The second characteristic of “college and work prepared” graduates is that they “establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter” and that they “refine and share” that knowledge in a variety of ways. If you have followed along recently, you already know the power of artifacts to engage students, but artifacts do more. Artifacts contribute to student acquisition of a broad base of knowledge, and also assist in building competency in sharing that knowledge.
When we use artifacts in the classroom, it requires many disciplines to decipher the story behind the object. Our description of the Russian Olive Tree branch is just one example. Remember that it took the application of history, geography, horticulture, mathematics, environmental studies and Language Arts to formulate and relay the story. Discovering and sharing an object’s story is an interdisciplinary exercise each and every time. Again, let’s return to the process of object analysis. When we place an object in front of a class and ask “What is this?” and “Why might this be important?” we automatically open the door to interdisciplinary investigation. Objects will vary, as will the disciplines required to “unpack” their stories. We would use a different set of disciplinary approaches when answering our questions about Native American storage containers, than we would if we had placed a working fountain pen in front of the class. In the first instance, where the object was found (geography), what the object is made of (chemistry/biology), how the object was constructed (engineering/mathematics), how the object was used (anthropology/history) and who used it (political science/history) are all elements that are necessary to solve the problems posed in our original questions. Depending on the Native American container used, we could also employ religious studies, and philosophy to derive our answers. If the container contained patterns not normally associated with its found location, or pieces of shell, or materials not indigenous to the area, then our investigation opens even wider to include economics and trade. When we move to sharing what we have uncovered, writing, speaking, forming an argument, and telling a a story are incorporated. Count the disciplines involved in answering two simple questions. I come up with 12, and I didn’t count the reading skills required in research. What about our fountain pen?
If we ask the same two questions of the fountain pen, our approach remains the same, but the disciplines change. We are not so concerned about how it arrived in the classroom. Our focus moves to its composition (chemistry/production), how it works (engineering/technology/chemistry), to whom it belonged (history), and how it arrived in our hands (history/economics). Relating the information remains the same, writing, speaking, forming an argument and telling a story convey our thoughts to others. I count 9 disciplines used in this exercise. Identifying objects and telling their stories demands interdisciplinary analysis, synthesis, problem-solving and communication.
Artifacts Teach – content knowledge across a wide spectrum of disciplines.