Last November the SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC) participated in the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference. This large, well-attended annual conference was held in Boston this year at the Hynes Convention Center. The target audience is composed of teachers, superintendents, principals, and curriculum developers. Like previous years, the SHA has participated as a collaborative effort as part of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC). This year, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joined the SHA at the exhibitor booth, and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sent support materials. The SHA sent local Boston members to participate in the conference, and we provided support through our local group, the Massachusetts Archaeology Education Consortium (MAECON).
The NCSS supports many facets of social studies, and specifically includes archaeology as part of their mission, seen in this image of their branding materials in the exhibitor hall.
As part of SHA’s PEIC, we should be thinking of ways to support the mission of national groups like NCSS who are trying to facilitate the teaching of archaeology to educators. This top down approach of teaching teachers to teach archaeology is an economical use of our time. Yet, despite a warm welcome, archaeology was only subtly sprinkled throughout this conference.
Our AEC booth had pamphlets about our various organizations (SHA, SAA, AIA, and MAECON). We had targeted information for teachers in the form of handouts with resources they could check out on their own time. We also had CDs with curriculum plan ideas. Finally, since a majority of the participants were local to New England, we had handouts explaining local Massachusetts resources.
At the SHA annual conference in Seattle we discussed ways to improve our NCSS exhibitor booth. We are specifically working to improve our own branding to send a clearer, more coherent message to educators at this conference. Sometimes our message, “Teach with Archaeology,” gets lost. Though the idea of improving branding and marketing seems abstract and complex, it can easily be tweaked with a few modest changes. Some that we discussed include the production of AEC business cards, an updated website, and clearer, unified signage.
Where we seemed to really hit the mark at NCSS is having an emphasis on hand outs and deliverables that teachers can reference later. It is important to make incorporating archaeology into teaching as easy as possible, suggesting strategies that can immediately be implemented into classes. Prompts such as “things you can do tomorrow…” or “things you can do next semester…” will help turn our “teach with archaeology” message into clear action items for teachers.
This approach goes hand in hand with the importance of demonstrating an understanding of the standards that are in place for curriculum development in schools. To be relevant to educators, we must demonstrate how archaeology supports Core Curriculum; how it can be integrated into classrooms to support requirements teachers already have to meet. It is especially helpful for us to suggest ways to teach WITH archaeology, not suggesting that it be taught as a separate unit.
While the AEC booth was the only group explicitly presenting archaeology at the exhibitor hall, a few other groups were interpreting history that we know was influenced by archaeological discoveries, but did not necessarily connect the dots back to archaeology itself. Colonial Williamsburg, for example sold kits for artifact interpretation. A group called Art in History sold paintable ceramics with associated lesson plans. And other historical sites such as Mount Vernon, and Plimoth Plantation presented history but did not directly tie it back to the supporting archaeology.
Besides the booths at the exhibit hall, the conference also had one and two hour long workshops. Only a small handful of workshops this year included archaeology, and some of these were cancelled. Topics included the archaeology of China, the archaeology of Boston, teaching with objects, and starting your own dig. I anticipate that additional workshops on archaeology would be well received at this conference. The workshop I presented had roughly 50 engaged participants, many of whom were interested in finding more information about archaeology to bring back to their classes.
Moving forward, I think one way for archaeologists to engage with teachers and curriculum directors more thoroughly is to try to speak their “language.” Staying up to date on new ideas and trends in teaching philosophies will help us gain this access. For example, concepts like inquiry, problem-based learning, and teaching with objects, are great ways for archaeologists to tap into what is going on in teachers’ worlds and begin to access classrooms.