Let’s continue our discussion of artifacts in the classroom by looking at their nearly universal application. Objects can be used in any classroom at any age level. To demonstrate, let’s use a pair of native American moccasins.
Assume that the pair of moccasins is similar to those in the picture to the right. Young learners can engage in significant discussions about different kinds of footwear in different cultures, the different materials used in making footwear, and the common characteristics of footwear. Middle School students might extend the early discussion to include an examination of the materials used, the division of labor included in obtaining the materials and making the finished product, and the different patterns employed in decoration. High school and undergraduate college students in introductory classes could continue the discussion to include the economic and social repercussions of trade relationships and speculate about differences in style or intended use, and the affect of human actions on the environment. Upper division college students could address the larger issues of the clash of cultures and the political and cultural complexities of obtaining such items for display and discussion. Regardless of grade level, a set of moccasins provides the opportunity for meaningful engagement in the classroom.
Even more important here is the fact that our moccasin analysis is not limited to one discipline. The early-learners discussion could occur in Social Studies, while Middle School students might conduct their examination in natural science or history. Moccasins might appear in high school and college classes dealing with anthropology, geography, economics, political science, environmental studies or art. Upper division college students might encounter the moccasins in an ethics class, in pre-law courses, or history seminars. Analysis of moccasins could also occur in classes not usually associated with native American studies. K – 12 math students could perform measurements, calculate volumes and diameters, and estimate height and weight of the owner. Explanations of all observations could fill Language Arts periods, as well as telling the story of the moccasins themselves. (More on the storytelling possibilities in later blogs.) Practice in formulating hypotheses, testing, observing and recording results are all steps in the scientific method. Verifying assumptions through corroboration with primary sources is a fundamental practice in the Social Sciences. One simple artifact, a set of moccasins, provides students of all ages and disciplines the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion, higher-order thinking and communication. Objects are interdisciplinary teaching tools.
Lastly, all students participate in the interaction with the moccasins. Gender makes no difference here. Prior knowledge of particular vocabulary or skill sets is not required. It does not matter if the object is generally associated with women’s or men’s labor. It is the artifact that engages and leads the analysis.
Artifacts are age, discipline and gender neutral. They fascinate all kinds of students at all learning levels. Artifacts can be the teaching tools you need to increase engagement in your classrooms and, in turn, increase your students’ achievement levels. Why not drop an artifact into your classroom soon? See what happens… you’ll be surprised, no matter where or what you teach!!