About Amber Grafft-Weiss

Amber Grafft-Weiss earned BAs in Anthropology and English from the University of North Florida in 2004. After graduating, Mrs. Weiss spent three years working in the City of St. Augustine’s Archaeology Division, managing records and assisting in site excavation and artifact analysis. Research interests include the African-American Diaspora, Colonial St. Augustine, and Archaeology Education.

Carry the One: Archaeology Education at a Math Teachers’ Conference

This lesson uses a granola bar “test unit” to teach Cartesian Coordinates & mapping. A color-coded map of a site in St. Augustine, FL makes an apt example. (courtesy of St. Augustine Archaeology Division).

“Ooh! I need this! I’m teaching my kids about this soon. This one too!” The teacher walked away from our table, two new archaeology- based math lessons in hand. I was almost giddy. As a public archaeologist, I love finding ways to reach out to educators, whose efforts shape the future of our communities. Attending teacher conferences, such as the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics, offers a unique chance to reach out to teachers.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network uses an education outreach strategy that involves working directly with teachers. Believe me, I love getting into classrooms and engaging students in archaeology activities—it lights my fire to spark curiosity and fascination in kids. But interacting directly with teachers affords a more efficient method of disseminating archaeology to students. According to Ruth Selig (1991: 3), each educator that attends an archaeology workshop reaches 120 students per year.

Our vendors’ table is set and ready for the conference to start. Photo courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

Statewide conferences for teachers of math, science, social studies, and even media specialists provide an apt forum to introduce archaeology resources to a large number of teachers in just a couple of days. Better, we don’t have to navigate the structure of a particular school district to make contact. They arrive at the conference and here we are–ready to provide resources that speak to specific standards and skills, using authentic archaeological examples.

In two or three days at a vendors’ booth, we see hundreds of educators. This year, we met teachers of various grades, curriculum specialists, district math coordinators, and even staff from Florida’s Department of Education. We offered a range of resources: lessons, free classroom visits, and teacher workshops (that often provide in-service credit). Teachers received our contact information and provided e-mail addresses if they wanted us to follow up with them.

We also offered a presentation to enhance our connection with the most interested teachers, treating it as a mini-workshop on some of our favorite math lessons. Each participant receives a folder with a bit of info about FPAN and copies of several lessons. I presented a slide show that demonstrates authentic examples of archaeologists applying principles of mathematics: mapping to scale, using the Pythagorean Theorem, and ceramic frequency analysis that explores a changing market. Then our educators get hands-on experience, trying some of our favorite lessons for themselves and asking questions as they arise.

A teacher uses a sherd to apply a Project Archaeology lesson on finding circumference. Photo courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

The table and workshop both yield overwhelming positive response to the resources we offer. And I’ll be honest: I take personal and professional gratification from working at them. I was the child of two teachers; having watched my mother (a special education teacher) struggle for years to create her own curriculum and cobble together materials from disparate sources, I know educators can struggle to find engaging material with authentic applications of educational standards. Having a glimpse into the personal expenses that teachers can incur to offer the best experience for students, it delights me to no end when teachers ask how much a class visit costs. I know what will follow my answer: “It’s FREE?”  They are excited to discover that yes, there is a LOT of math in our science, and science in our social studies, and primary source research all over the place. Students, like other humans, relate better to a concept when they see authentic examples.  Seeing how skills may be used in “real life”—or even better, how a skill set can be used to explore or understand something fascinating, helps foster connections and sticky knowledge.

As an archaeologist, I love the responses we get from teachers—for any of these reasons—in a different way. The more they love our resources, the more likely they are to share them with students in the first place. They get support and authentic examples, and in the meantime increase archaeology literacy among the young population.

Having now participated in teacher conferences for a few years, I have found some strategies quite useful. Here is a quick list:

• Make contact info easily accessible. We have a postcard (that also features info about what we can do for teachers) to serve just this purpose.

• Post presentation information at your booth.

• Give it away if you can! After last year’s workshop we had some leftover folders, so we set the extra lessons out on our table. It was like Trick-or-Treat for grownups! Teachers were virtually swarming.

• If you offer lessons, address a range of grades. We handed out two lessons each for elementary, middle school, and high school.

• Align lessons with your state’s educational standards. This can be a doozy, as state standards around the country are in a state of flux right now, but teachers appreciate the effort.

• Provide lessons that meet standards in multiple subject areas, particularly in elementary and middle school. Teachers may teach to more than one subject, or cooperate with others to cover several subject areas.

If you have tried contacting teachers, what strategies have worked for you? Are there any tactics we should add to those we’re already using at teacher conferences? What challenges have you faced? Are there any methods for reaching educators that you would like to learn about more?

For a look at the educational materials that FPAN uses most often, visit Project Archaeology, or download our free lessons on Timucuan Technology, Coquina Queries, and a book of general lessons called Beyond Artifacts.

Bibliography

  • Selig, Ruth
    • 1991     Teacher Training Programs in Anthropology: The Multiplier Effect in the Classroom.  In Archaeology and Education: The Classroom and Beyond.  Archaeological Assistance Study Number 2.  KC Smith and Francis P. McManamon, editors, pp. 3-7.  U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Digging our own graves? A suggested focus for introducing archaeology to new audiences

 As an Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network, I often get to work with elementary school students, bringing archaeology activities and presentations into classrooms all over northeast Florida.  I see this as a great privilege—I love helping

Students classify artifacts found on a site-on-a-tarp activity. (Courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network)

students discover a new lens through which to view the world and the past.  However, I also recognize that with that great joy comes a serious responsibility: I must strive to spark imagination and interest, but also convey a need to cherish and protect archaeological resources.  My end goal in working with students, or anyone newly interested in our field, is not simply to fascinate them with amazing trinkets that can be pulled from the past into the present at the blade of a shovel.  I strive to help them become invested in archaeological resources on the whole as a means of understanding people and cultures of the past.

I have limited time in any given classroom, typically an hour or less to imbue students with knowledge and concern for cultural resources.  In that time I endeavor to introduce principles of archaeology, promote some understanding of methods and resources, and foster a value for past and the way archaeologists study it.  This is no small task, and I certainly have adapted my strategies and script in response to feedback from students.  Over time, I have found one activity to be ideally suited to this purpose, particularly when I only get to see a class once.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

"Shovel testing" on a pb and j site. (Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network)

This may not be anything brand new to you.  I know the lesson has been around for a while, and I certainly don’t claim it as my own invention.  PB&J works for my purposes because it lets me focus on those priorities listed above.  Artifact show-and-tells may be the rock star of public archaeology from an outsider’s perspective.  But to me leading with artifacts, from a preservation and protection standpoint, is leading with the chin.  Peanut butter and jelly lets me lead with the dirt.

A fully excavated pb&j revealing layers of occupation, features, stratigraphy, & artifacts. Photo courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

For those who have no idea what PB&J can do aside from providing quick nutrition in the field, it’s also a lesson in which participants make, then systematically excavate, a sandwich.  The lesson can be complex, but may be simplified if necessary; the original version suggests three layers of bread, raisins arranged in the middle as fire pits, and small candies for artifacts. When the sandwich is complete, students become archaeologists and apply field methods, if methods writ small.  They conduct a visual “walking” survey, shovel testing (with straws), and finally open up a “unit,” selecting a quadrant of the sandwich based on shovel tests and removing the top layer of bread—our top soil.  The lesson ends with a brilliant analogy, likening unmitigated construction and looting with putting the sandwich in a blender.

I don’t mean simply to sing the praises of PB&J, but to encourage deliberation on how we strive to expose the public,school-age or older, to archaeology and preservation.  Certainly, activities that engage hands as well as minds have proven effective for creating thorough engagement with the material and memorable understanding.  We have even used this lesson in teacher workshops to provide a baseline of understanding, and find that adults are as enthralled with the process as children, regardless of how sticky it may get.

Let's not kid ourselves--grownups LOVE to learn by playing, just like kids. (Courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network)

Fun and sugar highs aside, it is critical to consider what we give the public to hold onto about the discipline of archaeology.  If we lead with our chin, sites and resources will continue to take a beating.  However, if we find ways to share the wonder of the soil itself, we provide a more accurate understanding of cultural resources and have a better chance of fostering concern for sites as a whole.  We may tell ourselves that it’s tough to understand, that the lay public will be disinterested, but I don’t find that entirely fair.  If we can enjoy the secrets in the soil, why couldn’t others?

Get the original PB&J lesson here, or find FPAN’s Florida-friendly version here.

What types of lessons do you use for teaching students about archaeological methods? How do you encourage the public to become good stewards of the past? Have you used the PB&J lesson?