Bringing Archaeology and 3D Modeling to the K-12 Classroom

Many archeologists, as part of their public outreach efforts, see the recent movement to bring science and math based curriculum into classrooms as an opportunity to introduce both teachers and students to archaeology and anthropology. This trend has also caused schools and programs to reach out to archaeologists and other scientists to present to their students. However you end up standing in front of thirty 5th graders, there are some things that will help you achieve your goals and survive to see another invitation extended to you.

I would argue that archaeology is uniquely suited to classroom presentations in that it covers every subject being taught in today’s schools, especially when 3D modeling is included, and is an inherently hands on and accessible science. In order build an easy to use guide for people interested in bringing 3D modeling and archaeology to public education I have drawn on my knowledge of the public education standards and how to best cooperate with public school teachers, gained by five years experience in a classroom. Though I will focus mostly on archaeological modeling and K-12 education in this post, all of the material covered here is applicable to all fields of anthropology, all subfields of archaeology, and really any field of science.

Getting into the classroom

The two biggest things to remember when presenting in a kindergarten through 12th grade education setting is time and flexibility. Time is everything to a teacher, and even more important to the students. Frustrations about time are not necessarily exclusive to the time you are taking out of their day by presenting. Sometimes it is the time of day you want to come into the class, and sometimes it is the time of year. This is where flexibility comes in. Here are my quick and easy tips to getting a teacher to say yes, and to have them ask you back:

  1. Contact schools you work with and get a school calendar, or join their Facebook page. If you know what is going on at school a teacher will not turn you down because you asked to come and present on field day. 
  2. Know or ask what topic/subject they are covering and explicitly tell the teacher how the material you are presenting matches that. My other suggestion to this is do not concentrate only on science. See the next section for more details on this. 
  3. Bring ALL necessary supplies (including pencils and paper) and make sure to communicate this with the teacher. Also, if you will be using computers, arrive early and make sure everything is in order for the kids to log on.


All topics taught by a teacher must meet what they call a standard. These standards can include things like teaching a kindergartener that a book has a front cover and a back cover (standard “LAFS.K.RI.2.5”). Before you freak out I’m not proposing that anyone learn the standards, though they are available for your reading pleasure on every state’s education website. Here are the Florida standards for language arts and math by grade level.

Kindergarten standard for reading. (Source: Florida Department of Education)


The chart below connects the four main subjects to 3D modeling and printing in archaeology. The great thing about many topics covered within each subject is that they can be taught at almost every grade level, with varying degrees of difficulty of course. Elementary schools, for example, may only have the students classify according to shape, size, and color whereas middle schoolers are capable of predicting the use of an object and classifying based on those observations. Seeing these parallels will save you some time in writing lessons and will increase the variety of grade levels you can present in.


Archaeological 3D Modeling

Archaeology (all subfields)


– Scale and ratio
– Conversion of standard to metric
– Fractional measurements
– Coordinate grids
– Laying out a unit (Pythagorean Theorem)
– Positive/Negative numbers
– Angles
– Degrees


– Building experimental models
– Classification
– Documenting results
– Geology
– Weather Cycles
– Evolution
– Chemistry (Carbon 14)


– Photography for preservation
– Interpreting sites and items
– Understanding context
– Academic research
– Preserving historic items
– Validating sources

Language Arts

– Creative writing prompts
– Argumentative writing about interpretations
– Academic writing prompts
– Report writing
– Critical dissent
– Concise writing through abstracts
This table is only a sampling of the topics that can be taught per subject, I stuck with general ideas because each school district and each state has their own standards that need to be met.

To help clarify, I will expand upon one topic within each subject and choose a grade level to give a better perspective of how they connect to classroom instruction.

Math: Scale and Ratio

Min catapults in a math class for exploring math and historic technology. Full article here. (Image by

In Florida, most 6th grade students are beginning to learn how to work with ratios and scale modeling. A possible lesson connection could be scaling a building within modeling software so that it could be displayed and explored in a museum by smaller kids. This is a hands-on math intense topic that helps others and has real world applications.

Science: Classification

Elementary students begin to classify objects very early on, by shape and size, as early as kindergarten. Using 3D printed lithic points and pottery students could work on their classifying skills while also handling what would otherwise be fragile artifacts.

For further reading on the power of these models to communicate context, see this post. (Image by Mariana Zechini)

History: Understanding Context

Holding an object only seen in pictures before can often be revolutionary. Changing a person’s perspective and understanding of an item. High Schoolers begin writing research papers early on in their freshmen year, and often write about things they have only seen in books. Physically touching a cannonball that shattered on a tree, like the one printed by UWF students Janene Johnston and Mariana Zechini, can add context to the tree, the cannon ball, and the person who surely escaped death.

Language Arts: Writing

Amazingly, this is often forgotten by archaeologists and yet comprises a large percentage of what we do. Academic writing and writing an opposing critique are skills they will need as they move into college, something we as archaeologists and scientist are painfully aware of. Archaeologist have a unique relationship with journaling and note taking, a skill that many take for granted.


By providing some general examples and simple tips, I have given those that desire to bring 3D modeling into a classroom some tools to access the world of education standards. Because this is only a starting point, if you are an archaeologist hoping to do some public outreach or a teacher looking to give some of your standards a new spin with real world applications, please share if you have ideas of your own.


Elizabeth Chance Campbell is a Master’s student at the University of Central Florida and will be defending her thesis, on an 1866 watermill, in the spring. She worked in a low income middle school for five years where she taught students with learning disabilities before moving to Georgia, where her wife is stationed in the Air Force. She hopes to take her experience as an educator and as an archaeologist to the next level by creating lessons that can be incorporated into classroom settings with students of all levels.

Using Tinkercad And Other Modeling Systems to Contextualize Structures in The Classroom

In last week’s post, I discussed a watermill model that I created as part of my thesis research, this week I will discuss the program I used. Because I am a graduate student and new to modeling, I needed a program that was free and relatively easy for a novice to navigate. The program itself had to allow me to create the model from scratch. This was important because unlike photogrammetry, I wanted to make my model using measurements taken in the field and reconstruct the mill rather than just render it as it stood today.

Once I began working with Tinkercad, the website that I will review today, I realized its educational possibilities. Tinkercad is a free, browser-based CAD program, and is in no way the only option out there. As a former teacher, this program could easily be incorporated into classroom lessons. In my experience creating my watermill model, this is an exceptionally user-friendly, and free site for creating a free-form model and also possesses numerous applications in and out of the classroom.

Other apps and their descriptions available through Autodesk 123D. (Image by author)

Tinkercad is part of a family of free apps available from Autodesk 123D, I have not experimented with the other apps, each of them have different applications. There is an app for iPads as well as one that can generate 3D models from photos, much like PhotoScan, though I think PhotoScan is a more intense and professional process, an opinion based on limited experience. Most of the programs and sites I found, which are listed at the end of this post, were not suitable for my project due to requirement of downloading software or that only a short trial membership was available before requiring payment.

Home screens of Tinkercad. The beta version is on top and offers different tool options, though both perform similar operations. (Image by author)

A free account with Tinkercad lets you create designs and save them under different projects, allowing for generational designs; it also allows you to create several types of downloadable files of your model that can been uploaded to other sites such as Sketchfab. The resulting file can also be used to print your model either with a personal 3D printer or by a company of your choosing. There are two formats to create designs with, normal or Beta. Beta differentiates mostly in the user interface, allowing the use of keyboard shortcuts, as well as the ability to collaborate with others.

Watermill designed in tinkercad and then imported to a Sketchfab profile. (Image by author)
Geometric shape shown in Tinkercad with measurements as you would see them while working on the program. (Image by author)

Once an account is set up, the user is free to create projects and then save them to be accessed later. Once the project is created a work plane is displayed, at this point it is imperative that the scale you wish to use is set. In the bottom, right hand corner an edit grid option is displayed, inches and millimeters are your two options. For inches, 39.37 x 39.37 is the largest grid possible and for millimeters a 1000 x1000 grid is the limit. If a larger grid is necessary, this program is not a good option. The grid is easy to use and when scaling an object, the rulers that measure the item as you move it are invaluable.

Though you can create your own objects to use in your model, the provided geometric shapes and the community created objects are very versatile. One of the best features is the ability to use an object as a “hole”, for an example of this I used a cylinder and a sphere to create a ditch in the top of the cylinder. The hole is completed when you group the two objects together.

Shapes are also very easily manipulated. The example I’ve shown here is a pyramid altered into a thin section to make a trowel. Going into the program and manipulating the shapes is the best way to learn to navigate the program. One important feature is the Fit to View Selection this focuses in on the selected shape and helps when working with them. Of course, you can always create your own shape and even import shapes from your computer or other sites. Given a little bit of time and practice manipulating the shapes and holes, custom shapes and objects are easily rendered for specific items.

Three shapes created in Tinkercad. The cylinder shows what a shape looks like before it is grouped to create a void. Notice the different options for manipulating the pyramid. In the top left hand corner, the red arrow points to the “Fit to View” option. (Image by author)

This program is an exceptional option for use in public education settings. Some possibilities for this program in the classroom I can see are:

  • Having students explore symbols and how to create them
  • Using static objects such as cylinders or boxes and inventing a useful tool
  • Using scale to model an existing item or building
  • Designing an artifact from the past or one of the future

Without creating a full tutorial on how to use this site, I hope I have provided a starting point for anyone interested in modeling. Tinkercad provides a wide assortment of tools and an easy to navigate “sandbox” with the grid system to allow for a large degree of control over your design. In the classroom, students can create their own personal accounts because the program allows for collaboration between users; there is not a download requirement (most schools require permission to download programs, so you can skip the IT department).

This site is most certainly not the only one available to aspiring modelers. Here is a list of others I have found and explored:


Elizabeth Chance Campbell is a Master’s student at the University of Central Florida and will be defending her thesis, on an 1866 watermill, in the spring. She worked in a low income middle school for five years where she taught students with learning disabilities before moving to Georgia, where her wife is stationed in the Air Force. She hopes to take her experience as an educator and as an archaeologist to the next level by creating lessons that can be incorporated into classroom settings with students of all levels.

Against the Flow: Reconstructive Modeling of a Watermill

As an archaeologist, my first experience with modeling came almost as an afterthought to my thesis work. I had an opportunity to present my work as a poster during the Southeastern Archaeology Conference in Athens, Georgia and wanted to show people in a readily accessible visual format what the watermill structure looked like prior to the weather, moss, and debris created what exists today. Much like when an artifact is printed and made available to the public, I had a desire to connect the public to my mill. Once I realized its outreach capabilities, the model I had created became a center point of my research.

Mill two views.png
The mill as it stands today on the left and a scaled reconstruction on the right. (Image by author)
Brick and Gear attachment piece that were recovered during excavations. (Image by author)

I began this model as an attempt to recreate the mill and then develop a scale model. The mill is a mid-nineteenth century watermill that is the focus of my master’s thesis. As it stands today, the mill is a dilapidated concrete foundation nestled on the shore of a creek in Central Florida, the wheel and gears are missing as well as the mill house that would have held milling equipment. Severe disturbance from both water intrusion and modern construction around the area made finding smaller artifacts difficult, and in the end only a few bricks and some metal pieces associated with the axle were recovered.

Since so little was found, I was forced to rethink what I could learn from the mill foundation, rather than a collection of artifacts. As a result, I turned my focus to determining the size of the wheel, the size of the gear and then from that information how much power the mill would have been able to produce. This led me to modeling.

Mill as it looked when finished in Tinkercad. From here I was able to have it printed. (Image by author)

While in the field I took measurements with surveying equipment as well as hand tools. I would later use this information to recreate the mill in Tinkercad, an excellent modeling site that is free. I decided to create a scale model of the mill, for several purposes:

  1. I wanted to play with different size wheels and gears and how they would have fit within the existing foundation.
  2. I needed to see what the association was between wood inserts in the floor of the gearbox and a gear.
  3. I wanted to be able to show future audiences how the mill would have looked when first constructed.
Gearbox with wood inserts pointed out. These were found after excavating the box. (Image by author)
The model in Tinkercad showing the correlation of the gear and where it would have been positioned over the wood insert. (Image by author)

The mill, recreated in Tinkercad, was designed on a 1 inch:1 foot scale, though it was scaled much smaller when printed to reduce cost. With the 3D reconstruction, I was able to visually determine that the wheel would have most likely been between 4 and 5 feet in diameter with a maximum width of 2 feet. Any smaller and the wheel would have lost efficiency. I also found that a gear would have aligned perfectly above the wood inserts in the bottom of the gear box, perhaps serving as a buffer in case the gear bounced against the floor.

The mill was printed using an online printing service and I took the model with me as a visual aid for a poster presentation I gave at the 2016 Southeast Archaeology Conference. Watching grown archaeologists spin the wheel on my model, only confirmed my belief in its ability to capture the public’s interest.

Modeling artifacts has brought them out of the lab and scale models of buildings and machines will bring large or immovable structures into the hands of the public. The educational material this type of reconstructive modeling could produce is vast; math (scale modeling teaches ratios), history (changing technologies can be recreated to give temporal context), physics (calculating horsepower and energy of machines), communication (creating modern instructions on the operation of a historic machine), etc. Making sure that math, history, science, and language arts are all covered is the intent of any archeologist working in schools.

Next week I will review Tinkercad and talk more about its potential in an educational setting.

Final mill model. The wheel and gear are one unit and spin freely on the foundation allowing audiences to physically experience the mill turning. (Image by author)


Elizabeth Chance Campbell is a Master’s student at the University of Central Florida and will be defending her thesis, on an 1866 watermill, in the spring. She worked in a low income middle school for five years where she taught students with learning disabilities before moving to Georgia, where her wife is stationed in the Air Force. She hopes to take her experience as an educator and as an archaeologist to the next level by creating lessons that can be incorporated into classroom settings with students of all levels.