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Unearthing Knowledge: Grade 5 Archaeological Dig Brings Early Civilizations to Life


Unearthing Knowledge: Grade 5 Archaeological Dig Brings Early Civilizations to Life

If you happened by our Foxhall Campus on May 16 and 17, you might have noticed Grade 5 students wielding shovels, trowels, brushes, and clipboards. Acting as archaeologists, these students participated in a hands-on project that concluded a trimester of studying geography and aspects of early civilizations such as number systems, literature, and written expression. The Dig, as this project has been termed, 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 the curriculum. 

During The Dig, students applied their learning in two directions: creating a fictitious civilization and then deciphering elements of another group’s civilization. First, taking what they learned in social studies and other disciplines, students worked as a homeroom group to create the elements of a fictitious culture, such as language, art, history, and economy. In the Design Lab, students created artifacts to represent those elements using the broad range of materials and tools available, including saws, laser cutters, leather, shells, wood, and other found objects. The resulting individual artifacts needed to tell the story of this fictitious civilization collectively, so students worked together to ensure enough clues from their creations represented each essential element of culture. On the first day of The Dig, students carefully buried their artifacts in a designated pit. 

On the second day of The Dig, students returned to the pits on the Foxhall Campus, this time rotating to another homeroom’s pit. Using techniques employed by archaeologists in the field, students began to unearth the artifacts buried by fellow Grade 5 students the previous day. They mapped their findings and carefully preserved the artifacts for safe transport back to the Whitehaven Campus. Once safely back in their homerooms, students began the work of deciphering. Applying their knowledge about elements of civilizations, students used the artifacts to draw conclusions about a fictitious society no longer present to tell its own story. Teams revealed their findings to each other by creating museum displays and, in a departure from the experience of real-life archaeologists, got the satisfaction of learning from the architects of the unearthed society whether their interpretations were, in fact, accurate. 

In this interdisciplinary and project-based unit, students not only had the opportunity to apply all of the geographical and cultural knowledge about early civilizations to these fictitious cultures, but they also deployed creativity, perseverance, problem-solving, inference, and collaboration in a highly engaging and authentic manner. The Dig is a prime example of how teachers at St. Patrick’s create hands-on, interdisciplinary units of study with impacts that last long after the shovels have been stowed.

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