Learning to Learn: Curious Imaginings

Language Arts - Any Grade

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.


Learning to Learn: Curriculum No. 4 for 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale Exhibition
Title: Curious Imaginings
Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965, Freetown, Sierra Leone)
Medium: Silicone, Fiberglass, Human Hair, Clothing


Art Inquiry

Project images of Curious Imaginings before visiting the installation with your class. Encourage students to investigate the relationships between care and love, the ethics of responsibility and being humane; and introduce the idea of re-IMAGE-ning the spaces we occupy now and what the world could be like in the future. What is the difference between the artificial and the natural? How do the artist’s drawings translate into the human-like through research, drawing and the employment of technology? Finally, ask your students to consider what it means to be empathetic. This question should be repeated after your field trip. 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.


Shared Insights

  • Share the Art Enquiry Experience:Ask students how they respond to Curious Imaginings and what the affect the surrealistic bodies in the installation have on them. Are they frightening? Or magical? Encourage the students to not only approach and discuss the works while at the site as well as generate a list of adjectives that they feel describe what these sculptures are intended to mean. How do relationships of difference kinds—human| environment; family | stranger; artificial | natural—differ?

Grades 5-12: Technology is at the root of many of the relationships we form and share today. This medium extends from communication devices to transportation, medical solutions, and in this instance, art. Socials core competencies will be fulfilled by discussing the concepts of biotechnology and its ethics as well as the ways in which different views, beliefs, and opinions can be expressed by an artist. Language Arts classes can explore what it means to have an imagination and what the creative process could look like. Does it start with research, a sketch, a dream?

For those K-4, children’s storybooks will lend a nice complement to the curiosity invoked by the artist’s work. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Encourage your students to walk around the creatures and tell them about the ideas of genetics, DNA, and how our bodies have changed since Homo Sapiens existed. Follow this conversation up with a conversation regarding the Art Inquiry Worksheet, perhaps reading it aloud as a part of circle sharing. This is also an opportunity to assign students an exercise in making—a chimeric creature of their own out of whatever material inspires them or a short story about a world on another planet. Simple items for construction include modeling clay, play-doh, or soft wax. These exercises will encourage the children’s dexterity.–CQdPw&frags=pl%2Cwn


Here are exercises: In physical form (K-4 targeted), give each of the students a ball of one of the materials listed above and have them create a character of their own. Ask them to write a short description of a creature who shows empathy, love, and is an animal of the future. This description will accompany their small sculptures. Older students (5-12) can write long-form written story as well as learn how to make a mold. Use these in coordination with your artist collaborator.



Research: Artist Theme

In small groups rotate students between information stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Start with priming them with a film regarding human nature and the ways in which relationships function, bodies can metamorphosize, and the world can be a strange but beautiful place.  “My Neighbour Totoro”  or “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki are excellent choices. Robert Zemekis’ “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is also an appropriate choice for 5-12 grades. The topics at information stations can include: (1) the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the installation; (2) the artist’s history of making artwork and what her work process is (research | drawing | production with team member); (3) beliefs and values, both cultural and/or historical. At each station, students should answer 1-2 questions and complete a tangible task. For example, at the station “the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure”, students might write a short poem or do a sketch of their own creature. Further, older students could  make a mold using one of several techniques.

  • Artist Themes – Agency | Relationships | Ethics | imagined Worlds:Observe images of Curious Imaginings online and ask students to identify the connections between, within, and beyond the themes listed above.


Inquiry Challenges

  • Future worlds investigation:In small groups, challenge students to create a diorama using whatever material they choose. Let them re-IMAGE-n what a world might look like wherein plant, animal, machine, and human unite. The premise of this exercise is to enquire if we really believe that barriers still exist between the different “citizens” in this world.
  • As an individual exercise, challenge students to bring a household object from home and transform it into something unexpected. Perhaps its use will change or be obliterated entirely.

Student Creation and Taking Action

Secure a malleable material—wax, play-doh, or clay—challenge the students to select something that is empathetic and respectful to the environment. Ask them to close their eyes while the try to create a form. This will encourage an understanding of humanity and the relationship those how have accessibility concerns and those who don’t.



  • Teachers 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 enquiry, 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

  • Science – Ask each student to research a specific animal with unusual traits and write a brief but creative paper or story on it. The Axolotl is a great example, as is the Starfish or the Seahorse.
  • Language Arts – Assign each student one of four forms of poetry of your choosing (for example, concrete, iambic pentameter, etc.) and have them write something in the style of Lewis Carrol’s ”The Jabberwocky
    Social Studies – Human and Physical Environment: Ask students to review the leading themes of the artist’s work. Why are empathy, humanity, and agency important? How does proposing personal action in response to an issue or challenge differ from a collective one?


Written by: Rachel Anne Farquharson, 2018, Director of BIG IDEAS 2017/2018

©2018 Vancouver Biennale