If you happened by our Foxhall Campus last week, you may have noticed Grade 5 students wielding shovels, trowels, brushes, and clipboards. These students were acting as archaeologists, in the midst of a hands-on project that culminated a year of studying geography, early humans, and elements of their civilizations such as number and writing systems, visual art, and literature. Known as The Dig, this project has long been a hallmark of the Grade 5 program and is emblematic of the type of experiential, rigorous, and engaging projects that enable students to apply the big ideas and skills taught during a unit of study or area of curriculum. It is through that application that students truly secure their knowledge and understanding.
During The Dig, students apply their learning in two directions: Creating their own fictitious civilization and then deciphering elements of another group’s civilization. First, taking what they have learned in social studies and other disciplines, students work as a homeroom group to create the elements of a fictitious culture such as language, art, history, and economy. Students then create artifacts to represent those elements. The individual artifacts must collectively tell the story of this early fictitious civilization, so students need to work together to make sure that there are enough clues from their collective work to represent each important element of culture. On the first day of The Dig, students carefully bury their artifacts in a designated pit.
On Day 2 of The Dig, students return to the pits on the Foxhall Campus, this time rotating to another homeroom’s pit. Using techniques employed by archaeologists in the field, students begin to unearth the artifacts buried just a day prior by fellow Grade 5 students. They map their findings and carefully preserve the artifacts for safe transport back to the Whitehaven Campus. Back in their homerooms, students begin the work of deciphering. Again using all that they have learned about elements of civilizations, students work together to determine what they can about a fictitious civilization that is no longer present to tell its own story. Teams reveal their findings to each other by creating museum displays and, in a departure from the experience of real-life archaeologists, get the satisfaction of learning from the architects of the unearthed society whether their assumptions are in fact accurate.
In this interdisciplinary and project-based unit, students not only have the opportunity to apply all of the geographical and cultural knowledge about early civilizations to these fictitious cultures, they also deploy creativity, perseverance, problem-solving, inference, and collaboration in a highly engaging and authentic manner. The Dig is a prime example of the manner in which teachers at St. Patrick’s create hands-on, interdisciplinary units of study with impacts that last long after the shovels have been stowed.