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Reading Objects: Children Interpreting Material Culture

  • A. Gwynn Henderson (a1) and Linda S. Levstik (a2)

Abstract

Object-based, experiential learning/evidence-based inquiry engages young minds and models how research is conducted. It is clear that this kind of authentic experience stays with students long afterward. Our research investigated 74 fifth-grade public school students’ conceptions of evidence, of the provisional nature of archaeological and historical interpretations, and of the purposes for using archaeology to study the past. Three and four years later, we conducted follow-up interviews with 29 of the students to investigate what they remembered about their archaeological experience, including classroom instruction, excavation/labwork, and concepts related to archaeological processes and historical information. Our study shows that in-depth archaeological study has considerable sticking power. It also provides important insights into how students think about archaeology, history, and the past, and how they relate “things” to the past and to past cultures. In particular, it shows that the materiality of archaeology offers students opportunities to create multiple, evidence-based interpretations when they are taught to understand culture in material ways. Our study also offers concrete suggestions for anyone considering using objects to teach about the past: use an inquiry-based approach, take students’ prior knowledge into account, use metaphors carefully with younger children, and make the human-object connection explicit for all.

Resumen

El aprendizaje por indagación basado en la evidencia, el aprendizaje vivencial y los objetos replica los procesos reales de investigación que involucran a las mentes jóvenes. Es evidente que éste tipo de experiencia auténtica se mantiene con los estudiantes mucho después de haber terminado. Nuestra investigación estudió las concepciones que tienen 74 estudiantes del 5o grado en escuelas públicas sobre la violencia, la naturaleza temporal de las interpretaciones históricas y arqueológicas y el propósito de usar la arqueología al estudiar el pasado. Después de tres y cuatro años realizamos una serie de entrevistas de seguimiento con 29 de los estudiantes para investigar lo que recordaban de su experiencia con la arqueología, incluyendo las instrucciones en el salón de clases, las excavaciones y el trabajo en el laboratorio y los conceptos relacionados con los procesos arqueológicos y la información histórica. Nuestro estudio demuestra que las investigaciones arqueológicas a fondo tienen un poder de retención en los estudiantes considerable. De la misma manera provee percepciones importantes sobre como los estudiantes consideran a la arqueología, la historia y el pasado, también como se relacionan con “cosas” del pasado y de las culturas del pasado. En lo particular, demuestra que la materialidad de la arqueología ofrece a los estudiantes oportunidades para crear múltiples interpretaciones basadas en evidencia cuando se les enseña a entender a la cultura en formas tangibles. Nuestro estudio también ofrece sugerencias concretas para cualquiera que considere usar objetos para enseñar sobre el pasado: usen una aproximación basada en la indagación, tomen en cuenta el conocimiento previo de los estudiantes, usen metáforas con cuidado con los niños más jóvenes y hagan la conexión entre el humano y los objetos explícitas con los estudiantes de todas las edades.

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