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Engaging Students in Learning is Messy Work, Part 1

Getting students to engage with their own learning has always been difficult, but since the pandemic and shift to remote learning that followed, it has become more difficult than ever.


I’ve been talking to several teacher friends who tell me that now, three years later, the problem continues. Is there anything we can do to resolve this problem?

Of course there is.


When students are excited, or at least interested, in what they are learning the teacher’s job becomes infinitely easier. The trick is finding ways to engage students with the learning.


So, how do we make learning fun (and memorable)?


We must get our hands dirty.


As a teacher I was always looking for ways to have students “do the work” of being an archeologist, historian, lawyer/judge, politician, reporter, economist, engineer, or Egyptian priest …


Yes, you read that right.


Over the next several posts I have decided to open my files and start sharing some of the many projects I did with my students over the years. Please feel free to use them, share them, or modify them to fit your needs. I only ask that you not sell them and would appreciate if you gave me credit for having developed them.


Scenes from the north wall of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. Photo by Diego Delso, 3 April 2022. License CC BY-SA .


Ancient Egyptian Excavation Project


GOALS AND OBJECTS::

  1. To demonstrate the ability to use and analyze both primary and secondary sources

  2. To develop research skills

  3. To practice using proper bibliographic citations

  4. To develop an understanding of the materials and methods used by archaeologists

  5. To gain an appreciation for the use of artifacts as primary sources in yielding valuable information to archeologists and anthropologists


FOUR KEY COMPONENTS FOR THIS PROJECT:

  1. Artifacts: Students will create two “authentic” Egyptian artifacts. For example, they might choose to make a canopic jar and a page from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Other examples of “artifacts” include amulets, hieroglyphic tablets, or statues – the possibilities are limitless. Students will research their selected “artifacts” and make them as authentic as possible.

  2. Chicken Mummification: Students will experience the scientific process of mummification, follow through and document the process over a long period of time to develop an understanding that mummification was an essential part of the religion of Ancient Egypt.

  3. Archaeologist’s Journal: Students will write a journal chronicling the excavation of their artifacts. The journal should include details of the excavation process, specifications of the artifacts, and a thesis about the original use of these objects and their owner(s). They must include 10 entries. Students must first select a “site” to excavate virtually, and plan “how to get there.” Then, research the tools and methods used by archeologists. All this information will be included in the first entry. The remaining nine entries will chronicle the establishment of a “camp,” excavation of the site, discovery of the two “artifacts,” and their return to the United States. Prompts will be provided for each day’s journaling.

  4. Article: Students will then write a one-to-two-page mock newspaper or magazine article which heralds their discovery. They may write it in the form of an interview or from the perspective of a reporter. Students will cite all the sources used in their research using correct MLA format.

 

This project was hands-down the most popular project I ever did with students, and though it was a fair amount of work for me and for the students, it had something for every learning style, ability, and interest. In fact, I had students who had done this project with me in their 6th grade class coming back to me in high school and college to tell me they still remembered the project and what they had learned from it. A few still had the mummified chickens! But more on that later.


Look for part two of this project in my next post.


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