strengths and weaknesses; the following video provide a student’s perspective on the possibilities and limitations of each medium.


•  Humanity’s Connection to the Environment – Indigenous Ways of Knowing: How can we understand our collective human impact on the Earth? Interconnection is a central core of First Nations, Inuit and Métis worldviews and ways of knowing. Invite a knowledgeable member of the Aboriginal or broader community into the classroom to speak about his or her perspective of human interconnectivity in relationship to respect for the land. Possible sources include the Museum of Anthropology and/or the Musqueam First Nation Have students prepare a series of questions for the speaker based on the previous background lesson on Indigenous ways of knowing and interconnectivity. In a subsequent lesson, students are introduced to the concept of ecological footprints through the following Background Knowledge Ecological Footprint Worksheet (PDF). Next, they use the Ecological Footprint Calculator and compare their results with a partner. Teacher leads a discussion on ecological footprints in relationship to Indigenous Ways of Knowing. In groups of four, students write letters back to the guest speaker thanking him or her and articulating what they learned.


Student Creation & Taking Actions

•  Music, Lyrics and Social ActionHow do people express their connectivity to others across borders? How can music and lyrics reflect feelings of global interconnectedness? Look at the lyrics and play We are the World – (USA for Africa), 1986 and We are the World 25 for Haiti, 2010. Discuss the background to these two initiatives (See Live Aid). In groups, students brainstorm a plan for global action that reflects human connectivity. Groups fill out the Plan of Action Worksheet (PDF) and present these to the class.

•  Fine Art – How can artwork reflect humanity? Using a tactile medium of your choice, create an artistic expression of what human interconnectedness means to you and what it looks like. Express the essence of this philosophy, and feel it as you create your work. Possible mediums you could use include: drawing or painting; carving; photographs; beadwork; weaving and/or sculpture.



•  Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the Guiding Questions: How does humanity connect across borders? How do people express their connectivity to others? How can artwork reflect humanity?

•  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

•  Mathematics, Social Studies – Population: How is humanity connected through births and deaths? Students begin by counting the number of human figures on Human Structures Vancouver and are prompted to speculate why Borofsky might have chosen to depict so many human figures instead of one. Show students the world population chart and the Canadian chart (see resources below). Explain that Canada’s natural growth rate (deaths and births) is 0.3% while the overall growth rate (including immigration) is 0.9%. The world population growth rate is 1.19%. Give students the Calculating Population Growth Worksheet (PDF). Students will break into groups of 3 according to birthdays and calculate how long it will take the Canadian and the world population to double. Ask students: Is the current rate of population growth sustainable? What will our world look like in 20, 50 and 100 years?

•  Information Technology Education, Mathematics: Minecraft – How did Borofsky use measurement, proportion and ratio to create Human Structures Vancouver? Borofsky’s Human Structures Vancouver appears pixelated, very much like the game Minecraft. Students will practice measurement, ratio and proportion students by using Minecraft to create a scale model of Borofsky’s work. Because Minecraft has such open possibilities and potential, the teacher can choose how he or she wants to use it. Just as the student has the ability to be creative, the teacher has the same. MinecraftEdu ha customized modification of the game that helps facilitate organization and focus for teachers to use. Multiple samples of educational work using Minecraft can be found here.

•  Arts Education: Create a collaborative work to express connectivity that involves the students’ bodies such as tracing outlines of hands or other body parts. Create a class bulletin board and representing each student with a pixelated human figure with jagged lines, silhouettes, square angles like Borofsky, or exaggerated body parts. These projects could also be done as sculpture, including paper cuts (like paper dolls), plasticine, clay, or multi-media sculptures of humans using paper, cardboard, tin foil and other materials. The works could then be assembled into a class sculpture.


Reference Material for Inquiry Challenges


Andrews, J. 1985. Very Last First Time. Toronto: Groundwood Books. (Modern Inuit)

Gilman, P. 1992. Something from Nothing. Richmond Hill, ON: North Winds Press. (Jewish)

Gilmore, R. 1996. Roses for Gita. Toronto: Second Story Press. (East Indian family in Canada)

Kusugak, M. 1990. Baseball Bats for Christmas. Toronto: Annick Press. (Modern Inuit)

Littlechild, G. 1993. This Land Is My Land. Emeryville, Calif.: Children’s Book Press. (Modern aboriginal-biographical)

Loewen, I. 1993. My Kookum Called Today. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications. (Modern aboriginal)

McGugan, J. 1994. Josepha. Red Deer, AB: Red Deer College Press. (Immigrant to Canada 1900)

McLellan, J.1989. The Birth of Nanabosho. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications. (Traditional aboriginal legend)

Mollel, T. 1990. The Orphan Boy. Toronto: Stoddart. (African folktale)

Oberman, S. 1994. The Always Prayer Shawl. Honesdale, Pa.: Boyds Mills Press. (Jewish)

Oliviero, J., and B. Morrisseau. 1993. The Fish Skin. Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion Press. (Traditional aboriginal)

Sanderson, E. 1990. Two Pairs of Shoes. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications. (Modern aboriginal)

Skrypuch, M. 1996. Silver Threads. Toronto: Viking. (Ukrainian)

Trottier, M. 1995. The Tiny Kite of Eddie Wing. Toronto: Stoddart. (Chinese Canadian)

Waboose, J. B. 1997. Morning on the Lake. Toronto: Kids Can Press. (Modern Ojibwa)

Wallace, I. 1984. Chin Chang and the Dragon’s Dance. Toronto: Groundwood Books. (Chinese Canadian)

Whetung, J. 1991. The Vision Seeker. Toronto: Stoddart. (Ojibwa)

Smith, David and Shelagh Armstrong (2003) If the World Were a Village, A & C Black



Canadian in Context: Population Size and Growth

Population and Dwelling Count Highlight Tables, 2011 Census

U.S Census Bureau:

Population and Housing Unit Estimates


Written by: Stephanie Anderson Redmond, B.A.; B.Ed.; M.Ed.; Ph.D. Student, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC

©2014 Vancouver Biennale