Archaeology in the Seventh Grade: An Interdisciplinary Unit of Study

By Eisenwine, Marilyn J. | Social Education, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview
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Archaeology in the Seventh Grade: An Interdisciplinary Unit of Study

Eisenwine, Marilyn J., Social Education

Archaeology is the study of societies of the past using the clues of their material remains. It is a discipline that integrates methods and concepts from many fields of study to construct an understanding of people and cultures of the past.

Why emphasize archaeology in the middle school? Because of its melding of humanities and science, archaeology is an outstanding vehicle for interdisciplinary units of study. (1) Interdisciplinary instruction can address the intellectual and social needs of the middle school student. A unit on archaeology is also an opportunity for teachers in the different subject areas to work together as a team. (2) A recent study of curriculum integration in the seventh and eighth grades indicated that the practice is "socially desirable and educationally essential," even though it can be demanding when teachers first create an integrated unit of study. (3) National standards for the social studies stress skill-based learning and the inclusion of primary sources. (4) Archaeological study is an excellent example of scientists using the raw data of history, such as artifacts and human remains, as the primary evidence of past events. Finally, archaeology is naturally a part of the usual social studies curriculum of state history (covered in the seventh grade in many states) and world history (often covered in the eighth grade).

Conserving a Resource

Currently in the United States, an "uneducated public" is destroying (usually unwittingly) countless archaeological sites each year. According to Dan Potter, an archaeologist with the Texas Historical Commission, thousands of sites a year are destroyed in Texas alone. (5) Teachers and children are well aware of the problems of pollution and species extinction because of the massive educational and political efforts of citizen conservation groups over the last half-century. Archaeologists, too, need an educational campaign. Like some natural resources, archaeological sites are nonrenewable. Adults and children are often unaware that it is not appropriate (and is usually illegal) to pick up and keep artifacts, such as arrowheads or broken pottery, found on public property such as a state or national park. As part of this unit of study, teachers can help make students aware of the importance of preserving archaeological resources as part of our national and world heritage. (6)

A Team-Teaching Effort

Recognizing the importance of including archaeology in the curriculum, seventh grade social studies teacher Antonio J. Castro designed an integrated unit of study to be used with teachers on his team at Westview Middle School in Pflugerville, Texas. As the unit progressed, teachers from the other subject areas (math, language arts, and science) included their own ideas in the lesson plans, using their preferred methods. Five professional archaeologists served as guest speakers during the course of the unit. (7) Students enjoyed these special presentations, which included slides of archaeological digs and artifacts.

Teachers assessed learning with worksheets during the unit and, at the conclusion, through student presentations. Also, a short survey intended to measure student attitudes, which was handed out at the end of the year, showed that most students responded favorably to the archaeological material and wanted to learn more about the discipline and the historical period studied. (8)

Social Studies

Because archaeology is a subdiscipline of anthropology within the social sciences, much of the core course material was included in the social studies class. The lessons moved from concrete objects to more abstract concepts. The teacher began by introducing archaeological terms and vocabulary. (9) Students completed worksheets that included drawings of artifacts found in Texas, such as an atlatl, chert, a dart point, a firestick, a hearth, mano, metate, mussels, and a rabbit stick. Using line drawings of artifacts, students made games for vocabulary review like bingo or concentration.

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