Lesson 1: How are Scientists like Artists?

  1. Introduction
  2. Teach It
  3. Dig Deeper


This segment discusses the nature of play in creating art. Artists explore playfully without a preconceived plan to convey an idea or feeling. Students in this activity will create a chimera by combining the features or more than one animal to create something original. In the process, they will develop a focus while embracing the opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Time: two class periods


  • Students will explore the creative process using the “exquisite corpse” concept, allowing them to discover new ways to generate ideas and discover how each student can make a unique contribution, as they work toward creating a diverse dragon with specific traits.
  • Students will be able to explain how the creature will function in their habitat and the advantages/disadvantages of these traits to the creature’s survival.

Type of Activity:

  • Students will collaborate with others to create a representation of a composite creature in 2-D.

STEAM Habits of Mind

  • Students will persevere in designing an original animal.
  • Students will use their curiosity to guide them in creating a chimera, exploring playfully while learning from their mistakes.

National Art Standards

  • Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
    • 6  Combine concepts collaboratively to generate innovative ideas for creating art.
    • 7  Apply methods to overcome creative blocks.
  • Enduring Understanding: Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills that can be developed
  • Essential Question(s): What conditions, attitudes, and behaviors support creativity and innovative thinking? What factors prevent or encourage people to take creative risks? How does collaboration expand the creative process?

Word Wall

  • Chimera
  • Traits

Teach It

Prior to Viewing

Students view the pictures of various artwork from the Bates College Museum of Art which feature chimeras and other composite animals. Explain that a chimera is a hybrid creature from Greek mythology. It was usually depicted as a lion with a goat head sticking out of its back and a tail with a snake’s head. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCES). 

Ask students questions such as:

  • What different features were added to create this unique animal?
  • What do these new traits enable this creature to do?
  • What could this creature symbolize?

Prompt students to explain and compare different purposes of the artists and their artwork, in the context of time and place.

Materials Needed:

STEAM Activity:

Watch the video called “What’s the Connection?  New ways to see”.

The concept of the “exquisite corpse” is introduced.  It is a game in which each participant takes turns writing or drawing on a sheet of paper, folding it to conceal his or her contribution, and then passing it to the next player for a further contribution. (The game gained popularity in artistic circles during the 1920s when it was adopted as a technique by artists of the Surrealist movement to generate collaborative compositions. Instructor will show samples of Exquisite corpse drawings done by the surrealist artists.  (See SAMPLE A and ADDITIONAL RESOURCES)

Encourage students to consider that all options are open. Dragon can have a gigantic head or have “teeth” on the outside; two arms or three arms or more. Feet could be made of plants, “skin” is feathers or scales, slimy or spiked, etc. (SEE SAMPLE B of other students’ “insect” exquisite corpse drawings)

Students work in groups of 3 or 4.  Each student has a 9 X 12 piece of drawing paper.  Holding the paper vertically the paper is folded to create three equal horizontal sections, if three in a group, and four equal horizontal sections, if four in a group. (SEE SAMPLE C of folded papers)

1) Each student draws their idea of a dragon or lizard like head.  They all fold their respective papers to cover their drawing, leaving tiny marks where the drawing touches the next section. (SEE SAMPLE D). It is very important that no one sees what was drawn previously until all the drawing is done.  

2) The paper is passed clockwise, and each student continues from the marks left by the previous student to draw a torso and arms and hands/wings. Section 2 is folded and concealed, also leaving  marks where the drawing touches section 3 at the bottom of page.  

3) Process repeats for 3rd section to draw legs and feet, or if there is a 4th section, draw feet in the 4th section. 

NOTE: Students should have the option of deciding to add the hands in sections 2 or 3, and also the option of where to draw a tail.  

4) After all 3 or 4 sections are complete there should be 3 or 4 different composite creatures revealed.  

5) Have each student in the group “adopt” one creature as their own and write a short description which explains how that creature’s features would allow it to survive in its habitat. For example, students could focus on a creature’s skin color and explain how it would aid in camouflaging the animal.


  • Students do a short gallery walk to view all the creatures. 
  • Then they should pair-share with a shoulder partner:  
    • what they see and differences between the creatures 
    • some new possibilities they learned or discovered by doing this exercise. 
    • comment on the advantages/disadvantages of these traits to the creature’s survival.

Instructor can invite whole group sharing of some of the pair/share discussion. The instructor should talk about the different traits that are visible and discuss how these new features might affect their ability to survive and reproduce in their habitats.

Additional References:

Museum of Modern Art –MoMA – Information on Surrealist Exquisite Corpse https://www.moma.org/collection/terms/138

Bates College Museum of Art Collection https://www.bates.edu/museum/collections/ 

Chimera, in Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster resembling a lion in the forepart, a goat in the middle, and a dragon behind. She devastated Caria and Lycia until she was slain by Bellerophon. In art the Chimera is usually represented as a lion with a goat’s head in the middle of its back and with a tail that ends in a snake’s head. This matches the description found in Hesiod’s Theogony (7th century BC). The word is now used generally to denote a fantastic idea or figment of the imagination. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chimera-Greek-mythology

Chimera, in genetics, an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA, most often originating from the fusion of as many different zygotes (fertilized eggs). The term is derived from the Chimera of Greek mythology, a fire-breathing monster that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon. Chimeras are distinguished from mosaics, organisms that contain genetically different populations of cells originating from a single zygote, and from hybrids, organisms containing genetically identical populations of cells originating from a cross of two different species. Included among the different known types of animal chimeras are dispermic and twin chimeras, microchimeras, and parthenogenetic and androgenetic chimeras. (For information on the phenomenon in plants, see chimera.) https://www.britannica.com/science/chimera-genetics

Dig Deeper (extension)

Dig Deeper Intro

Go to Lesson 2A: Hereditary Lab