Educating the Future about the Past: OKPAN Visits Horizon Intermediate School.

 

As a new intern at the Oklahoma Public Archaeology Network, one of my first tasks was to join the rest of the staff on a public outreach initiative, visiting Mustang Horizon Intermediate School. Horizon teacher Diana Taylor invited OKPAN for the fourth time to spend a day with her fifth grade class, educating them on archaeology. OKPAN’s team of archaeologists, myself included, and volunteers from the Oklahoma Archeological Survey and OU, presented an interactive lesson and activity. Conversations with children can be surprisingly insightful and inspiring, so I was looking forward to not only educating the young class, but soaking up what they could in turn teach me. What followed was a day of reminders of the importance of investing in younger generations and their interest in the field of archaeology, as the future interpreted the past.

The lesson plan, inspired by a Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies activity (http://smithsonianeducation.org/idealabs/ap/index.htm) seeks to encourage the students to think critically about the material and artifacts presented. The lesson strengthens their ability to question why archaeology matters, and how they might be able to relate to the people who made these ancient objects.

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OKPAN Director, Meghan Dudley, assists a student in assigning context to an artifact assemblage.

OKPAN director Meghan Dudley, and assistant director Allison Douglas discussed archaeological research, informing the class on the rudimentary how-tos of archaeology. Following the lesson, the real fun began as we passed out artifacts to the kids to analyze. Artifacts included projectile points, bison bone, and an ancient basin and stone grinder for corn. The observations and interpretations were as colorful and varied as the personalities of the kids themselves, and their enthusiasm permeated the entire room as their eyes lit up with every mystery item presented to them.

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A Horizon student examines an ancient basin and stone grinder for an analytical activity.

One of the final questions Meghan and Allison asked the class after each activity was,  “Why would an archaeologist want to study the past?” One hand went in the air and replied, “Because maybe it can say something about the future.” This answer struck a chord with me and hammered home why these classroom visits are so rewarding: watching and working with children as they deeply engage with concepts and material that is so tightly woven into their heritage as human beings.

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A student examines ancient projectile points during OKPAN’s visit to Mustang Horizon Intermediate School.

As my colleagues and I left the classroom, hugs and fist bumps ensued from the sea of ten year olds, along with deep thanks from the teachers. These inspirational conversations serve as a aide-mémoire of the importance of understanding humankind’s past, preserving that history, and looking to the generations to come to assist us in filling in the gaps of the broader questions regarding our shared human experience. These young students are the future of fields such as archaeology, and reaching out to them and incorporating their exuberant curiosity strengthens not only their knowledge, but their involvement.

If you would like OKPAN to visit your classroom, contact us at OKArchaeology@gmail.com or by phone at 405-325-5239.

Until next time,

Chelsy Heiney.

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