This month, for its final session, Dig The Past was a part of the MSU Science Festival, a 5-day event that draws thousands to MSU’s campus for a diverse array of programming by several departments and units. I was pleased to wrap up Dig The …
Tag: dig the past
On Saturday, February 22 we held another session of Dig the Past at the MSU Museum. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to promote the program the day before on WLNS/ Channel 6’s local morning news show via a live interview with Francesca …
(This post was written by Anneliese Bruegel, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and Dig the Past facilitator).
Dig the Past, a newly minted program at the MSU Museum one weekend a month designed and run by the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, has proven itself, during its pilot semester, as an effective means of teaching young children what archaeologists do in real life (HINT: It’s not digging up fossils!) and the practical methods that include how to dig and analyze artifacts.
After the successful pilot run of Dig the Past, new activities were designed to teach children other methods commonly used by archaeologists, and the new activity for the 2014 year was a mapping activity, designed to teach children the importance of spatial recognition of patterns in the archaeological record. Mapping in the field is often done in difficult environmental conditions and requires advanced spatial comprehension and above all precision. It is essentially a field method that requires patience, attention to detail, and determination.
The activity was set up as two separate squares on roll-out craft paper, each measuring 3 ft. x 3 ft. Each of these two squares, which represented a single excavation unit, was then divided again into a grid with string, totaling nine grid squares. Then throughout each square “artifacts” were scattered in deliberate patterns so that we could engage the children in a discussion about conclusions they could draw about the past based on what they saw in the artifact distribution. For example beads were distributed both randomly and some in a circle to represent in situ jewelry vs. broken beads, and keys were placed close to locks.
There were several notable patterns discovered between the ages of the children and the concepts they were able to grasp and engage in a clear discussion about. Older children, 9-12 years, were able to get the most out of the activity and based on surveys enjoyed it the most. These older children, by the end of the activity, were able to understand, not only the practical method of how to map a site, buy why it matters. Including how to interpret and make conclusions about artifact distribution, not only two dimensionally like the activity, but also three dimensionally to represent changing patterns in artifact distribution over time.
Younger children, widely ranging from 4-8 years, exhibited a narrower field of comprehension regarding the guiding principles the activity was designed to teach. However, almost all of then were able to understand the basic goals of the activity such as how to look for patterns in the artifact distribution. Interestingly, this younger group was much more comfortable engaging in a discussion about the mapping activity then actually practicing it, they preferred to discuss what they saw and try to guess or make interpretations about what the artifact distribution meant than to actually draw or map it.
One consistent difficulty that children from all age groups had with the mapping activity was spatial recognition of the artifacts distributed in the “unit” and accurately relating that spatial relationship onto a drawn map. Most of the younger children drew a picture of the artifacts from each grid square into the same corresponding grid square on their map, but with absolutely no relationship to the actual real space in the grid square where the artifact was located. It is unclear if this spatial recognition is a skill that develops later or if there is a relationship to the way they drew the artifacts and how they engage in drawing activities in school. Additionally, all artifacts were drawn at the same scale, with little discernment between larger and smaller artifacts. The older children, again, were able to more fully engage with the spatial relationships and recognition, which likely indicated that there is a developmental element to this part of the activity.
In conclusion, the Dig the Past Mapping Activity was highly successful, and while not as popular as the actual digging activity, almost all children seemed to enjoy participating in the activity. Also, when the children were involved in this activity their parents often accompanied them, and also engaged in the activity and asking their own questions.
As part of my work this semester for Campus Archaeology, I have been scouring the internet to find out how and where other campus groups are exploring their history through archaeology. The results have been quite interesting. My immediate assumption when starting on this quest …
CAP hosted the second session of “Dig the Past” last Saturday at the MSU Museum and I am pleased to say the program continues to engage visitors of a variety of ages in fun activities that call on multiple learning styles. For this session, we added a few new things, including a slideshow about CAP and campus history, coloring activities for the younger visitors, a campus history flier, and a display case filled with campus artifacts, courtesy of CAP. Our main activities (digging, screening, and artifact investigation) drew in 20 youth (our target audience), with an age range of 1 year – 16 years. Naturally, the 1 year-old and the 16 year-old engaged with the activities in very different ways! The younger kids mostly just want to mess around in the dirt, but it is still an active learning experience for them in terms of fine motor skills, depth perception, and social interaction. It is also an opportunity to interact with their parents about the topic at hand, even if the parents aren’t immediately aware of it.
It is an ongoing challenge as well as a joy to tailor the program’s message and language to suit each visitor. That is part of what makes this program special – because each party of visitors is guided personally through the experience by one or more facilitators, we are able to work with their age level(s) and interests in a way that is both understandable and fun for them. In this way we are also able to allow them to spend time on the activity or activities that they have the most interest in – while a lot of kids love digging the most, a surprising number also love handling real artifacts, learning to use the microscope, and quizzing the facilitators for more information.
Part of the reason, of course, that we as facilitators have been able thus far to take such a hands-on approach is because our stream of visitors has been steady but not overwhelmingly high – at most, I think we’ve had about 10 kids actively participating in the room at once, with up to five facilitators. It will be another kind of challenge, should this program ever increase enormously in attendance, to adjust our activity flow strategies while still maintaining the tailored approach that allows kids the luxury to explore at will.
Photos from the event are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/97088955@N02/sets/72157637011417274/
I hope you’ll come join us for our next session on November 16!
This past Saturday on October 12th the Michigan Historical Museum hosted Michigan Archaeology Day. Colleges, organizations, companies, and academics from across the state came to present lectures and exhibits that showcased the wide range of archaeology all over Michigan. CAP presented “Dig the Past,” an …
The project I am developing for CAP this semester is, as I wrote in my intro post, a public engagement program titled “Dig the Past” designed to teach children about archaeology and campus history through hands-on simulations of real archaeological activities. On Sunday, September 15, …