In the simplest fashion, there are three principal uses of artifacts in the classroom.: as the introduction to a unit or a lesson, as the focus of the unit or lesson, or as the assessment for the unit or lesson. These three approaches remain the same regardless of your location, subject matter, or adherence to a set of common standards. Artifacts are the most accommodating of the outside sources you might use to teach.
Because each artifact was created for a purpose, it bears an important relationship to humanity. It would not exist without human activity. Because it was human-created, it remains the construct of human thought, intention and form. As a result, we can use artifacts to teach any subject that deals with thoughts, ideas, forms, goals, objectives, success, failure and on and on. Every classroom teacher can use artifacts to teach his/her class. You simply have to want to do so.
Let’s look at using an artifact as the introduction to a unit or a lesson. Let’s say that you are an elementary teacher and your next lesson is about circles, squares, rectangles and triangles. Why not use an artifact? I am a historian, so my artifacts are always from the past. I have access via www.artifactsteach.com to a six pound mortar round from the Civil War that has been cut in half. I would use this item in the following fashion:
FIRST: I would bring it up on the monitors in the computer lab, or on a Smart Board in the classroom, and ask the students to observe the object and to write a description of the artifact. (The object is round. It contains other round objects, some conical objects and some triangular pieces.)
SECOND: I would have the students share their answers either in pairs or in groups of three or four. They would be asked to combine all of their answers to form one common description of the object. Each group would then be asked to share their description with the rest of the class.
THIRD: As the descriptions emerged, I would write them on the board. When all the descriptions had been presented, as a class we would find the common words among the descriptions. The common words that have emerged in the past have been “round,” “big,” “little,” “boxes” and “tents.” This leads directly into your lesson on shapes. The students have already discovered them, described them in their own words, and attached meaning to them. Your job has just become easier. All you need to do is to attach the accepted terms to their descriptions and your lesson is complete. You have taught shapes to elementary students and much more.
When you look at the pedagogy here, you have not only taught geometric patterns, but also creative thinking, analysis, synthesis, communication, cooperative decision-making, and drawing conclusions. Not bad for a lesson that took less than 5 minutes to prepare!!! Further, you have set up your class for even more learning with math and vocabulary involving circumference, radius, and diameter. You can compare the size of items. You can compare the shape of items. You can count items. You can measure them. All of this occurs within one lesson plan that takes less than five minutes to prepare!!! Artifacts are like that.
Artifacts give you the edge in the classroom. They allow you to teach the important skills while engaging students at the same time. It doesn’t matter what grade level you teach, either. The same half-shell can be used in a Middle School history class to teach the Civil War, a High School chemistry class to discuss compounds and chemical reactions, or a High School math class to teach the geometry, algebra or calculus of trajectories, force and mass. Language Arts teachers at all levels can use the half-shell as the introduction to creative story-telling or descriptive writing. ARTIFACTS GIVE YOU THE EDGE IN THE CLASSROOM.
Regardless of your grade level, your subject matter, or your required standards: ARTIFACTS TEACH.