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.

Archaeology and the Community

Over the past two years, I have been responsible for creating a wide variety of educational outreach programs for the Exploring Joara Foundation, a small public archaeology organization in western North Carolina.  This summer has been particularly scorching, and as we slowly stew in the thick heat of summer it is easy to forget that our role as archaeology educators goes well beyond our responsibility to stress the need for the preservation of archaeological resources and the understanding and appreciation of past cultures.  We may be the only real face of archaeology that the public sees, and it is our responsibility to not only make an impression that breaks the stereotype of treasure hunter, but to also inspire children and adults to ask more questions about the past and to become directly involved with its preservation.  This is the only way the public will not just know the importance of preservation, but leave with the belief that it is their responsibility to make that a reality.

The Exploring Joara Foundation is a perfect example of what results from putting the past in the public’s hands. The non-profit was formed in 2007 by members of the Morganton community with assistance from head archaeologists at the Berry Site.  The foundation’s goal was to help support professional archaeological research at the site. It has since grown to incorporate a public education program dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of archaeological resources. This has put the organization in a fairly unique position. It is not tied to any specific school, institution, or state. Instead, the foundation was born from the local community’s desire to share the archaeology of their hometown and to preserve its history. Though we are over an hour away from any metropolis, our wide variety of outreach has provided us with a steady stream of students, scouts, teachers, homeschool groups, campers, and community members that are eager to learn more about the region’s archaeology. The foundation now functions as a year round resource for the community, offering free and paid programming to the public, while still helping to support professional archaeological research at the Berry site.

Public Field Day at the Berry Site.

Before 2010, the foundation only funded one public open house at the Berry Site each year. During those public days we heard numerous suggestions and requests from the community on what they felt we should offer. By building our outreach around their requests, we have been able to accommodate a broad range of ages and interests. The foundation now supports talks at local schools and organizations, teacher workshops, summer camps, and field and lab experiences for all ages. We added each of these programs only after listening carefully to the public on what they wanted or felt was needed for the community. This is essential to creating a public archaeology program that really works. It’s certainly a trial and error process, but knowing what the public wants is crucial.

Middle school campers learning to screen at the Berry Site.

One of the requests we heard most was for archaeology experiences for kids too young to participate in the Berry Site Field School. With direction from Dr. Theresa McReynolds Shebalin, the foundation is now able to offer camps for both middle school and high school students in July and August. The campers have a similar experience to field school students at the Berry Site as they work alongside professional archaeologists to uncover the remains of a 16th-century Catawba town and Spanish fort. Campers revel in knowing that they are contributing to research and that their interpretations may find their way into the professional archaeologists’ dialogue. During the hotter part of the day, campers take part in experimental archaeology projects, artifact analysis, archaeology games, and crafts. The camps are designed to be discussion based in order to give kids the opportunity to ask questions and pose hypotheses so that they can feel directly involved with the research. This year those discussions led the middle school students to ask questions such as: can you tell the difference between carbonized corn that has been cut or eaten off the cob? The question resulted in a blind experiment to determine if the campers could tell the difference with corn from the store burned behind the field house. At the end of the week, students leave the camp with the feeling that archaeology is a field that is accessible and possible to pursue as a career. It is necessary to make sure each person leaves not only with a better understanding of the past and an appreciation for preservation, but with a feeling that they participated in adding to ongoing academic research.

Caldwell County Public School group celebrates after a day in the field.

Since we can’t reach a large number of students through camps, the foundation also runs workshops geared toward 4th-8th grade teachers. On the first day, teachers learn about North Carolina prehistory and the science of archaeology through hands-on activities that they can adapt for use in their own classrooms. During a make-and-take session, teachers are encouraged to come up with their own practical applications with guidance from Exploring Joara staff. Over the past three years, we have observed that this flexible approach results in a better success rate of the material being used in the classroom than when teachers are simply introduced to standard lesson plans. On the second day, the teachers go out into the field to work at the Berry Site. This hands-on time is critical and even resulted in one teacher bringing her high school class to the site for an excavation workshop the following fall. To me, this is a perfect example of community action resulting in a more educated public.

Exploring Joara is a relatively young foundation, with an even younger public archaeology program. It was built by the community and therefore has strong public support and interest. This support is evident in the continued respect and protection of the Berry Site. The well-known site’s only security is the watchful eye of neighbors and community members who are proud of their local history and the site’s significance. I continue to be thankful for that support and know that without the public, the foundation and its unique programming would not exist. I hope to see programs like this continue to form out of the public’s desire and encouragement. If the small town of Morganton, North Carolina can garner enough interest to create a year round educational program, could this be the future of public archaeology? Have you seen a shift in public interest and concern in other areas of the country? Are there other avenues that we could pursue as archaeology educators that would reach a broader population or have a greater impact on the community?

Teaching, public archaeology, and miscellaneous intersections

Having just yesterday finished up my teaching of a 6 week archaeology field school, it’s still hard to get my thoughts off of it, or to refocus on strictly public archaeology issues. But as I think about it, the two topics are not so separate. Our field school, offered by the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology, was held at the Shaker Village of Peasant Hill, Kentucky (www.shakervillageky.org). This is an extremely public site visited by many tourists, and our excavations were located right in the center of the village. This exposure provided a unique opportunity to engage students in public archaeology and to provide the public with a chance to see how Pleasant Hill changed over time.

Large groups on a tight time frame often peered over a fence at us (or we would run over and give them a “quick explanation”), but more leisurely non-group tourists would stop by to see what we were doing. The students were encouraged to speak freely with the visitors and explain our research goals of pinpointing the location of the 1810 Meeting House and the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling, investigating their spatial relationships and the extent to which they lined up with one another and contributed to the sense of order at the village. As an instructor, I found it gratifying to hear the students seriously repeating to the visitors the very ideas I thought had been going right over their heads as I instructed. On the last day of the field school, Morgan, one of our students, was so affected by the experience that she applied for and has been accepted as a future interpreter at the Shaker village site. This was a first for me, and while it may be a loss for us in our stock of trained excavators, it was an unusual win for public archeology in the broader sense!

Our work this summer had another unexpected public component. Once we verified that the foundation of the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling House was fairly well intact not far from the present surface grade, we added a goal of completely exposing this foundation for permanent viewing. This was extra work (not a small task, the Dwelling House main block was 56.25 ft x 45 ft), since our initial research objective could have been met by just exposing and mapping the two front corners of the building, and then backfilling. But by exposing the full foundation, we hoped to give the visitors a better sense that Pleasant Hill had changed drastically over time, and that it had a dynamic history of experimentation as it developed.

Our two buildings sites readily presented this opportunity as they were oriented to a north-south road, an orientation that was abandoned just a few years after completion of the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling. Realignment of the main village 90 degrees to east-west entailed building a new Meeting House (in 1820) and a new Centre Family House (begun in 1824), both of which are standing today within viewshed of our sites, making their strong testimony to the change of orientation. Coupled with this was the fact that the foundation we were excavating was just yards from where most visitors entered the site, making it a unique opportunity to get them thinking about all those other buildings that used to be at Pleasant Hill. Work progressed well to expose the foundation, but we could soon see that the foundations stones were preserved at many different levels, some just below the present surface grade (established in the 1970s to smooth over an overwise rough building ruin), and others up to a foot below the present grade. These deeper areas created a potential hazard for falls, sprained ankles, etc (Shaker Village has overnight guests who do walk about at night) and an obstacle for lawn maintenance. As we pondered our dilemma, Shaker Village staff member Don Pelly came up with an idea — if we could gradually “feather” down the grade in most areas, starting about a foot and a half out from the foundation to gradually lower down to meet the intact foundation stones, the hazard and maintenance burden would be sufficiently reduced. We coined the term “archeolandscaping” to help ease the burden of this work; I think throwing our new term around helped boost our spirits for say, at least a couple of hours!! Several days of work was required but thanks to the students’ efforts, the 1812 Centre Family Dwelling foundation now has a good chance to remain exposed, working to enhance the visitor experience.

And finally, I was thinking that while these aspects of our experience were very important, still most important, especially as an influence in public archaeology, were the three days we left the Shaker site and journeyed a short distance to the Civil War site of Camp Nelson, in Jessamine County, Kentucky (www.campnelson.org) to assist archaeologist Dr. Stephen McBride in that site’s annual “School Days” program, where all the 5th grade classes of Jessamine County come to Camp Nelson and watch or participate in various reenactor and hands-on history stations, including an archaeology station (often cited as one of the most popular by students and teachers). This year’s archaeology station was excavation at one of the Camp Nelson’s sutler stores. Normally the archaeology station is run by three to four archaeologists, but with the help of the 14 student field school we had a great teacher to student ratio. I was struck by the insightful comments our field school students wrote in their journals (required for the class) after the experience. Though many commented about how tiring it can be to work with large numbers of 5th graders (who would not agree?), they also commented on how exciting it was to watch the amazement of the 5th graders as they connected with material culture not touched by others for nearly 150 years.   Several commented on how important it was to give these young students a sense that history can be discovered in multiple ways, not just in books, to help them better understand the significance of their own local history, or to help them grasp the fragility of archaeological deposits. I was also struck by what a great job our students did in instructing on things like keeping unit floors flat or artifacts in place, even though they had only a couple weeks of experience behind them.

From our experience, it seems as if there is nothing to reinforce learning like being forced to instruct. Have you had similar experiences by exposing your field school students to public archaeology? What strategies do you use to teach your field school students about working with the public? What advantages and disadvantages come from doing public archaeology in a field school setting?