Classroom Archaeology and ICT

Rhona Dick

This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on History Spring 2000

"Wow that was great!" enthused Clare, forgetting for a moment that she disliked everything about school on principle. That was when I knew for certain that this topic had been a success.

I had inherited the history topic "A non-European Civilisation" along with an extremely bright, but disenchanted Year 6 class, but with no planning in place, and I was given a free rein. I had intended to make the Egyptians the subject of this history topic until "If I ever see another Mummy on a school visit I'll scream!" bemoaned a History advisory Teacher. There was also the problem of resources. Museum visits and Egyptian artefacts were booked years in advance. So I shelved my plans and sat down to ponder an alternative. The problem was I knew nothing about any of the others, and published material for this History Study Unit focused heavily on the Egyptians. Suddenly bells began to ring. My History lecturer at college had been inspirational on the subject of the Indus Valley Civilisation: that would be my choice. No problem about booking resources there were none. I should have to make my own.

The next consideration was how to make the topic come alive. As an IT co-ordinator in a school that favoured a cross curricular approach to education I had often sung the praises of adventure programs, simulations, children engaged with the activity safely while having the opportunity to try out various possible solutions to problems. This then would be my approach. Not an adventure program, but a simulation. The children in my class would become archaeologists digging in the Indus Valley. Some time before this Harriet Martin had demonstrated her classroom archaeology approach to History teaching, (see Junior Focus No. 67 Mesopotamia: Scholastic Publications 1993) and I adopted this idea.

Reality demanded that the archaeologists

  1. had a budget
  2. planned and organised their travel
  3. planned and organised accommodation
  4. planned and organised the shipping home of equipment

The budget
At this point I created an imaginary backer who would provide funding for the venture. He was to be central to the topic.
Travel
Children would have to look at timetables and costs for various airlines and work out the cheapest way to travel to Islamabad or Karachi. How would they travel within Pakistan?
Accommodation
Where would they sleep? What and where would they eat? How much would it all cost?
Shipping
At the end of the expedition there would be equipment to ship home. Who would do it? How much would it cost? How long would it take?

I created a miniature model of a house in Mohenjo Daro out of clay. It was divided into sections so that children could work in pairs to excavate it. I made various "finds" based upon actual artefacts found in the cities of the Indus Valley.

The children made a museum for their exhibits in Design and Technology and protected the doors and windows with a burglar alarm using various sensing devices controlled by the computer.

So far everything happened as I have described, however all this actually took place in 1992 before schools had access to email or the Internet. Let's bring it up to date and see how this same History topic could be enhanced by modern technology.

1. The budget
The backer who was to provide the fictional funding for the trip used to contact the children by sending messages to school, brought into the class by the secretary. These messages were crucial as they always provided the rationale for the day's teaching. Naturally these messages had all been typed by myself the night before.
What about sending them by fax or even emailing them to the children?

2. Travel arrangements
We used pricing structure and timetables produced by different airlines, this could equally well be found on the Internet now.
The following flights are available from London Heathrow to Islamabad:

Check fares and availability or book a ticket from London Heathrow to Islamabad by visiting Flight Booking now.
http://www.british-airways.com
see also the entry for Emirates airlines who have scheduled flights to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

3. Accommodation
We used a Travel Survival Kit (Lonely Planet Publications) Information about accommodation can be found on the Internet now.

4. Shipping
See what is available on the Internet. (I dreamt up some imaginary shipping companies and costs.)
One aspect of technology that we used then is still valid today, in fact more so!
Our imaginary shipping company had some very peculiar rules. Goods had to be packed in crates that were perfect cubes. We needed 15 cubic feet of space. What would be the dimensions of our crate?
I did this as a class lesson using calculators! I heard a few tut-tuts from colleagues and saw some raised eyebrows as I told them of my plans. "Class teaching? It won't work" they said. They were wrong! Despite the range of abilities everybody found the dimensions of the crate correct to many decimal places. Some even opted to stay in at breaktime to fine tune their answer.

It could also have been done using a spreadsheet.

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

= A1^3

=D1^3

=G1^3

 

side

volume

 

side

volume

 

side

volume

1

2

8

 

2.41

13.99752

 

2.46

14.88694

2

2.1

9.261

 

2.42

14.17249

 

2.461

14.9051

3

2.2

10.648

 

2.43

14.34891

 

2.462

14.92328

4

2.3

12.167

 

2.44

14.52678

 

2.463

14.94147

5

2.4

13.824

 

2.45

14.70613

 

2.464

14.95967

6

 

 

 

2.46

14.88694

 

2.465

14.97789

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.466

14.99613

The spreadsheet can be continued until an answer to the desired degree of accuracy is obtained. At this point it is worth discussing the approximate nature of measures and to how many places of decimals is it realistic to express a measurement.

By the end of the topic the children were beginning to doubt the existence of "The Backer", this silent person who only ever sent typed messages. The advisory teacher who didn't want to see any more mummies was happy to play the part for one afternoon. Working in small teams the children had to make a short presentation of their work and explain what they had learnt. They were closely questioned on their work, but each one justified The Backer's not inconsiderable expenditure.

There were many valuable cross curricular links involved with this topic:

Maths

timetables
time and distance graphs
exchange rates
trial and improvement

Science

Change and decay

RE

The Islamic faith

Geography

climate
study of Pakistan
Rivers

Without doubt it is the best History topic I have ever taught. The children learnt so much about historical enquiry and historical interpretation as well as organising and communicating their knowledge.

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