Imagining Identity: A Perennial Garden for Perennial Education

Science - Grade 3

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

Community pride is fostered through a sense of ownership, appreciation, and connection to place.


Guiding Questions:

How does understanding our personal identity help us to appreciate our community? What role does diversity play, if any?

In what ways, if any, is community reflected in our surroundings?

Who and what has impacted the community and its landscape over time? What has had lasting impact and why?

How might participating in the Biennale project help to develop our school’s feeling of identity, community and pride?


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 

• About the Artist and Artwork (PDF)


Other Resources

• Local green spaces including, parks, gardens, wild areas, community gardens

• Children led projects (e.g., Reggio Emilia documented examples such as “Fragrant Garden” and “The Park”)

Land Art for Kids examples

Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy

• Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden

• UBC Nitobe Memorial Garden

• Skwáchays Lodge, Vancouver

• Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage

• Andy Goldsworthy, Time

• Habitat Acquisition Trust – Top 10 Native Plants –


Learning to Learn:

Art Inquiry

  Make a visit to Echoes 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 (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 Activity:

Bilingual Relevancy: Discuss the bilingual inscriptions and which, if any, create internal echoes? Which will be remembered after the field trip is over and why? Create a sharing space for children to vocalize their favourite inscription in a bilingual soundscape. Invite students to share their experience as French Immersion students, specifically the boarders that bilingualism opens (that would otherwise be closed)?

Communication Activity and Exploration of Identity: Encourage and guide the students to view their identity and their community from different perspectives. Much like the chairs facing multiple directions, invite the students to reflect on the ways in which they can gather and connect, while not always sharing the same vantage point.

Ask students to sit on the chairs and quietly connect to their surroundings. Students may also view the chairs from various vantage points (perspectives). Through this process, students will be able to view how their environment has an effect on how they navigate their own journey of inquiry. Which vantage point is most desirable and why (open)? Which is most challenging and why (closed)? Using a coloured string or yarn, create a visual pathway illustrating children’s favourite vantage point. OR use tools such as noise-cancelling headsets and blindfolds to experience the installation without the sights and sounds of the beach. Explore the closed/open nuances of this pathway.


Shared Insights

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

•  Significant Aspects of Michel Goulet’s Life:  What are some significant aspects of Michel Goulet’s life? Using the About Artist and Artwork (PDF), the teacher creates stations detailing Goulet’s life and work. In small groups students rotate through stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Station topics might include: (1) education and training; (2) lifetime of artwork; (2) materials and processes; (3) beliefs and values. At each station, students use provocational materials to engage in the topic and discuss insights. For example, at the station “life’s work” students might plot the artist’s various installations on a map alongside places they have visited to would like to visit (use a colour coding system here). Encourage students to draw parallels to their own life and reflect on the countries/cities/communities that they have lived and the significance of each location to them. Go deeper by discussing the city’s specific features that influence the child and why… link to these internal echoes of what is lasting for the child.

•  Connecting to Places in Personal Life: Reflect on the experience at the beach and make connections to places in one’s own life. Specifically, guide the students to discover more about where their school is situated, and the history of the land (former occupants, shared opportunities and uses). What features have an internal impact for the child? How might these positive associations be echoed to future visitors or students?


Inquiry Challenges

Develop Project Parameters: Invite school facilities staff, school administration, and PAC representatives to share their ideas of the community garden with the students. Through this process, the project team establishes some of the opportunities and challenges of the project: participation, budget, wants/needs.

Establish a sense of the school’s identity and its importance:

•  Evolution of School’s Identity: Teacher to work with the students to gather a sense of the school’s identity and how it has evolved over time, beginning with a look into the features that make up our individual identities. Among others, questions might relate to family history, language, fashion, likes/dislikes etc. Ask students to bring “family items with special meaning” or “beautiful things” to class to share.

•  List Identity Inventory: such as school emblem and what role does it play in the identity of the school.

Artistic Design Process – Working with what is around us:

•  Collage & Composition: Students using a variety of recycled material to compose a collage – discovery of shapes, colours, and texture in creative composition.

•  Temporary/Permanent Nature: What is here to stay and what is not? Are stones alive? How does who you are change what you see? What/where/who gives you a sense of belonging? Watch River and Tides: In this movie the artist Andy Goldsworthy used a lot of different materials. Provide the students with a list of materials and ask them which of these were their favorites and why? Students write a poem using at least five of the words from the list of materials to share with class.

•  Collaborative 3D Layout: Working with gatherings – branches and stones from beaches and parks to build tree sculptures. Link to Andy Goldsworthy and Micheal Goulet’s work and what these artists communicate (echo) through their sculptures.

Learning about places: In what ways, if any, is cultural identity reflected in landscape design? How has the landscape changed over time and what might we learn from this?

•  History of Place: What can we learn about the history of this place through its landscape? Students, teachers, and parents to take photos through walkabouts/field trips to places with distinct cultural history and design such as Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden and/or the UBC Nitobe Memorial Garden. Inquire history of place in class through photo investigation.

•  Forge a connection with the school and the land’s ancestry through interaction with nature guides, members of the Squamish nation, and architects. During a variety of inquiry provocations, these experts will help students identify local flora and its traditional uses, recognize significant garden landscapes and architecture, in addition to becoming mindful of our inherited and shared spaces.

•  Landscape/Land Art Design Case Studies: Discover and investigate the role gardening plays in beautification including “wild” spaces, in local and global settings (e.g. First Nations medicinal planting, English, Japanese gardens and gardens planted in former mine sites).

•  Use of plants to reflect the identity of the school

How do you identify (or classify) plant species and their related needs? How do native, introduced and invasive species impact the surrounding ecosystem? What does it mean to garden responsibly?


Student Creation & Taking Actions

Plant a School Garden: Compile the students’ learning into a concept board translating their findings into a shared garden space that evokes pride, and inspires conversation. The garden may feature indigenous plants with healing qualities that can be studied/harvested, beautiful sculptures and inscriptions to discuss and admire, and informative plaques highlighting student poetry, photography/collage, and scientific writing to learn from.

Documentation: Create a digital or book publication of the process. The intention here is to inspire others to connect with and enhance their shared spaces. Using applications such as PicCollage or Book Creator, invite students to document their insights and learning experiences as reflective and sharing tools. Continue to link to the internal echoes of the project: those features that have lasting impact for the child and might inspire others. The documentation might be published on the school’s blog, enlarged and printed on documentation panels, or compiled into a book.



• Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the 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: Draw explicit connections to art principles and practices when studying or creating art within the project. For example, how is colour theory present in the school’s crest or what design elements are being used to create pleasing sculpture or garden space?

Geography: Build an understanding of the local community using textual experiences such as studying or creating maps and examining historical photos, alongside multi-sensory experiences such as soil testing (using senses to explore the land), recording sun patterns (where the sun is located at various points of the day), and experiencing “walkabouts”.

Language Arts: Foster oral and written expression through engaging in primary research: reading about the artists, school, and local community, interviewing subject experts, and documenting and sharing a personal learning journey.

Mathematics: Construct experiences for students to experience the connection to mathematical principles at work in design: patterns in the sun or growing seasons; geometrical design in artistic sculptures; measurement in planting and garden design; number and budgeting in financing the project, etc.

Science/Self-Regulation: Inquire into the life cycle of trees and other plants (consider indigenous plants with healing properties) and their important role in the world’s ecosystem (and native communities). Experiment with the interplay of sun, soil, and water, when growing plants. Nature offers holistic ways to inspire calm and self-soothing practices to self-regulate through breathing and connecting to the earth/environment. Draw on the cross-cultural practices of yoga and meditation.

Social Studies: Experience and explore community through field studies including natural and cultural destinations (e.g.,Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden). Engage aboriginal plant experts and other cultural experts to learn how community is created and fostered through a sense of ownership/engagement. Draw on a community of volunteers to build a garden that reflects the school’s culture and enhances its’ sense of pride.


Written by: Misty Paterson, B.Ed.; M.A.

©2014 Vancouver Biennale