Thursday, August 3, 2017

Introducing History by Staging an Archaeological Dig

Let's get down and dirty, shall we?  In this post, we're sharing how you can stage your own archaeological dig with your students with a little preparation and a patch of dirt.   There is a time investment in this activity, but what better way to introduce history to young people than to give them an experience of how the real folks do it?  All of the activity printouts that you will see here come from our Archaeology Tool Kit which you can purchase for easy download in our teacher store.

In that activity packet, we also offer a lesson plan for staging an Inside Archaeological Dig, just in case you only have a classroom to work with. 

The fun of doing a Dig is that I can almost guarantee that after this hands-on lesson, at least one kid is going to come away from it thinking, "I want to do THAT when I grow up!" 

Also after this experience, any primary sources or artifacts that are observed in your upcoming history lessons will be treated with a bit more awe.  When kids have an understanding of what goes into discovering that artifact, respect naturally follows.

But let's discuss how to Prepare for your Dig.  First, we need some "Artifacts".  There are three types of artifacts we recommend for this activity:  Material Remains (chicken bones will do the trick), Points (arrowheads can be purchased inexpensively online), and Potsherds, or Shards.

Let's start with the Shards.

There are many recipes for homemade pottery out there.  We include our own simple recipe using common household ingredients in our Tool Kit.  But if you want to pick something up for this, you can always grab some clay at a local craft store.  Best results for breaking your pottery will occur if you don't allow it to dry completely. 

Don't worry to much about creating an aged look.  Five minutes buried in your dig will accomplish wonders.

Bury your items in an area that is roughly 3' by 2'.  Mark it off with twine and label the grid with letters corresponding to our Grid Chart above.  Make sure everything is covered up with dirt, but not too deep.  It's a good idea to keep track somewhere yourself, just how many items you buried and what they were. 

If it would make it more fun (it did for us), send your students Glimmercat's letter (seen above) in an envelope, inviting them to take place in an Archaeological Dig and explaining the items they will need to keep an eye out for. 

In order to better prepare, we then watched some real archaeologists in online videos, as they explained how carefully they sifted through their dirt.  This turns out to be important when searching for arrowheads.  

Another important step when doing an outdoor dig, is to prepare for it by wearing clothing that can get dirty and including a good hat and sunscreen.    The clipboard also came in handy.

The tools you will need will vary depending on how solid your dirt-pack is.  Based on the assumption that you prepared your dig right before the lesson, kids might be able to get away with just using their hands.  I suppose they could use gloves, but gloves can be unwieldy.  A shovel is way too big and could damage artifacts.  A trowel might even be too big, though we did have one available. 

A good stiff hair colorist brush is very helpful.  But little hands that aren't afraid to get dirty are the best tool you can use for this activity. 

We wanted to add letters to our Grid to help make the connection between the worksheet on the clipboard and the physical map of the dig.  So we added letters, as you can see here.  We secured our letters (to match our Grid) with thumbtacks.  Small metal tent-stakes would have worked even better. 

The best moment of all when you do this activity is when that first artifact is found.  Ours was a small arrowhead.  The excitement is tangible and all of a sudden, everyone is wide awake and ready to search for more "treasures"!  But first, we must mark down where we found it and what we found:

First on the Location Grid, she marks down the Letter corresponding with the area she discovered her arrowhead.  And next...

She draws a rough picture showing what and where in her area.  Once this is completed, she can head back to the Dig and look for more!

An exciting addendum to this lesson is to allow student to attempt a reparation of their pottery pieces.  If you include pottery in your dig, that is. 

Allowing the students the opportunity to carefully clean and glue the pieces back together will again, give them a new understanding when they see repaired artifacts in a museum or photos of the same online. 

Thank you so much for reading about our Archaeological Dig!  We'd love to hear how you introduce history in YOUR classroom in the comments. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

So You Want Your Students to Love History

Witness of my Ignited Love for History

Spring Semester of my last year of college, I had completed my student teaching and was preparing to graduate when my professors invited me to present to a crop of aspiring teachers in their 3rd year.

  "What topic do you want me to present on?"  I asked, feeling flattered.
  "We want you to share ideas about how you create lesson plans.  How you come up with your lessons.  We know you love history..."

I did, indeed.  Science was fun, Math and English were par for the course, but creating History units excited me to no end. 

Hadn't I talked a fellow student-teacher into dressing up as Cleopatra for her Egypt Unit?  And hand-painted her Egyptian necklace?   Hadn't I fried up bannocks in front of my class during a review presentation for Native Americans? 

 As I stood in front of that class of my own peers, I began sharing about lessons that thrilled the senses.  I went through the five senses one by one and talked about how to write a lesson that excited each one.  Pencils scratched all over the room as my fellow students began taking notes on how I came up with lessons I cared about. 

My temperament and personality are unique in the teaching profession.   I'm aware of this, because in a group of about 50 teachers that all took a personality test, I ended up in the minuscule group of 4,   labeled the "Artistic ones".    What's that mean when I stand up in front of a class? 

 I know what you're thinking:  "I bet she had one of those sorta disruptive, crazy, artistic classrooms, where everyone's doing their own thing, and it's crazy...some teachers can do that, I could not..." 

Haha, actually, I couldn't do those kind of classrooms either.  More power to them.  Nope, my classroom was quiet, well-managed and we usually did whole group activities.  I was jealous of my students' attention and insisted on a well-behaved class.  I required their interest and engagement.  Sometimes I had to work for it...but I needed them to not be a student like me.  

 Confession:  I was an indifferent student.  I was that kid, the one with glazed eyes.

Blessed to be a quick study, I did not put out extra effort and was satisfied with a few B's and mostly C's.  I did not have an innate drive to thrive in academics.  High grades and teacher praises were shrug-worthy matters.  At home, my older sister already fulfilled my parents' expectations with A's on every report card, and I was content to find another way to shine: usually doing something artsy.  The few teachers who found a way to light the fire of my interest were the ones who discovered that, if allowed, I would blaze trails with creativity. 

When I began teaching, it was the kids with the glazed over eyes, who I saw as my personal challenge.  What was required to light those fires?  That's what I asked myself.  The answer was most often, lessons outside of the "Read and Answer Questions" box. 

 Time for a Mountain Man unit?  I threw my hair in a braid and tucked it under a coonskin cap, changed into jeans and knee-length leather moccasins, and drew "stitches" around my ear with an eyebrow pencil.  Then, when my kids entered the class, I sat with my legs all man-spreaded and tried an "Old West" accent while I told the story of my (Jedidiah Smith's) battle with a bear.  There were no eye-glazes that day. 

Confession:  I still try for this approach in the lessons I create with my students today:  Which of the five senses can I light up today?  I do not practically succeed each time. 
Life interrupts and the best creative lessons often take the most effort and time to pull off.
But...when I can, I do. 

Because...why only read about Egypt's hieroglyphs when you can try to make them yourself? 

 Wouldn't it be easier for students to learn the agricultural crops of a country if they sample them in a meal first?

If you have an ancient tale kids need to remember, how about letting them turn it into a graphic novel?  The artistic ones might even be up for lengthening the tale, if allowed to.  

 If teaching Black History Month, play a version of the old hymn "Go Down, Moses" before explaining how Harriet Tubman alerted plantation slaves to her presence and willingness to lead them to freedom.  If the students read the lyrics themselves, all five verses, ask them why the song was relevant to Harriet and her people. 

This works for other subjects, too, by the way, even if my love doesn't shine as brightly in those areas.  You can always call in outside experts if you can't do it well, yourself.  For instance, science...When studying about the human body and digestion, I thought it would be cool if we got a local vet to share about the digestion system. 

I called one up and got even more than I had hoped for.  He offered to do a dissection and show the digestion organs inside a mouse.  I said, "Sure!" and let him take over my class as I opted out because of a weak stomach. 

My students had the option to leave if they couldn't handle it anymore.  About five of them ended up joining me in an outside room, but the veterinarian and any potential doctors in my class had a fabulous time together. 

One more confession, before I sign off: 

Confession:  With all of my own innate creativity, I did not find my love for history on my own.  Like every other subject area, I was indifferent to history all through elementary and high school.  It took a teacher, a college professor in my case, to ignite my love for it. 

He'd been teaching for years and like me, was indifferent to tests and grades.  Tests, schmests: Use the cheat sheet he provided.  All he asked was that we show up for his class and take notes on what he shared.  And did he share.  He brought history to life for me, in a way no one ever had.  He turned history into a story of humanity that was real and important and relevant.  I never missed a class.

But what he did and how he taught, ignited a love that not only sent me all around my continent to see historical sights.  It started off a chain reaction to inspire that same love in others. 

Take a moment.  Think over a stale lesson.  Which one of the five senses can you use to ignite a child's world?  To make that lesson alive and relevant?  There's always a way to turn an eye-glazed and indifferent student into a trail-blazer.  And as teachers, you already know how much fun it is to succeed at that. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sam the Ram, Looking Slick!

It's been over a year now since ole "Sam the Ram" became "mad at me" and with that fierce little frown, a whole new line of supplemental activities for "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" was born!

To be honest, Sam needed a bit of sprucing up so that he could keep on delighting children.  Recently, our collection of FREE sample supplements got an upgraded cover:

It's been great to see the response with which our supplements have been received!

Due to customer demand, we had to package our entire set of activities for the first 50 lessons in a bundle for ease and the reviews on this have been fabulous!  Yay!

In fact, I had to get busy creating another nine packets for the next bundle, "After Fifty through After One Hundred", because I have definitely been hearing the requests for these activities.  

Most of you are familiar with the Reading Program, and I can promise you it has been easier to come up with engaging stories and entertaining activities with the broader range of sounds I have to work with, having once hit lesson 50.  In fact, I'd like to show you a few of these new stories...

Here is the Mini Book that comes with the After Seventy-Five Packet.  Look at that pink car!  There just isn't anything more fun than a horse named Molly, stealing a pink car and driving it into a tree.
 My graphics chi is definitely improving!

Another change we see as our supplementals progress through the lessons, is the ability to move on to more standard looking fonts in the stories.

Because the classic fonts are introduced at this time in the Reading Program, and they are introduced along with the entire alphabet of letters, I decided children should get the chance to use their deciphering and decoding skills as they match letters in a variety of fun fonts.

This offers excellent practice with old letters and new, and gives you great opportunity to share the names of the letters as you go.

The last change that we see in these latest supplemental packets, is the opportunity to observe words in both the font from the Reading Program and let kids match it with the exact word in a new font.

And the crafts included in these great little packets tie in perfectly with the stories from the program.

All in all, we've come a long way since Sam, but the overall reach and appeal has, if anything, increased.  We're super excited to bring Sam back and look forward to another great year as we finish up these reading supplements and bundle them all up for a final product.

Look for this by the end of summer, 2017!  We currently just packaged up our "After Ninety" Phonics packet, which is up and available in our store.

And thanks, for helping make ol' Sam the Ram such a success!