By Margaret Combs
The Hylighter – Fall/Winter 2010
Many of us can only dream of being archeologists, sleuthing in the dirt and unearthing the secrets of a lost civilization. But for every seventh grader at Hyla, the experience is not only a rite of passage, it’s a fundemental way to learn history, science, and culture.
The archeology unit taught by history teacher Jennifer Williams and art teacher Laura Jones plunges seventh graders over the course of four months into the depths and complexities of culture. It’s a sustained and rigorous hands-on learning experience designed especially to stretch and engage the seventh grade mind, involving museum trips, experiential games, research, teamwork, creativity and excavation.
“There are a lot of layers and angles to the learning,” said Jennifer. “We want students to discover what influences culture, how it’s expressed through art and artifact, and which scientific techniques are used, including carbon dating and analysis, to unearth the pieces and reconstruct the story.”
Observation and Awareness
In the first two weeks of the course, students learn the “universals” of culture, such as communication, shelter, and also religion, or what Jennifer and Laura prefer to call the “attitude toward the unknown.” They also examine how individual traits evolve, influenced by time, environment, and even technology.
“There’s a lot of discussion,” said Jennifer. “We talk about defined personal space – how kissing on the cheeks is acceptable in Greece but not so much here, and how in some Native American cultures certain kinds of eye contact are disrespectful.”
Learning from the Makah
With this new awareness, students head to the Olympic Park Institute for a three-day immersion in history and science. Focusing on the ancient Makah, students observe how culture is created because of its natural environment. They study old-growth forest, learn about edible and medicinal plants, and visit the Makah Museum.
“They’re really looking for patterns,” explained Jennifer, “and learning what makes something identifiable as a Makah artifact, as opposed to Egyptian.”
Many artifacts from the Ozette Dig are displayed without written material, which Jennifer said is a learning advantage. “It’s great, because the students have to come up with their own observations.”