by Sarah King
Teacher, Chancellor Middle School, Spotsylvania, Virginia
Reading about archaeology and museums and ancient civilizations can be a lot like reading about anything else at school—some kids might find it moderately interesting, while others probably wouldn’t. But what if students could play the role of archaeologists and museum curators, researching and creating their own museum exhibits using the very latest in super-cool modern technology?
My 8th grade World History survey course covers the Paleolithic Era to 1500 CE, and in the first few weeks of school, students are introduced as much to the study of history as to the content. In a virtual meeting with an archaeologist, my co-teacher and I got the idea for a Project Based Learning experience, culminating with a museum exhibit, complete with 3D-printed artifacts and augmented reality software, to showcase their learning to their parents. Below is the outline of the project.
The Entry Events
1. Meeting with a Professional
During the first month of school, students met (via Google Hangouts) a real archaeologist, Sarah Miller, and were introduced to the field, learning how the science of archaeology helps us understand the past. Miller told us about her work and shared how new advancements in technology improve knowledge of the past, explaining how archaeologists can get replicas of artifacts as 3D printables. She sent us the above picture of a Sumerian ziggurat and told us that scans of the ziggurat and thousands of other ancient artifacts were available for free in museum libraries on the internet. Anyone can download them and print the artifacts in 3D (though of course many would be miniature versions of the originals, since few people have pyramid-sized 3D printers).
2. Teacher’s Personal Experience with a Museum
Last summer, I visited the Louvre in Paris and I showed students some pictures, sharing with them how meaningful it was for me to see artifacts from civilizations I have taught about for years (civilizations they are about to study in Mesopotamia). I then introduced the Museum Project: Students would create a museum exhibit on a civilization or topic and have the opportunity to choose an artifact to print, using our school's 3D printer.
3. School Vision: Involving stakeholders
We are a school that needs our parents to feel connected, so I invited Mrs. Frazier, our principal, to talk to students about how much we want their parents to feel welcome at our school. She expressed the hope that students could help by inviting their own parents to see their museum exhibit on Parent Teacher Conference Night.
THE MAGIC: PROJECT BASED LEARNING
Phase 1: Introducing the topic
I introduced the task and driving question for students, “How do we as museum staff create an exhibit to show the achievements of our topic?” Topics included empires of Mesopotamia, kingdoms of Egypt, and empires and religions of classical India. Our instructional technology resource teacher and I used the book Learning on Display to help us organize the process and create rubrics for assessment. We began with a gallery Walk and students reflected on the following:
Phase 2: Research
Students completed a research guide to learn more details about the society they were studying and determine what made their topic historically significant. The teachers created questions directing students to find information aligned with the standards.
Phase 3: Exhibit Planning
Students planned their exhibit, and considered these questions:
Student teams posted their plans in a gallery walk to offer feedback that was specific, helpful and kind. Students used post-it notes, and based on the protocol I learned from the Buck Institute, they were given sentence starters: I like to commend an idea, I wonder to ask clarifying questions, and I have to offer a suggestion.
Upon being asked to reflect on the gallery walk, one student said, “criticism is not all bad… this is helpful!” One group said, “We didn’t get a lot of helpful feedback” so they asked if they could present their plan to the whole class. I thought this was so powerful for students to put themselves “out there” for help. After receiving feedback, students revised their plans, and were ready to put it all together.
Phase 4: Writing a Label Copy
Before students printed their artifacts and set up their exhibits, the label copies were written to help their visitors understand the key points of their display, including the relevance of the artifact. The idea of creating the label copy before the creation of the exhibit is that if they waited until after the exhibit was done, they would be too excited to calm down and “write,” BUT it was wonderful to see them edit several times before the final copy was finished.
Phase 5: Constructing the Exhibit
This was the most exciting part for the students as they saw their research, plans, revision and ideas come to fruition. Not all students chose to print a 3D artifact; a few students used the program Aurasma, making the exhibits interactive.
Here are a few comments from the students:
“PBL was very good at teaching students to research on a focus and create a project that not only teaches the student but others as well. The 3D printer is a great way to create an artifact since most students can’t go around an archaeological dig. Archaeology and artifacts helped us learn about what influenced the people of the time and what their life was like.”
“I liked using a 3D printer because it creates a visual. I learned that archaeology is very time consuming and you have to be patient.”
On the last day of the project, as students were busily putting their exhibits up, some leaders from the school board, including Dr. Scott Baker, Superintendent and Mr. Keith Wolfe, Executive Director of Secondary Education and Leadership, observed the students preparing their exhibits. They were so intrigued by what we were doing they came back the next night for Parent-Teacher Conference night to see the students showcase their projects. Most of our parents came to interact with their students as they demonstrated their learning of their topic in history as well as the authentic tasks of creating a museum exhibit using real-life tools.
As an 8th-grade teacher, I may see 4-5 parents a couple times a year for “Conference Nights,” but more than 40 families came to interact with their children as students shared their learning.
This experience was an opportunity for students to see the relevance of history in a 21st-century setting, where they combined modern technology with the old-fashioned skills of inquiry and collaboration.