Campus Archaeology and Outreach: MSU Science Festival

Written by: Nicole Geske

Primary Source: Campus Archaeology Program

My previous posts this semester have focused on Campus Archaeology’s involvement in community and educational outreach and the pros and cons of these types of activities.

East Olive students playing the "Old or New" game

East Olive students playing the “Old or New” game

Last Friday, members of Campus Archaeology gave an in-school presentation for MSU Science Festival at East Olive Elementary in St. Johns. There were two sessions for fourth and fifth graders, with kids split into groups of four or five for each. We modified many of our previous activities to function as mini-stations in order to better fit with learning objectives and the structure of the event. Overall, this outreach event was a success, and gave us a better idea of how to approach these types of community engagement and what events we should be focusing on.

Katy explaining stratigraphy to East Olive students

Katy explaining stratigraphy to East Olive students

For this event Kate, as Campus Archaeologist, began with an overview of what is archaeology and what archaeologists do (“think humans, not dinosaurs or fossils”). This introduction proved useful for many of the students, as it got them to think about the artifacts as more than just being “cool” but to view them in terms of past people. This was evident from many of their thoughtful answer when we asked them questions about the artifacts.

We modified our “match the old and new artifact” game to give only a few examples, and have them identify old and new and then brainstorm reasons why artifacts would change through time and how archaeologists use this knowledge to help answer questions about the past. Our stratigraphy map and sticky tape artifacts demonstrated how archaeologists find artifacts and how they interpret them in terms of chronology.

We also had an “artifact assemblage” station, using artifacts that were found on campus in order to explain how archaeologists identify past human behavior through artifacts. The assemblage included a horseshoe, brick fragments, test tubes, and faunal remains to represent the Old Vet Lab on campus. The students then hypothesized why these items would be found together. Many used their knowledge gained from other activities, such as the stratigraphy game, to think about how the story would change based on where the objects were found in the ground. There were so many creative answers and students seemed to enjoy that they could come up with so many options!

Nicole showing East Olive students the assemblage game

Nicole showing East Olive students the assemblage game

Finally, we used the “garbage game”, which consists of sifting through modern trash in order to hypothesize who the person was who created the trash. We asked if the kids could figure out if the person was male or female? What they liked to eat? What the persons hobbies were, etc…? We got a lot of “crazy cat lady” as an answer, which may say something about me, since it was my trash.

Overall, it was agreed that this event functioned much more smoothly than past outreach opportunities. This is because it was much smaller groups, in a set amount of time, and with multiple activities that challenged their thinking. Additionally, because the participants were all of the same age group, it was much easier to alter activities to fit their age range. We now have a better idea of how to approach these types of outreach opportunities in the future.

Thanks again to East Olive Elementary!

MSU Science Fest will take place on campus April 15th-19th. For more information visit: http://sciencefestival.msu.edu

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Nicole Geske
Nicole is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology. Her interests include bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology of the Midwest. Her focus is on an archaeological culture, known as the Oneota, and the reconstruction of the mortuary and taphonomic processes that lead to fragmented human remains.