Archaeology Summer Camp is administered by The Archaeological Perspective, a company based in Albany, New York. 2008 is our 13th year of operation; it is the 11th year of the summer camp. The Archaeological Perspective offers educational programs designed to bring children into contact with the tools, rules, materials and meanings of archaeology, as they can be understood in terms of State curricular goals for social studies, science, and the arts.
The archaeology camp's premise is that learning something relevant, useful, and meaningful, should be fun. Therefore we offer activities centered on things kids like: digging in the dirt, stories, games, puzzles, and celebrations. These kinds of activities are integrated by the underlying archaeology to produce a "more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts" learning product.
Digging in the dirt: the scenarios all involve substantial time digging a site. This results in the discovery of artifacts in contexts which, when analyzed, give the elements of a story. The kids are encouraged to use thinking skills (inference, analogy, analysis) to connect these elements with what is already known to produce a new story. Original thinking is encouraged. The results of this story building are incorporated into our end-of-week exhibit of finds.
Stories: children have internalized the structure of stories (beginning, middle, end) and we use this quality to enhance the learning experience. The kids are told stories in the field: digging and "figuring out" the artifacts and their context is highlighted in an exciting, theatrical way. The idea is to present the concepts embodied in the dig in a fresh way familiar to kids. The daily stories, told at the dig or afterward, in the classroom with slides, have the effect of "putting flesh on the bones" of their experience, and making the static artifacts dynamic through speech.
Puzzles and games: kids enact their understanding of stories and dig by solving puzzles (build a pyramid or an arch) that are relevant to the "figuring out" process inherent in digs. The architecture, features (burials, offerings) and stray finds they dig up all yield elements of a story, which come alive when the puzzles are solved. Then the games are introduced, reinforcing notions of agency ("who did it?"), how we know things ("evidence"), and what words we use to tell about it (chronology, material, context). The games are wonderful, exciting and contagious.
Celebration: the week ends when we present our "museum" on Friday, and share a meal with family and friends. There kids can buy a game or souvenir of the camp. Adults get an explanation of what was learned. It is a chance for kids to shine and for parents to see of what they are capable.
Dear Archaeology Camp Parents,
This letter describes and explains the components of my archaeology program, which are: (1) cultural introduction; (2) museum visit; (3) game day; (4) dig. These are integrated to enhance childrens' neural development in relation to perception, cognition and memory while providing exposure to the rules, tools and subject matters of archaeology. Each of the four components can be taken independently or together. They are meant to be generally useful; I use archaeology as a tool to provide experience and leverage intelligence. My view and these methods have been actively developing for 15 years.
(1) Cultural introduction: a culture's geography, history and artifacts are presented in stories, objects and pictures. These categories of information are carefully sequenced and combine in various ways to enable age-appropriate understanding of aspects of the story of a people whether defined by ethnicity, religion or history. In this way kids acquire an intellectual context within which to understand the culture. This introduction lasts 2-3 hours. The arrangement of this information in their minds is the key to the first objective of the program, which is to encourage them to handle information, including new vocabulary, to solve problems and answer questions about the culture. This handling, involving prioritizing and sequencing information, helps realize the second objective: that children think critically by reasoning (i.e. they evaluate hypotheses that may solve the problems). This process can function as they work individually or in teams. The goal is to transform static information into dynamic knowledge, by a simple method, in a child's mind. The method involves listening (as opposed to hearing), seeing (versus looking) and active doing (versus passive watching). Almost any child can do these things. I judge these skills necessary for reasoning generally and therefore useful in any walk of life. And they are important if the child is to experience the value of a museum visit.
(2) Museum visit: the listening, seeing and hands-on skills learned in the cultural introduction are employed and enhanced in the museum visit. Here the main activity, aside from exposure to superb examples of art and artifacts, is reasoning through the available information and impressions to some sort of defensible conclusion about a question or problem. An example of this is realizing the value of locating an artifact (or class of artifacts) in a specific time period, a defined geographic region and physical context (e.g. domestic abode, grave, religious building, garbage dump, etc) such that its function and story can be determined and added to wider cultural narratives. The student should learn that certain information, such as an artifact's context, is fundamental when reasoning about it, and that different sense-making systems (e.g. science, social science, common sense) can be employed in coming up with an explanation. The museum visit lasts about 2 hours. The reasoning process is partly based on a child's expectations concerning the visit, for example with regard to whether the experience will be aesthetic, spiritual or intellectual, or some combination of the three. Such expectations can either be confirmed, disconfirmed or lead to an "I don't know" moment. These three outcomes are important for reasoners since it is self-evident that a reasoner must know how much or how far s/he can reason about a given matter, and onto what other types of thought they must fall back (e.g. imagination, logic, appeal to authority, comparative method, analytic method, etc) in the case that a basis for specific, focussed reasoning can't be identified. Recognizing the type(s) of information available for this reasoning process is crucial; the worksheet I hand out at the museum contains questions asking for the kind of information archaeologists look for when beginning their own reasoning sequence.
The reasoning process is also partly based on teaching kids simple ways to begin their own reasoning sequence (e.g. with static information: determine what an artifact is called, what it is made of, what it is for, where it was found, etc). These tools improve their perception of objects and the object's connection to questions about the culture and, moreover, validate their perception/recording skills (e.g. by connecting artifacts to maps, written descriptions, photos, styles, functions, etc). Attention to such detail prepares children for the reasoning involved in using objects to solve problems about meaning: how were objects made and for whom, what were they actually used for, in what quantities were they found, why did they end up there, how do we really know what they mean, etc).
The outcome of the museum visit should be that the child to some degree understands that s/he can identify and understand the pattern that connects static information to dynamic knowledge in the case of the culture under study. The related neural capacities of perception, cognition and memory are all at play in this meaning-seeking exercise, and will be needed during the game day.
(3) Game day: game playing enables children to enact their dynamic knowledge of culture in a rule-defined setting in which cooperation and competition mediate outcomes. Games are fun, loaded with useful lessons about a culture, about actions and their consequences, and have recognizable endpoints. Many of the games are directly relevant to the culture under study (e.g. China, Maharaja, Fire and Ice, Parthenon, Tikal); others are generally applicable to archaeological learning (e.g. Catan, St Petersburg, Lost Cities). Each offers choices of action and decision that are culturally relevant about matters such as trade, development, politics and social relations.
Processes learned in games can be used to model what is encountered in digs, the artifacts in which are anything but obvious. For example items in a dig can have been lost, thrown away, put there on purpose, or nature can have deposited or disturbed them. The items themselves can have been made by their users, bought or traded from others, stolen, or exist as a result of gifts, tribute or taxation. The events to which their location in the context may be related (e.g. funeral, hiding, loss, collapse, destruction) may be reconstructible or even historic. In the games, a child learns that these processes articulate somehow and can be discovered to some extent by the reasoning process. This awareness of meaning-laden articulation will serve them as they figure out the artifacts and contexts revealed in the dig, while giving them the tools to avoid feeling "forced to fail" by the conditions and challenges of the dig. The "game day" lasts 2-3 hours.
(4) Dig: the dig is the culmination of the foregoing processes. Children are oriented daily (slide lecture) to definitions (e.g. what is archaeology, what do sites and artifacts look like, how is it done, what are the outcomes, etc); what problems are to be solved that day, how they will organize themselves to get the job done. All children dig in the morning, after orientation, and process (wash and dry) their artifacts, and attempt to puzzle out the meaning of the artifacts in relation to their contexts. In the afternoon games, stories and puzzles reinforce, enliven and enhance this learning. The dig is a four day experience ending in an exhibit of the children's finds.
(5) Your role: promote reading, games, puzzles and skeptical (but open-minded) inquiry and reasoning, and have your children attend the above-described program. Watch for an e-notice regarding scheduling for this curriculum for your homeschool group. Questions about the program (not the schedule) should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Archaeological Perspective