School News

Project Turns Students Into Archeologists

From Fairfield Ledger, by Andy Hallman--

Students at New Indian School have recently received training in archeology.

The middle school students at MSAE completed a five-week class project which involved studying a civilization’s culture through the artifacts it left behind. What excited the students was that they got to create a civilization and then turn its artifacts over to their classmates to figure out.

The 28 students in seventh and eighth grade were split into three groups. Each group was given a geographic landscape in which its civilization developed. One group was assigned a land with heavy geothermic activity and geysers. Another was assigned to live on a volcano, and the third was assigned to live on a snowy mountain.

“Then they had to decide what kind of culture would be created in this environment,” said Richard Incorvia, who teaches the middle-schoolers along with Barbara Hays. “They could create whatever culture they wanted, but they had to be able to justify it. For instance, if they’re living in a snowy mountain, they’re probably not doing a lot of agriculture.”

Once a group had created a culture, it created artifacts to go along with that culture. This included creating things such as language, clothing, weapons, medicine, recreational activities and religion.

The students buried their artifacts outside in the dirt. A different group was told to dig up those artifacts and infer what that civilization’s culture was like based solely on the artifacts.

“The purpose of the project is to learn how geography and people’s consciousness make culture,” Incorvia said. “This is what real archeologists do.”

Another part of the course was to learn how artifacts are displayed once they are found. To learn that skill, Incorvia and Hays took their students to the Carnegie Historical Museum so they could see how the experts do it.

Thursday, the students put the artifacts they found on display and invited the public to view them. Each student prepared something to say about a different aspect of the civilization his group uncovered and what the group believed each artifact to be.

Deciphering another group’s language proved to be a time-consuming endeavor. Incorvia said some students become obsessed with breaking the code as they spent more than an hour each day looking for clues in the exotic language.

One group believed it had uncovered a tavern because it discovered glass bottles at its dig site. Incorvia said the group that created the artifacts intended it to be a school. He said the students would learn today what the other groups intended their artifacts to be.

This kind of classroom work is known as “project-based education,” but Incorvia prefers to call it “authentic learning.”

“Even in project-based education, students tend to make dioramas and put on plays,” he said. “We really want the kids to be doing things that are in the public eye and have some real world value to them.”

Incorvia said the students “buy in” to assignments that have a bearing on real world skills. Hays said it can be intimidating or embarrassing for the students to interact with adults, but their class projects give them plenty of practice so they can overcome those fears in short order.

At the same time, Incorvia realizes middle school-age students are not yet adults and have trouble being as mature as adults all day long.

“We talk to the kids a lot about being professional, standing correctly and being knowledgeable about what they’re talking about,” he said. “However, when we’re practicing during the day they don’t take it very seriously, which is sometimes infuriating.”

When it comes time to welcome the public to their event, the students act as professional as can be, Incorvia said.

“We open the doors and it clicks and somehow it’s like they listened to everything we told them,” he said. “They stand there confident, poised and ready to smile and shake hands.”

The recent archeology project is just one of multiple “authentic learning” endeavors the middle school students have undertaken this year. Earlier this spring, the students organized a carnival that required them to market the event by selling tickets to it and to learn a skill to show off at the carnival.

Last fall, the middle-schoolers took exit polls at the polling locations in town. Incorvia said it helped the students understand how seriously adults take voting.

“People running one of the polling stations got angry at our kids and threatened to call the police,” he said. “It was really great, because we had already called the police about what we could do and what we couldn’t do. We were like, ‘Go ahead, call the police, it’s fine.’ That was a powerful learning moment for the kids. You’re not going to get that kind of experience doing a poll inside the school.”

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