My previous posts this semester have focused on Campus Archaeology’s involvement in community and educational outreach and the pros and cons of these types of activities. Last Friday, members of Campus Archaeology gave an in-school presentation for MSU Science Festival at East Olive Elementary in…
Tag: elementary education
Co-written by Lisa Bright and Nicole Geske Campus Archaeology participates in community education and outreach when possible, especially when we are specifically asked. But, with limited resources and time, we can often only accommodate large educational or MSU sponsored events. Therefore we find ourselves debating…
Most archaeologists would agree that you do archaeology, because you love archaeology. It’s generally not a profession that you happen to fall into, you strive to become an archaeologist. And in that passion for archaeology, you look for opportunities to show others just why you love what you do. This is absolutely the case for CAP, we take every opportunity (and create our own) to show the public just how cool archaeology is. One such event was the recent MSU Science Festival. This week-long event encompasses the entire MSU campus and allows all departments to “share the science that inspires you.” The Science Festival invites the public to partake in all areas of science, from a lecture on Climate Change in the Great Lakes, to a tour of the Center for Advanced Microscopy. It is truly a “learning by doing” event.
For the second year in a row Campus Archaeology participated in Science Fest by organizing several hands-on archaeology activities. For our first session, on Thursday, we worked with the MSU Museum Education Coordinator Julie Fick and invited local schools to come and experience archaeology.
One advantage of participating in the school day, over the open day on Saturday was that we could invite certain age groups (4th and 5th graders), and tailor our activities to their grade milestones. We talked with elementary school teachers to figure out just how specific archaeological techniques could highlight grade specific topics. This was one advantage we had over our usual Dig the Past event, was that we knew exactly how old our audience would be, and how many to expect.
Because we only had the kids for a short period of time, we decided to focus on two activities that would lend the best results: screening, and stone tool identification. These two activities allowed us to explain, in depth, why archaeologists do what they do. For the screening activity we had bins of dirt with “artifacts” (beads and shells) peppered throughout. Several kids could stand around the screen while we discussed why archaeologists screen dirt, the methods behind screening, and how we keep track of where the dirt comes from.
This activity was successful because the kids were excited to be able to use real screens and find real artifacts, like archaeologists do. Additionally, there was plenty of time for the kids to ask questions, and engage and conversation about archaeology.
The second activity, stone tool identification, was also successful for its learning by doing experience. We used real, prehistoric projectile points and ground stone tools and asked the kids to figure out how old each tool was. We created a field guide that allowed the kids to learn the anatomy of the stone tools (stem, blade, notched etc..) and answer questions about each tool, in order to determine its age (or more accurately its style, which corresponded with age). Once the kids learned that they were holding objects that were thousands of years old, their faces beamed with excitement.
“Learning by doing” events like the Science Fest is rewarding for both the audience and the archaeologist. I truly get geeked explaining to people that archaeology really is as cool as they always thought, even though it’s done much more scientifically than is seen on tv.
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…
(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…
Dig the Past kicked off the spring semester with a high-energy workshop last Saturday, January 18th at the MSU Museum auditorium (see a flier with the full list of dates here). I had wanted to get the program going strong right away for the semester and I’m fortunate to have the support from the CAP team, the program facilitators, and museum education staff to get it going right away. My mission for the workshops this semester, now that the program has gone through a few runs, is to implement more activities geared towards learning about campus history and historical archaeology in general.
Saturday’s agenda included two new activities: working with clay (and the concept of pottery), and the basics of unit mapping. While neither of these topics are exclusive to the work we do here on campus, they certainly fall well within the materials and methods applicable to our understanding of campus history. Since the inception of ‘Dig the Past’, making content that is meaningful and accessible at the same time – as well as fun – has been a process of continued refinement. What I work to refine includes what key phrases and concepts we choose to introduce, how and when we introduce them as we guide kids through the activities, and the level of complexity or realism we decide to use in the activities themselves in order to underscore those concepts. The new activities this month were no exception: the initial idea behind ‘working with clay’ had been to promote ideas about vessel forms and function – and maybe social meanings – using some contemporary fired ceramic vessels as comparative examples while participants ‘learned with their hands’ shaping their own clay works of art. Turns out, it’s pretty hard to get kids between the ages of 4 and 8 to listen attentively in a group setting to any kind of prolonged spiel when you give them a blob of clay to mash, roll and squish. I ended up boiling down the message into a couple of key questions that I’d pose to the group as a whole – parents included – such as “Do you know how long people have been making clay pots?” (“Twelve thousand years?! How many great-great-grandparents ago do you think that is?”) and “What do you think people used them for in the past?”. I also showed numerous kids the basic coil technique, though they might remember it better as the ‘worm’ technique, but I tried to work in the idea that people have been doing this for a very, very long time. However, the simple questions that I did ask were effective in that kids liked to make guesses, and those who’d been sitting at the table long enough to have heard the answers before were excited to know the answers before the other children. Parents, likewise, tend to listen in, venture guesses, and sometimes offer stories of their own encounters with archaeological sites or objects.
The unit-mapping activity was one I had in mind for somewhat older and more detail-oriented participants. The idea was to look at the layout of “artifacts” on the gridded surface of a mock excavation unit floor (which we’d drawn out on kraft paper and taped to the actual floor), plot the artifacts’ location on a sheet of grid paper, and make some basic observations about context, taphonomy, etc. I was busy with the clay activity most of the day and had two other facilitators running this one, but I hope to get their insights on participants’ interactions with it in writing sometime in the near future. What the facilitators did tell me after the workshop was over was that only about 20% of the youth participants were interested in doing the mapping activity, but that those who were, were pretty into it. This is about what I expected, so I was pleased to hear it.
Campus Archaeology’s stated engagement mission includes “educating [the MSU community] about their cultural heritage, and about how archaeology can be used to discover a community’s past.” I’ve felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to create Dig the Past as a way to do so that allows for on-on-one interpersonal interaction with adults and youth alike. My hope is that through these workshops we are helping create meaningful connections not only to the artifacts that visitors see and handle but the unique stories they represent as well. It is my mission for the remaining time which I’ll be overseeing Dig the Past to promote this mission trowelful by trowelful, one person at a time.
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…
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 interactive station to engage children in many of the different aspects of archaeology.
The dig room at Michigan Archaeology was centered around the dig tent. When kids entered the tent they could step into the shoes of a real archaeologist and participate in an excavation. Kids used tools of the trade, like trowels and brushes to uncover the artifacts. Artifacts like beads, or corn, or different lithics (stone tools) were hidden away for them to discover. It seemed to be the biggest hit.
The next station that intrigued the kids was our artifact display table. We were showcasing cool artifacts like worked copper, banner stones, bird stones, tools and all varieties of points. One kid told me that a spear point was definitely a T-Rex tooth because it looked too much like bone and too sharp for a person to make. Everyone seemed excited though at the prospect of being able to actually handle real artifacts. We even had a microscope set up so that they could examine the different artifacts up close!
Another big hit was the example petroglyphs, or carved rock (created by the State Historic Preservation Office). The kids were able to do rubbings on pieces of white paper with crayons over the petroglyphs to get an idea of what the shape and picture looked like.
Right next to this station was our stratigraphic station (also created by the State Historic Preservation Office). There were pictures of artifacts that the kids could color in. These artifacts were arranged on a timeline starting with things like harpoon hooks and spear points, and moving onwards toward worked copper pots and European pottery, and ending with a can of coke. On the wall next to this there was a soil profile which had different stratigraphic levels indicated by changing soil colors. We were trying to help the kids get a grasp on the Law of Superposition. After they were done coloring their artifacts they could place it on the wall where they thought it should go based on the Law of Superposition.
I was working with one girl and explaining stratigraphy to her, and how she could recognize the different stratigraphic layers in the soil profile. By the time I was done she had placed the picture of European pottery right near the top. I was excited because she grasped the fairly advanced concept. Curious, I asked her why she had placed her picture near the top of the wall; she looked at me and said, ‘Frisbees go at the top because they are newer like pop cans.’ I had to laugh to myself because she had clearly thought through her decision but had interpreted the circular European pottery as a modern day Frisbee with really cool designs.
Overall the level of excitement throughout the day was amazing. The kids asked all sorts of questions and I can’t wait until they are able to start studying and contributing to the field as well.