Light Enhances our Environment

Science - Grade 4

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

The presence of light changes our perspective of the environment.


Guiding Questions

Why is the presence of light important in our lives? Reflect on the importance of light as source of energy for the ecosystems.


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

• Wind Waves/Olas de Viento (Yvonne Domenge, Mexico) from Vancouver Biennale 2009 – 2011 Exhibition


Other Resources

Architectural Light Magazine

Sustainable Sources


Learning to Learn:

Art Inquiry

Project images of Wind Waves/Olas de Viento and encourage students to explore the art piece 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.


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 – Light in Our Daily Lives: Where is light present and how does the presence of light change our impression of the undulating shape of Wind Waves/Olas de Viento? Light can come from many different sources and can be categorized into natural and artificial sources. Ask students to identify sources of light in their lives, their characteristics and group them into categories as a class or in small groups. What is the importance of light in our daily lives?


Inquiry Challenges

• How does light travel?

Provide each pair of students with a paper roll and a flashlight. Have students shine the flashlight through the roll on the table and observe, bend the roll and observe, etc.

• What happens when light is blocked by an opaque object?

Ask students to create a miniature replica of the Wind Waves sculpture using coloured clay. Have students shine a flashlight on the sculptures from different directions and vantage points and observe how and explain why the length of shadows changes. Ask students how shadows are formed.

• How much light can travel through this medium?

Have a mix of opaque, translucent, and transparent objects available. Students can shine a flashlight through their choice of objects and label them as opaque, translucent or transparent. Challenge the students to classify objects in the classroom and around the school, and discuss how the choice of building materials impacts our environment. Have students create stained glass artwork using materials of different denseness and observe how light travels through various parts of the design.

• What is white light?

Use prisms to discover the dispersion of colour from white light. Give students materials to make a Newton’s Disc. Ask student to predict what will happen to the colours when the spinner is spun. Introduce the concept of complementary colours and its application in arts, and have students create paintings using complementary colours and reflect on the results.

• How do different coloured materials reflect and absorb light?

Show students an image of Wind Waves. Ask students to think about the colour of the sculpture and consider why the artist chose the colour. Give students a range of coloured fabric (covering light and dark colours) to place in the sun or under a heat lamp. Have students make predictions, and after about 15 minutes, feel the fabric and discuss the results.

Other Concepts to Explore:

• Optical Illusions with Light

Light refracts to alter our perception of objects.

• Light and the Environment

Points for Review: Light rays have different intensities. Light can change the temperature of an environment. Obstacles in an environment can change the amount of light it is exposed to. Different surfaces absorb and reflect light.

• Light and our Health

Points for Review: Light rays have different intensities. The human body absorbs and reacts to light in different ways.


Student Creations and Taking Action

Students can create 3D sculptures or stained glass artworks as part of the inquiry unit. Collaborate with the drama class and propose different lighting effects to produce desired audience impact.

Research efficient and sustainable lighting design strategies and guidelines. Initiate and take steps to make changes at home, school and local community. Investigate sources of waste energy and contact the proper authority to voice collective concerns and offer solutions if appropriate. Possible projects include local residential or commercial development project and public buildings. Create and distribute pamphlets to inform target audience on the dangers of over- or-under exposure of sunlight.



• 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: Create a stained glass artwork. During the design process, discuss the properties of light and have students explain their choice of colour, materials and form.

• Health and Career Education – Healthy Living: Ask students to compare how they feel on a sunny day and on a cloudy day. Explore whether natural vs. artificial light choices have any impact on physical and emotional health.

• Mathematics – Statistics and Probability: Arrange students in small groups. Using the listed light sources from Shared Insights, ask students to construct a bar graph on the frequency of occurrence against the common light sources. Students can compare this with the bar graph constructed in Social Studies below.

• Social Studies – Identity, Culture and Society: Discuss the role light plays in traditional First Nations societies. Ask students to list and graph the sources of light used during that time for the mathematics inquiry exercise.


Written by: Anna Boots and Julie Karpiuk , 2013 UBC Elementary School Teacher Candidates

©2013 Vancouver Biennale