The UI-OSA Contributes to National Conversations on Archaeology Education

Post Date: 

Friday, January 16, 2015

by Elizabeth Reetz, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

Archaeology and Heritage Education is Important!

There is a huge disconnect between an avid and enthusiastic interest in heritage and the amount of heritage and archaeological sites being destroyed worldwide. Education and outreach is absolutely paramount in bridging this disconnect. As a discipline, we’ve got a lot of work to do! 

Recent Progress

It’s been an exciting past few months in the realm of archaeology and heritage education, and the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist is happy to be a part of the national conversation. Spurred by discussions initiated at the 2014 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting last April in Austin, Texas, archaeology educators from across the country agreed that we need to have more conversations about where our discipline is headed, we have to create a stronger, more communicative network, and we need to be more proactive with establishing and achieving goals. This prompted the development of two recent national archaeology education conferences. The National Archaeology Education Conference was held at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado in October, and Building a Strong Future for Archaeological Outreach and Education: A Working Conference for Educators was held last week at the Archaeological Institute for America’s (AIA) annual meeting in New Orleans.

The National Archaeology Education Conference

The National Archaeology Education Conference was held in conjunction with the Project Archaeology biennial meeting, and the Project Archaeology team did an outstanding job organizing the event. OSA’s Cherie Haury-Artz and I, who are both Project Archaeology coordinators for the state of Iowa, were part of the team of 41 archaeologists, teachers, graduate students, and informal educators, along with staff from Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, who assembled for the 5-day retreat. Overall, we established our common ground as a diverse group of educators from a variety of institutions, discussed common goals and needs for archaeology/heritage education, and identified ways to professionalize and sustain archaeology education as a discipline. A comprehensive report on the participants, working sessions, literature circle, vision for archaeology/heritage education, and actions items from this conference has been developed by Project Archaeology, who would be happy to share. A brief overview is available in their December 14 newsletter, so I won’t cover it here.  
Cherie and Elizabeth at the Dillard Site
Cherie and Elizabeth at the Dillard Site field trip during the National Archaeology Education Conference.

Building a Strong Future for Archaeological Outreach and Education 

In preparation for the Building a Strong Future for Archaeological Outreach and Education conference in New Orleans, Ben Thomas and Meredith Langlitz of the AIA asked me to lead a 2-hour session on “State and Regional Approaches to Outreach and Archaeology,” because of all of the great work being done in Iowa. How awesome is it for our program to be nationally recognized! Last year alone, Cherie, other OSA staff, and I reached over 7500 people in 27 Iowa counties through our Education Program. I credit this to the strong foundation created by my predecessor Lynn Alex, as well as all of the wonderful programs and partnerships she established during her tenure. Before Lynn created the Education Program in the early 1990s, State Archaeologist Marshall McKusick (1960-1975) and others highly valued statewide public outreach. With the establishment of the OSA as a University of Iowa research unit in 1959, this makes us one of the longest running statewide outreach programs at UI! In addition to continuing the hard work with statewide outreach started by Lynn, who retired in 2013, the OSA Education Program has had a surge in social media followings that contributes to our national recognition. We have also been and continue to be a strong partner in the development, administration, and implementation of the University of Iowa Mobile Museum along with the Pentacrest Museums and under the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. 
OSA Education Program 2014 accomplishments
Similar to the National Archaeology Education Conference, Building a Strong Future for Archaeological Outreach and Education was an intense two-day working conference involving over 40 participants. Our sessions were comprised of round-table discussions, break-out groups, and a lot of interaction versus the typical paper and poster-type conference. This made it more difficult to capture what we worked on in terms of a conference proceedings, but all session leaders and conference participants are contributing notes and summaries to the AIA so this information can be shared more comprehensively with others. Below is a brief breakdown by conference session from my perspective:

Teaching with Archaeology: Infiltrating Subjects beyond Social Studies – Lindsay Randall, Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology

In schools, archaeology is commonly relegated to history or social studies classes. Although this is a natural fit, archaeology is highly multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary! If we want to get archaeology education into more schools, we need to think outside of the box. Realizing that all teachers cannot think “archaeology first,” archaeology educators should use archaeology as a tool to manage subjects, i.e., don’t teach archaeology, teach with archaeology. During this session, we discussed creative applications of archaeology to teach sciences, math, English, music, art, technology, and more. With English alone, we brainstormed this comprehensive (but not entirely complete!) list of English-related topics that could be taught using archaeology. We also heard real-world examples of students excelling through archaeology-related lessons. For one, students who have learned art and perspective have excellent math and mapping skills, which is a great reason for archaeologists and educators to not underestimate art! Concerning math, through hands-on, authentic mapping activities as a physical application of trigonometry, students were able to self-correct and understand this otherwise difficult concept.
How Archaeology applies to English
English-related topics that could be taught using archaeology.

Providing Ethical Guidelines for Archaeological Outreach and Education – Megg Heath, Bureau of Land Management

There was so much great discussion in this session, and a lot was accomplished. Megg began by providing an overview of ethics in archaeology and education. Earlier in the discipline, ethics conversations started with stewardship – encouraging responsible planning, management, and protection of our cultural resources. Following this overview, our discussions covered a wide range of topics such as: working with volunteers; the setbacks of focusing on excavation, digging, artifacts, discovery; advantages and disadvantages of teaching with simulated excavations; interacting with collectors and metal detectorists; addressing multiple publics including minorities; instilling archaeology and heritage ethics before college-level education; encouraging a responsible citizenry, and promoting what archaeology contributes to other disciplines.  Big takeaways were:  
  • Find out WHY archaeology is important to your volunteers. This can lead to more meaningful experiences and interactions on all parts.
  • "Those who know they're contributing to knowledge and history are more excited than those who just find arrowheads."
  • Archaeology is more than a dig. Archaeology is a process.
  • We need to link culture with the past. Emphasize who the artifacts belong to and emphasize interpreting culture. Do not emphasize discovery.
  • Emphasize to teachers: the ethics are part of the lesson!
  • Public archaeology education needs to address MULTIPLE publics. 
  • Minority students’ visions of an archaeologist are typically older white males. This is a commentary on who the public thinks does archaeology and how it relates to them.
After this discussion, we worked on compiling a draft 21st century framework for ethical guidelines for heritage/archaeological outreach and education. More developments soon!

High School Archaeology Courses and Field Schools – Deanna Mellican

If we could make archaeology a high school course, what would it include? This and more were covered by a panel of experts who led a round table discussion during this session. It is not easy to integrate archaeology into any classroom when considering restraints such as lack of time or funding, lack of teacher knowledge in using archaeology to meet standards, and lack of administrative support, among many others. That being said, there are teachers out there who are successfully teaching archaeology at the high school level in various capacities, such as integration with Anthropology or Latin/Classics courses, in both the public and private realm. If teaching archaeology at the high school level is a goal of yours, here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Is your school more than 50 years old? Get students to go through the archaeology site listing process! They can learn archaeology skills with no travel involved.
  • Service learning has many benefits and ties in well with archaeology. Students learn, apply knowledge, and give back to their communities.
  • Teachers and archaeologists have successfully used crowd funding for secondary education archaeology projects.
  • Look up your community foundations for funding ideas like grants or funding management. These organizations are highly underused!
  • ESRI has a goal to get GIS in every school for free. Contact your state rep!
  • High school students are conscientious and diligent participants with archaeology fieldwork, even internationally! Several archaeologists and educators in attendance are running successful international fieldwork opportunities for high school students. 
Do you know of archaeology opportunities for high schoolers? The team would like to generate an accessible list for others, and I am happy to pass information along.

State and Regional Approaches to Outreach and Archaeology Education – Elizabeth Reetz, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

This session had two goals. The first was to highlight the diversity and accomplishments of organizations doing statewide archaeology outreach and education across the country. The second was to collaboratively brainstorm solutions to challenges that organizations face with conducting archaeology education and outreach. 
Archaeology education program highlights were featured with a trivia game created using an interactive online gaming pedagogy website called Kahoot. This game is open to the public to anyone registered on Kahoot, so give it a go! If you’re not familiar with archaeology education program across the country, you may not get many answers correct, but you’ll learn about some fun and unique approaches others are taking to teach archaeology. Side note, Kahoot is also great for creating online surveys and discussions, and it serves as a great assessment tool.
Click on the image to be redirected to Kahoot!
The second half of the session was spent addressing challenges to doing archaeology outreach. We split up into four discussion groups with me, Gywnn Henderson (Kentucky Archaeological Survey), Ryan Harke (Florida Public Archaeology Network), and Lindsay Randall (Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology) helping to facilitate the discussions using a reverse brainstorming technique
Prior to the meeting, this group came up with five challenge topics based on our collective experience with outreach: important messages (what are we trying to get across?), funding, defining success, audience buy-in, and staff sustainability. We approached each issue by first asking, “what are we doing to cause or contribute to these problems?” and then worked towards solutions. With five topics on hand, we realized we might only have time to discuss no more than two. However, all information was captured as a survey in Google Forms, so we can revisit what we did not finish in the two-hour session. In addition, anyone who does archaeology education or outreach but could not attend this conference can also fill out the survey and contribute to collectively building solutions. Would you like to contribute? Do so here! All responses are automatically saved to a spreadsheet for sorting and identifying patterns. I look forward to disseminating these responses, which are already a great resource for those needing fresh approaches to outreach and education.   

Archaeology and Critical Thinking in Your History/Social Studies Classroom and Archaeology Show and Tell

Two consecutive sessions took place on Saturday morning. A teacher workshop on Archaeology and Critical Thinking in Your History/Social Studies Classroom was facilitated by Shelby Brown of the J. Paul Getty Museum. This workshop welcomed New Orleans-area teachers, as well as those attending the conference, to learn about how teaching archaeology could enhance critical thinking and address Common Core literacy standards. The Archaeology Show and Tell showcased the participants’ favorite teaching materials, including curricula, websites, lesson kits, and more. I look forward to hearing more summaries of these two sessions, since I was running the Project Archaeology booth at the exhibit hall during that time.

Metrics, Research, and Publication – Courtney Agenten, Project Archaeology, Montana State University

How do you measure the success of your education programs? When it comes to archaeology education and outreach, are you doing research and evaluation?  If so, do you publish that information? Although many practitioners are, we learned that we are not doing enough! If we want to work on professionalizing the discipline, prove that we are making an impact, generate more funding, and integrate ourselves better with schools, we need to do more research and publication.
From the existing research, we learned some interesting anecdotes from Gwynn Henderson. For example, some studies show that kids do not connect objects with cultures… yet archaeology in its most basic sense is telling stories with objects. Also, kids have positive attitudes about archaeology, but they do not see how it's linked to now. Finally, many people think that those who created simple technology had simple minds. Promoting engaged understanding through archaeology education can change those misconceptions!
As break-out groups, we discussed more potential research topic areas, drafted benchmarks for archaeological literacy, talked about avenues for publication and professionalization, and brainstormed creative informal learning and assessment opportunities. We will continue to work hard going forward to create, disseminate, and share this information. 
A team works to draft archaeology literacy benchmarks
A team works to draft archaeology literacy benchmarks.

Promoting Archaeological Outreach: Marketing, Distribution, and Sustainability – D. Clark Wernecke, The Gault School of Archaeological Research

As archaeology educators, "We are ALL in business," says Clark Wernecke. This is true.  Without efficient promotion and marketing of what we do, we will not have successful programs. Clark provided the group with some “Marketing 101”, ultimately advising us to make our audience our main focus. “It's all about THEM. Take yourself out of the equation." As a profession, we need to steer our outreach away from promoting archaeology for archaeologists. In terms of marketing our programming and curricula to schools, it is best to show how students are excelling with archaeology framed from standards, not boxed within them. Teachers are making it work! The group also shared successes and failures with marketing, and talked about the power of social media, professional incentives, and food. Yes, food! 


This was an incredibly rewarding conference, especially when combined with what we accomplished during the National Archaeology Education Conference at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center last October. There were several good takeaways from our discussions and several future action items to address. First, there has been a lot of great work done in the past 30+ years. We need to build on what is there and move forward. Also, we need to create core values and best practices to build from, with guidelines and benchmarks. Research, evaluation, and publication are crucial, including doing more preliminary and post assessment at informal events. We have to start somewhere, and having a professional organization of archaeology/heritage educators and a dedicated archaeology/heritage education journal to collectively publish in our research in would be a dream come true. 

How Can You Help?

Do you do archaeology outreach or education and have information to contribute? Currently, I am compiling extensive lists of archaeology programs and organizations across the country that do statewide engagement, programs with traveling resource kits for educators, programs with original online curricula or lessons, and statewide site stewardship or training programs. Others are compiling lists on archaeology education research, archaeology education publications adults and children, archaeology outreach job descriptions, public archaeology websites, and meetings or conferences where we can meet to discuss archaeology education. Our success will rely on communication and networking! Also, don’t forget that you can contribute to the survey on challenges and solutions to archaeology outreach and education. Lastly, if you’re simply interested in being a part of this national conversation, let me know! I can pass along your name and e-mail to make sure you’re in the loop. Any questions, please contact me: