Reading about archaeology and museums and ancient civilizations can be a lot like reading about anything else at school – some kids might find it moderately interesting, while others probably would not. But what if students could play the role of archaeologists and museum curators, researching and creating their own museum exhibits using the very latest in super-cool modern technology?
I teach a World History survey course to 8th graders in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The scope of the content covers time from the Paleolithic Era to 1500 CE, and in the first few weeks of school, students are introduced as much to the study of history as to the content. In a virtual meeting with an archaeologist, my co-teacher and I got the idea for a Project-Based Learning (PBL) experience, culminating with a museum exhibit, complete with 3d-printed artifacts and augmented reality software, to showcase their learning to their parents. Below is the outline of the PBL.
The Entry Events:
I. Meeting with a Professional:
During the first month of school, students met (via Google Hangouts) a real archaeologist, Sarah Miller, and were introduced to the field, learning how the science of archaeology helps us understand the past. Miller told us about her work and shared how new advancements in technology improve knowledge of the past. (The Standard of Learning related to this lesson states, “Students will be able to explain how archaeological discoveries are changing present-day knowledge of early peoples.”) She discussed how archaeologists can get a replica of artifacts as 3d printables,
and sent us this picture of a Sumerian ziggurat. She said scans of the ziggurat and thousands of other ancient artifacts were available for free in museum libraries on the internet. Anyone can download them and print the artifacts in 3d (though of course many would be miniature versions of the originals, since few people have pyramid-sized 3d printers.)
II. Teacher’s Personal Experience with a Museum:
Last summer, I visited the Louvre and I showed students some pictures, sharing with them how meaningful it was for me to see artifacts from civilizations I have taught about for years (civilizations they are about to study — Mesopotamia). I then introduced the Museum project: Students would create a museum exhibit on a civilization or topic and have the opportunity to choose an artifact to print using our school’s 3d printer.
III. School Vision: Involving stakeholders
We are a school that needs our parents to feel connected, so I invited Mrs. Frazier, our principal, to talk to students about how much we want their parents to feel welcome at our school. She expressed that students can help by inviting their own parents to see their museum exhibit on Parent Teacher Conference Night.
THE MAGIC: PROJECT BASED LEARNING
Phase 1: Introducing the topic
I introduced the task and driving question for students, “How do we as museum staff create an exhibit to show the achievements of our topic?” Topics included empires of Mesopotamia, kingdoms of Egypt, and empires and religions of classical India. Our Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) and I used the book Learning on Display to help us organize the process and create rubrics for assessment. We began with a Gallery Walk and students reflected on the following:
- What is a Museum?
- Why do we have museums?
- What makes museums engaging for 8th graders?
Phase 2: Research
Students completed a research guide to learn more details about the society they were studying and determine what made their topic historically significant.
The teachers created questions directing students to find information aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning (what students are supposed to be learning).
Phase 3: Exhibit Planning
Students planned their exhibit, and considered these questions:
- How will we show what is important to remember about our topic?
- How will we get visitors to experience our story?
- What will our completed exhibit look like?
- Will our exhibit work?
In groups, students showed their plan on large paper so that they could receive feedback from fellow students to inform their revisions.
After the plans were posted, students completed a gallery walk, viewing their peers’ plans to offer feedback that should be specific, helpful and kind. Students used post-it notes, and based on the protocol I learned at Buck Institute, they were given sentence starters: I like to commend an idea, I wonder to ask clarifying questions, and I have to offer a suggestion.
Upon being asked to reflect on the gallery walk, one student said, “criticism is not all bad. . .this is helpful!”
One group said, “we didn’t get a lot of helpful feedback” so they asked if they could present their plan to the whole class. I thought this was so powerful for students to put themselves “out there” for help.
After receiving feedback, students revised their plans, and were ready to put it all together.
Phase 4: Writing a Label Copy
Before students were able to print their artifact and set up their exhibit, the label copies were written to help their visitors understand the key points of their display, including the relevance of the artifact. The idea of creating the label copy before the creation of the exhibit is that if they waited until after the exhibit was done, they would be too excited to calm down and “write,” BUT it was wonderful to see them edit several times before the final copy was finished.
Phase 5: Constructing the Exhibit
This was the most exciting part for the students as they saw their research, plans, revision and ideas come to fruition.
Not all students chose to print a 3d artifact; a few students used the program Aurasma, making the exhibits interactive.
Here are a few comments from the students:
PBL was very good at teaching students to research on a focus and create project that not only teaches the student but others as well. The 3-D printer is a great way to create an artifact since most students can’t go around an archaeological dig. The 3-D printer is also good to create an artifact if a student’s focus was not able to have any historical artifacts. We didn’t really learn about archaeology in the PBL, but Archaeology was taught throughout depending on each focus project. Archaeology and artifacts helped us learn about what influenced the people of the time and what their life was like. – Paulo Pulido
I liked using a 3d printer because it creates a visual. I learned that archaeology is very time consuming and you have to be patient.
I think using a 3D printer for an artifact is a great idea. It makes the project more hands on.
On the last day of the project, as students were busily putting their exhibits up, some leaders from the school board – including Dr. Scott Baker, Superintendent and Mr. Keith Wolfe, Executive Director of Secondary Education and Leadership – observed the students preparing their exhibits. They were so intrigued by what we were doing they came back the next night for Parent-Teacher Conference night to see the students showcase their projects. Most of our parents came to interact with their students as they demonstrated their learning of their topic in history as well as the authentic tasks of creating a museum exhibit using real-life tools of the trade in archaeology.
As an 8th-grade teacher, I may see 4-5 parents a couple times a year for “Conference Nights,” but more than 40 families came to interact with their children as students shared their learning.
This experience was an opportunity for students to see the relevance of history in a 21st-century setting, where they combined modern technology with the old-fashioned skills of inquiry and collaboration.
Sarah Bates King has been teaching for 15 years and has spent most of her career in World History with 8th graders. In 2012, she attended the National Social Studies conference, where she reconnected with a college friend, Sarah Miller, an archaeologist. Since that time, they have made it a point to have a yearly virtual field trip to introduce urban students to archaeology in real life. She is very passionate about the study of human history and the humanities, and instills in her students the love of History. Outside of teaching, she enjoys relaxing with yoga retreats, running and spending time with her husband and two girls. In her downtime, she processes and reflects with posts to her blog about teaching in light of motherhood and a personal blog about life.