Marshall Islands Lesson Plans

stick chart art lesson

Many of your students may be unfamiliar with the Marshall Islands. While many Marshallese people live in the United States, particularly in Arkansas and Hawaii, the Marshall Islands are a small nation.

Let’s start with some basic background information:

  • The Marshallese Story Project includes information about the mythology of the Marshall Islands.
  • PBS has a lesson plan on climate change including information on the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands are disappearing as there sea level rises.

Stick Charts Lesson

Marshallese stick chart art activity

The “stick charts” of the Marshall Islands were once used for navigation, but now they’re appreciated as an art form.

  • Here is a Wikipedia article about these maps. This article is lacking citations, as a message on the article says. Give your students the opportunity to volunteer in the important Wikipedia project by finding and adding citations.
  • National Geographic has a lesson on stick charts.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a video lesson on making art projects inspired by these stick charts.
  • This essay explains the wave pattern navigation the stick charts were designed to facilitate.
  • The Smithsonian has an explanation of the traditional means of navigation used by Marshall Islanders.

The stick charts are very complex as navigational tools, but they could inspire some beautiful art pieces.

Why not follow up your background research on the Marshall Islands with an art project inspired by the stick charts?

It is important not to suggest that we are actually making stick charts when doing this project, since we are not planning to create real navigational charts.

If you can provide flexible sticks, twine, and shells, that will be very good. However, you could also use art straws, Wikki Stix , and pony beads. You will also need scissors and glue dots.

Have students read any or all of the articles linked above, depending on their reading levels. At the very least, read them yourself and make sure that the kids understand what the charts were used for historically.

If you have Marshallese students, give them the opportunity to share their own knowledge about the stick charts. However, since these charts are not commonly used nowadays, Marshallese students may not have any special knowledge about them.

Ask students to look at the example pictures and list the characteristics they notice.You might like to print out some of these pictures (click on them to get a larger look) and have the kids find and trace over geometric shapes they notice. Then ask them to draw designs with a similar feeling.

Have students lay the twigs or art straws out in the patterns they have drawn. Use bits of twine to connect the sticks at the intersections by wrapping and tying. Cutting Wikki Stix into short lengths and using them instead might be easier. Add shells or pony beads at strategic points using glue dots.

Bikini Lesson

One of the strangest things about the Cold War was the way that the name of an island used to test atomic bombs became the name of a fashion phenomenon. A very brief bathing suit, similar to the outfits of women in Etruscan paintings, was developed by a French engineer in 1946 and named “L’Atome” or “the atom” because it was so small. Shortly thereafter, and very shortly after the explosions on Bikini Atoll, another French engineer came up with a suit that was smaller yet — the bikini. When asked whether it was the connection of the atom and the atom bomb that made him think of the name, inventor Louis Reard denied it. He said that it was a tropical idea, named after a tropical place.

Have your class do some research on the subject. Here are some resources:

  • Here is background information on the bomb testing at the Bikini Atoll and the effects on the people, as well as the history of the bikini bathing suit. Here are some discussion questions on the subject to get you started.
  • Here is an article on the bikini bathing suit, with worksheets, activities and quizzes aimed at ESL learners.
  • Slate has a history of the bikini with lots of historical references. This can give students good practice in looking things up.
  • Here is a long essay, “The Bomb for My Pillow,” about growing up bomb-conscious during the Cold War.
  • The Navy has many pictures of Bikini Atoll.
  • The song “Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” based on the idea of a girl feeling shy about wearing such a revealing bathing suit, was a huge hit.

With the background knowledge they’ve gained, students might like to write or create artwork showing their view of the connection between Bikini Atoll and the bikini bathing suit. Remind them that they have new information, compared with the people of 1946.


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