Atomic Models and Coast Salish Design Elements

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Guest Blog by Aliisa Sarte.

Aliisa has taught in various Science settings. Her current role is teaching Sciences at Port Moody Secondary School in SD43. Aliisa has collaborated with Marina Mehai and SD43 Aboriginal Education department to explore ways of expressing learning in her chemistry unit. @asarte12 @MMehai 

After a meeting with our district’s learning support team, including teachers from our Aboriginal Education department, I IMG_7400put together a lesson for Science 9 using Coast Salish Design Elements to create atomic models.

In class, students had already learned about subatomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons) and Bohr Models.  We began this lesson with a map of Coast Salish territories as this is where we live, play and learn.  I then used 3 pieces of art from local Coast Salish artists lessLIE and Dylan Thomas that I accessed on-line from either the UVic Perpetual Salish gallery or Dylan Thomas’ own website ‘Salish Weave’ (see links and citations below).

As I showed the art work to the class, piece by piece, we talked about Coast Salish design elements.  I introduced the shapes (trigons, U-shapes, crescents, ovals and circles) and the concepts of positive and negative space.  We then looked at the 3 pieces again, this time I asked them the following questions:

How is this artwork like an atom?

How is it not like an atom?

If this art work were an atom, which design elements might represent the subatomic particles?  The nucleus? Electron shells?

IMG_7404Then students moved to groups of 2 or 3 and were given large papers and the template of Coast Salish design elements (from Uvic Perpetual Salish), and the assignment was to use what they know about atoms and what they learned about Coast Salish designs and create a Coast Salish Atom.  On the back of their work, they needed to write which atom it was and which design elements represented each part of the atom.

When students were done we put them up around the room and had aIMG_7407 Gallery Grand Opening event where student checked out the art and had to try to identify which atoms at least 3 of the pieces were representing, and talk to the other artists (students) about their work.   The whole process took 2 class periods.

 Art Pieces used in class:

Free Form, Dylan Thomas, 2013

Mandala, Dylan Thomas, 2010

wHOle W(((h)))orl(((d))),  lessLIE , 2014


Thomas, D. (2018, June 13). Salish Weave. Retrieved from

University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries. (2018, June 13). Perpetual Salish. Retrieved from


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