Dig into Art and Culture

By McCarthy, Patricia | School Arts, March 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Dig into Art and Culture

McCarthy, Patricia, School Arts

As an eighth grade teacher, my biggest joy is to be able to stand back and watch students totally driven by the desire to learn. One way to spark that interest in learning has been "The Dig" -- an interdisciplinary program that integrates math, science, the creative arts, and the humanities.

What's unique about the "The Dig" is that it is completely student driven, and it has become the perfect laboratory for students to be inquisitive. As a teacher, I try to be invisible in this progress. At this age, students are used to teachers rushing to help them. But some of the most important learning comes when the students are frustrated and have to come up with answers on their own.

Learning on Their Own

Students in this program really learn the unit because they have to use their knowledge to come up with the answers. Invariably, the students say how much fun it was, how they were forced to think, and how they valued the skills they learned.

The program was started to help us integrate our English and History departments into what is now the Humanities Department, a decision we reached in working with the Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). CES is a national reform initiative that was established by Theodore Sizer in 1985, based at Brown University. Our school is a member of CES.

The Coalition believes the best way to teach children in through interdisciplinary courses and by allowing students to become "workers" and teachers to become "coaches," or guides in the learning process.

Bringing Civilizations to life

In "The Dig," eighth grade students dig up fictional civilizations invented by their classmates. The students bring to life two different civilizations with their own unique history, cultural arts, political systems, and language. We bury artifacts from those cultures and students must piece together the life of that culture based solely on excavating and examining the artifacts. The six-week program teaches students about cultural attitudes and values, archaeology, science, mathematical coordinates, observation, teamwork, history, art, creativity, and self-evaluation. It is a unit that can be scaled to any middle school or early upper school curriculum.

Making Sense of Cultures

To begin the unit, students discuss the necessary elements for a culture or civilization. These include things like geography, cultural values, attitudes toward death and the unknown, division of labor and economy, recreation and leisure, numbers and written systems, etc. Next, we divide the entire class into two separate groups and play a cultural sensitivity game called Bafa Bafa (this is a published game) where students simulate entering a foreign culture and try to make sense of the values that drive it. Students find this to be a fun game, and it shows them how difficult it can be to make sense of an entirely foreign culture.

Working in Cooperative Groups

We move full steam ahead into the actual dig. Students are separated based on their Bafa Bafa groups into two "cultures." They are told from this point forward that they cannot share work between the two groups. All group work must remain confidential. Students understand that they will create their own culture that can be set in either ancient times or the future. Independently, each student becomes the "expert" in one of the cultural universals, such as the culture's social, political, or value system.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Dig into Art and Culture


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?