Creating a New Outreach Activity

Creating a New Outreach Activity

Those who follow us know that outreach is a big part of what we do in the Campus Archaeology Program. Every year, CAP participates in several public outreach events including Michigan Archaeology Day, Grandparents University, ScienceFest, and more. These events are important because it gives a chance talk to people in our community and raise awareness about what archaeologists do and why this work is important. We can also raise awareness of our program and show people that archaeology is everywhere – even in our own campus backyard.

In this photo, former Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright shows a large crowd of attendees some artifacts and explains the artifact memory matching game. 
This photo from Science Festival (2017) captures what most of our public outreach events are like. During a single event we may get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of people.

One of the most effective ways to engage people at these events is through fun, eye-catching educational activities. In the past we have had success with an artifact memory matching game. This month, however, CAP has been working to create a new outreach activity. Here are some steps in our thought process as we developed this new activity:

Step 1: Talk to our colleagues

CAP fellow Susan Kooiman helped put us in touch with Elizabeth Reetz and Chérie Haury-Artz at the Iowa Project Archaeology Program, who gave us some great ideas about activities they’ve used at their public outreach events. This was enormously helpful because it allowed us to consider activities that have already been field-tested for success.

One activity that appealed to us involved having participants place artifacts on a simplified stratigraphic map in order from most to least recent.

Step 2: Consider our goals

When we attend public outreach events, one of our goals is to create interest in the Campus Archaeology Program. Therefore, we wanted our activity to showcase some of things CAP encounters on campus. Another goal is to educate participants about archaeology. As such, we wanted an activity that gets people thinking like archaeologists.

The stratigraphy activity meets both of these goals. For one, this activity introduces a key concept in archaeology in a simple, visual manner. We can make it relevant to CAP by choosing artifacts we have actually found on MSU’s campus and creating a stratigraphic profile reflective of what we encounter on campus.

Step 3: Think about logistics

The best way to learn is by doing. As much as we’d love to give participants a chance to do an excavation, this is obviously impractical. Therefore, we had to consider several factors to develop a reasonable activity. One factor is time. In order to reach as many people as possible, we wanted to develop an activity that can be explained and done relatively quickly. Another factor is space. We wanted to build the activity such that it can be adapted to a small space if necessary.

The stratigraphy activity fits both of these needs. Most participants should be able to place 3-5 artifacts in under a minute. This will prevent long lines and allow many people to participate. We are also designing the stratigraphic profile specifically so it fits on a standard tabletop. This will allow us to have two or more stations going at once, depending on the amount of space we are provided at an event.

Step 4: Think about design

The design of an activity is also important to consider. One factor we considered is durability. We wanted to build our activity to withstand some wear and tear. For this reason we decided to make our profile out of felt, which is less easily ripped than paper and can be folded for storage. We are also using laminated photos of real artifacts so that everyone—CAP volunteers and participants alike—can enjoy the activity without fear of breaking the physical objects.

Current Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter takes photos of artifacts to use in the stratigraphy activity.

Another factor we considered is participants’ abilities. People of all ages attend these events, so we wanted to design an activity that is suitable for young children but that can also be adapted to appeal to older attendees. As such, we tried to select a variety of items that will allow us to provide participants with an appropriate challenge.

Step 5: Build the new activity

This week we selected and photographed artifacts from the CAP Lab to use for the activity. Our next step will involve sewing the stratigraphy map together based on our hand-drawn design.

Sketch of our design for the stratigraphy activity.

Step 6: Debut at Michigan Archaeology Day!

Come check out our new activity for yourself! We plan to debut our new activity at Michigan Archaeology Day. This event will take place from 10AM to 4PM on October 13th at the Michigan History Museum.

Author: Mari Isa

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