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Saturday, 11 February 2017

Exploring Artifacts to Spark Critical Thinking - Middle School Social Studies


This term, I've partnered up with the Literacy Support teacher in my school for my Social Studies 8 class.  For two blocks each week, she comes into the classroom and we co-teach lessons for the Grade 8s.

She has more experience and so many more ideas than me, so it's been amazing getting to work with her in the classroom and learn from her.

One idea that she had was to do an artifact study to explore culture and to spark critical thinking. This is what we did over the course of 4 days.

Day 1:  
As a whole class, we had a discussion about artifacts.  My co-teacher, Laurie, is Ukrainian and brought in a Ukrainian headscarf from her family.  She didn't tell the kids a lot about the scarf at teh beginning of the lesson.  Instead, she asked them to observe it, ask questions, and arrive at conclusions about it.  

For example, one student noticed it was made from wool, and concluded that the people who made it must have had access to sheep to collect the wool.

After the students had a chance to observe the item, Laurie shared a little bit of history of the scarf, just to satisfy the curiosity of the kids.

The enduring understandings that came out of the discussion were: 

Artifacts are human-made objects.
Artifacts can tell us about the people who used them.

These two statements became our big ideas for the rest of the lessons. 

Day 2: 
Laurie and I brought in several random artifacts and gave one to each table.  We asked the students to go around from table to table to observe and describe the artifacts, make connections or conclusions about how they were used and what they could tell about the people who used them, and ask questions about them.

We tried to pick artifacts that the students would be unfamiliar with, such as a camel mask, but some were simple household items.

The artifacts were numbered by table.  We had 9 in total, but only had time for the students to explore 5 or 6 each.










 The amount of conversation and questions coming form the students was amazing!  They were noticing details and making connections and thinking critically.

We asked them to record their observations on a page similar to this:


The observation sheets were used as formative assessment.

Day 3:  
We gave feedback on the observation pages and returned them to the students. 

We broke into 2 groups, with me taking half the students and Laurie taking the other half, and had discussions about the activity from the day before.  

We let the students discuss the artifacts and their conclusions/questions.  It was great to hear the debate over the artifacts that they didn't agree on.  For example, there was one object that some people thought was a belt, and others thought was a guitar strap.  For another artifact, half the class believed it was a musical instrument, and the other half thought it must be a decorative statue.

We also talked about what made for really good, deep-thinking questions.  (This discussion helped later in the month when the students were crafting questions for an inquiry project on Vikings.)

Most of the kids wanted to know the true story about the artifacts, but we didn't ever tell them the "real" uses.

Then we repeated the activity from Day 2, but this time we used new artifacts and each table just had one to analyze.  We pushed them to go deeper into their description, connections, and questions.  That analysis was taken in for a summative assessment and given a grade.

Day 4:  
The students each brought in an artifact that represented themselves or their cultures.  The students decided what the criteria for the presentations should be.


They students shared their artifacts and self-assessed according to the class-created criteria.


Overall, I think the mini-unit was a success.  It allowed for a lot of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and questioning from the students.

Have you done something similar?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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