The Use of Artifacts to Teach Ancient History in the Elementary Classroom

By Morris, Ronald V. | Social Studies Review, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Use of Artifacts to Teach Ancient History in the Elementary Classroom


Morris, Ronald V., Social Studies Review


Special Interest

Artifacts serve as a way to interpret the story of a people. People define themselves by the art and music they create, and students can examine works to define a people. Students need to examine events within a cultural framework to explore art, music, and events (Levstik and Pappas, 1992). Students evaluate the aesthetic qualities of the artifacts to illustrate a culture; the story of a people and a cultural framework help students to learn about ancient history. The teacher uses these experiences to get the students talking and thinking about the topic. The student use artifacts to establish connection to people in the past and present places on earth.

Artifacts serve as a way to focus instruction; understanding occurs when students examine ideas in depth. One mark of excellent instruction consists of organizing and developing limited content to focus on key understandings (Brophy, 1992). Students use artifacts to construct their understanding of crucial social studies concepts; artifacts serve as a primary source of information about a culture. Students use thinking skills through the discovery method to interpret objects. In this particular case after the students gather the information they can then use it to interpret historical events though drama. In social studies students learn to sift evidence themselves before information interpretation occurs for them (Levstik, 1995). Students use evidence from artifacts to form insightful conclusions. The artifact helps the student focus on examining evidence; when students use evidence, artifacts become primary sources to learn about people and their lives.

Students share a fascination with art and music; they link their experiences and the experiences of others through the media of art and music. Teachers help students incorporate music, dance, and art into their class. Instruction and enjoyable social studies is about real people (Dawson, 1989); elementary students find artifacts laden with the fascinating story of people. The work and play in the lives of common persons as well as the famous or the infamous can be illustrated through artifacts. Elementary students can then assume the role of any of these personalities based on the interests sparked by the tools and possessions of the individual. Students see the effort and incitement of emotion needed by a person to create a work. Arts get them to interpret because art renders both invention and human voice that is often transparent (Gabella, 1994). Students take an artifact and read a story of another person into it. While they see artifacts from retrospect, they depend upon the connection between an artist and society to help the student make generalizations about a society. Lievrouw and Pope (1994) view social art knowledge from art history as retrospective while the sociology of art informs the links between artists and their world. Artists always create within a social context and reflect their perceptions of society through their work for another to interpret. Students bring contemporary views and attitudes to help make connections with the past; students bring knowledge to school that they can use to extrapolate about real people.

Students grow in historical thinking as they examine artifacts. Artifacts lead students from an affective bond through an artifact with other people whom they have not yet met. Egan calls upon teachers of the social studies to take an "affective orientation" (1989). Through capturing the imagination of students those students link emotionally with peoples of the past; the affective orientation allows students to examine values within the context of a culture. Teaching social studies provides opportunities for teaching about critical thinking and the analysis of values (Brophy, 1990). Students engaged in critical thinking make decisions as to the nature of the worth of a culture using their value system and their contemporary point of view. …

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The Use of Artifacts to Teach Ancient History in the Elementary Classroom
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