Museum visitors dig the past

On Saturday, September 21 we hosted our first session of Dig the Past: A Hand-On Introduction to Archaeology’ at the MSU Museum. A great time was had by all! Here’s a rundown of some highlights from the day:

  • 28 visitors, ranged in age from 17 months to 58 years, signed in. Most of the active participants were children ages 4-7 who were accompanied by parent/ guardians, though we did have a few adults who were enthusiastic to join their young family members in some of the activities.
  • Eight families filled out anonymous feedback forms – most were written collaboratively by a parent/ guardian from the child’s perspective. We included questions on the forms such as ‘What was your experience with archaeology, if any, prior to today?’; ‘Was there anything that really surprised you?’; and ‘Would you like to see anything changed or done differently?’.

Here’s some of the interesting feedback we got:

  • Prior experience in archaeology ranged from ‘None’ to ‘My family hosted a team of archaeologists each summer for several years’.

What really surprised our visitors included:

  • ‘How tedious archaeology is’
  • ‘How hands-on it was and how friendly and knowledgeable the staff was’
  • ‘Microscopes’
  • ‘You can find big things’, and
  • A hand-axe that looked like one my father had, that I had assumed was a tourist-sale fake.’

Some things our visitors would like to see changed or done differently included:

  • ‘More adult-level offerings’ and ‘Find more things’.

From 1-10, all visitors who provided feedback ranked their experience as a 9 or 10.

One of the most interesting insights from the feedback forms was learning which activity engaged each learner the most. We asked them to tell us what they enjoyed most about the day’s activities, and not everyone answered ‘Digging’ (although several did, of course). One visitor said the ‘computer analysis’ [digital microscope] was their favorite; while others mentioned sifting or handling artifacts, and a couple said that they loved it all. This concurred with my impression of the activities as they were occurring: different children seemed engaged by different aspects depending on their age, interests, and learning style.

Looking forward to the next session, the facilitators and I agreed that it would be useful to incorporate some of the visitor suggestions, and we will be working on doing that over the next few weeks. But the activities that we did have not only met the learning criteria I had set forth but also created a fun experience for everyone involved.

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