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Our last entry concentrated on using artifacts as an introduction to a lesson. Let’s look at how to use an artifact as the focus of a lesson. We’ll look at how to employ artifacts as the centerpiece of the lesson through the lens of four disciplines.

For Language Arts teachers, using an artifact comes most naturally. Placing the artifact in the students’ hands and asking them to write a creative essay about finding the piece, or using it, or describing the journey of the artifact into the classroom both engages Screenshot 2014-06-10 16.10.02students immediately, and offers them a tangible basis for their stories. One might use a bottle of patent medicine from the turn of the 20th century. Prompts for students might be “Write a story about who might use this medicine and for what reasons.” Another good storyline would be, “Write a story about finding this bottle of medicine in your grandmother’s pantry, and asking her how she used it as a cure for your father’s ills while growing up.” You could also write an argumentative essay calling for a ban on “home remedies” that contained more than 70% alcohol. Finally, you might ask students to write a creative essay about waiting in line to receive your “weekly dose” of the family’s “cure-all.”


For Science teachers, listing and looking up the ingredients used in making “Pepto-Mangan” would lead to an interesting discussion of chemicals, their interaction and palliative effects. It could also lead to an effective scientific discussion of regulation of items by Chemical-Element-Symbols-1690506the Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, science teachers could correlate these ingredients with those in the herbal, over-thecounter products offered in health stores today. Scientific vocabulary can be supported in defining the differences among solutions, amalgams and emulsion. Such a discussion might include identifying “Pepto-Mangan” as an emulsion, and providing the scientific basis for its classification.

For Math teachers, the percentages of each ingredient used to compound “Pepto-Mangan” provide a “real-world” approach to using the principles of math in daily life. For younger students, shapes are an shapesimportant mathematical concept. How many different shapes comprise the bottle (including the cap) and its labeling? Hexagons, circles, and rectangles abound in this artifact.

For Social Studies teachers, this artifact can lead into a discussion of the need for a Food and Drug Act in 1906. It can be used in economics to discuss labeling, marketing and individualization. Why for instance, is this bottle hexagonal, not cylindrical? The wording used in the labeling can be examined in sociology Food and Drug Actand history classes to uncover trends at the turn-of-the-century. History teachers can utilize this object in the study of technology, the story of medicine, or a comparison with today’s ideas and products surrounding health and health remedies.

All of this leads to the most basic and fundamental reason for using artifacts in ANY CLASSROOM: Artifacts engage students immediately. Artifacts provide an avenue for exploration and analysis. Which would you prefer in math class, a worksheet of percentage calculations, or a percentage exercise based on a real-world object, one that has a notorious past as well? In science, which is better, a written definition and explanation, or a hands-on experience with a product that employs the principles involved in the lesson? Artifacts open the door to creative thinking and problem solving. Artifacts engage students. Artifacts are adaptable across disciplines. Because they are made by humans, they are interdisciplinary by their very nature.





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