By Meghan Forney, MSU Anthropology student and Project Archaeology intern
When I look back on my life up until this point, I notice that 1) I seem to have been a student for forever and 2) that the chapters of my life are all marked by a particular teacher, who made all the difference to me at that stage in my life. From my high school Latin teacher who encouraged my love of the ancient world, to my archaeology professors now, who have all helped me realize my passion for archaeology and what I need to be doing “when I grow up”. Each one of them and the knowledge they offered up so freely have made an impact on me and helped shape who I am today.
That’s why, when I came to work for Project Archaeology, I was a little nervous to learn of a certain task that they needed help with: teaching fourth graders from a local elementary school in Bozeman about archaeology at an actual tipi ring site in southwestern Montana. Of course, I was excited to spend the day outside, checking out a neat site, but a larger part of me was nervous. I rarely interact with kids of any age, let alone try and teach 4th graders about archaeology! Luckily, I was not thrown to the lions without some help (Project Archaeology does have the best resources available for this), but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to be able to accomplish. What could I, just a student myself, say or do that would make a difference?
Regardless of my nerves or reservations in my ability, October 10th came all too soon. I led one of four lessons at the site, teaching for 45 minutes to a group of fifteen 4th graders at a time about stone tool artifacts. I had access to some previously collected tools: crude scrapers and bifacial cutting implements, as well as a core and hammer stone. I used the artifacts along with a worksheet created by Project Archaeology that guided the students to discover for themselves what kind of artifact they were looking at and how it might have been used by the people who called that site home hundreds of years ago.
Although I knew the students were having fun (they were outside with a hands-on learning experience, instead of being in a classroom learning about the past at a distance), at the end of the day, I left wondering how much I was really able to teach them. Did I help them feel a tangible connection to the past, sitting in the same place and holding the same tools that someone else did hundreds of years ago? Or was it just more exciting to be outside? Did they realize how special that experience was, one worth protecting in the future? In short, I left doubting my teaching skills and my ability to implement the message of Project Archaeology – my message, something I passionately believe in.
A week later, I got my answer. That morning I got to work to find a pile of notes on my desk – thank you notes from every single one of the kids who came out that day. Each and every one of them said something positive about their experience that day – whether it was at my station or someone else’s. A few were detailed and personal, making it clear to me that they did get my message and made it their own – just as I had done thanks to my own dedicated teachers. Project Archaeology has turned a professional student into a teacher, giving me the opportunity to share my passion with the next generation and the tools to do it successfully. Whether I reached a Native American student, a future archaeologist, or simply a citizen of this nation, I was able to impart to them the uniqueness of the cultural heritage we have in this country and that it is something special, worth protecting, and that makes all the difference.
For a copy of the Project Archaeology artifact analysis worksheet I used email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.