Project Archaeology is a program designed to get archaeology taught to elementary- and middle school-level kids (and, I imagine, it could easily be adapted for high schoolers). A joint project of the Bureau of Land Management and Montana State University, Project Archaeology runs a Leadership Academy that trains school teachers, archaeologists and other professionals. The Academy’s most recent class, which took place this week, saw teachers and archaeologists from Florida, Iowa, Utah, Idaho, Missouri and — from Colorado — yours truly. This was a very inspiring week for all of us, and I look forward to implementing Project Archaeology’s lessons both in schools as well as in workshops for other professionals.
So what does Project Archaeology actually do? The goal of the program, in my opinion, is twofold: it provides lesson plans for teachers who want to include cultural heritage and archaeology as part of their curriculum. And it provides a means for Leadership Academy participants to go back to their home states and teach mini-workshops for other teachers.
The lesson plans are interdisciplinary, incorporating math skills (ugh… math), history, abstract reasoning and critical thinking. For example, in one lesson, a large plastic sheet (maybe six-by-eight feet) was laid on the floor, with a “blueprint” of a living room drawn out in permanent marker on it. There was a sofa, a coffee table, a bookshelf, etc…. On the sheet, the instructor placed various household items as they were “left” by their owners, and it is the students’ job to develop questions and answer them using only the information available. There were leftover items from a birthday party on the floor, some gardening magazines on the coffee table — the list goes on. This was a lesson about the importance of context, and how much more we can learn about the way people lived by leaving their stuff exactly where they left it. Pretty cool.
In another lesson, kids are given “doohickey bags,” filled with random items such as toys, fasteners and small household items. Kids are allowed to group them however they like, but they have to explain why they arrange items in the way they’ve chosen. This leads to a discussion about the importance of organization in archaeology, and how grouping artifacts helps us develop and answer research questions.
There were other lessons as well, including the ever-popular flintknapping demonstration (shout out to Dr. Craig Lee) and a field trip to Madison Buffalo Jump State Park (where Crow Indian/MSU professor Shane Doyle delivered an excellent lecture).
It was an intense but enjoyable week, and I look forward to seeing what my fellow graduates come up with. This is a great community to be involved with, and I feel it’s the best method of long-term preservation of archaeological sites and cultural heritage. If we can get kids thinking about the importance of the past from an early age, there is hope that sites currently under threat will be protected in perpetuity.
A lofty goal? Absolutely. But it’s one worth working towards.
Special thanks to Kathy Francisco and Jeanne Moe for their generous invite to participate in the Leadership Academy.
Learn more at www.projectarchaeology.org.