Archaeology in schools: promoting archaeology as a key learning tool within the national curricula

Posted on December 14, 2016


Other than a few pockets of good examples, around the world archaeology is almost always absent from formal education until one makes it to University. History will be taught and archaeology gets a mention as part of that e.g. ‘archaeologists tell us blah, blah’ but actually archaeology is almost never taught. There was a session at the CIfA conference that looked at archaeology in the classroom, mainly primary age. We video recorded it and you can see the videos below.

Session Abstract: There are thousands of primary schools in the UK, all actively delivering curriculum-based learning in regard to popular archaeological themes such as Ancient Egypt, the Romans in Britain, the Picts or the Vikings. Archaeological evidence plays a role, as do visits to historic sites and museums. This session will first focus on existing and potential knowledge exchange between the archaeological and teaching communities. It will showcase some of the initiatives that specialist archaeological educators have taken to engage with teachers and teaching of the primary history curriculum alongside the work of commercial, community, curatorial and academic archaeologists. We will then aim to identify the various challenges faced and to share solutions and best practice that can be easily replicated by others. The key question is how best to promote archaeology as a key learning tool within the national curricula across all countries in the UK? The session (and resulting discussions) will aim to guide the creation of ‘Archaeology in schools: top ten tips for success’ (with a first draft to be supplied beforehand).

Our key themes are to:
1. Examine knowledge exchange between the archaeological and teaching communities (sharing practice);
2. Showcase initiatives that archaeologists have taken to engage with teachers (sharing examples); and
3. Discuss how best to promote archaeology as a key learning tool (the way forward)?

The outdoor classroom: using the historic environment for interdisciplinary learning

Scotland’s district education system provides a flexible and enriched curriculum, where teaching from 3 –18 is designed to develop ‘the four capacities’: to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. The curriculum “aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future, and to appreciate their place in the world”. While archaeology is not in the curriculum as a distinct subject, the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence affords multiple opportunities to utilise the Historic Environment as a context for interdisciplinary learning, where rich learning experiences are provided to develop pupils’ attributes and capabilities. This paper will discuss how the Historic Environment has been used as a context for learning across curriculum areas with the challenges faced and the solutions developed, using examples of successful projects over the last 10 years.

Brian Wilkinson

Giving teachers the tools to engage with archaeology at Durham University

As a University-based learning team spread across a number of key historic sites and museums including a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we have a unique opportunity to engage students and teachers with cutting edge archaeological research to help support the national history curricula. Our approach is to work closely with academic staff and curators to inform our broad learning programme whilst providing support for learning and outreach elements of large scale academic research projects. Communication with teachers is vital to ensure that what we offer as a service, is that which is needed to support understanding and delivery in the classroom; providing training and engagement opportunities encourages this continued dialogue. The integration of archaeological skills such as object handling underpins our own teaching and learning objectives and we believe that archaeology is an excellent vehicle by which to satisfy numerous requirements within both the national history, and wider, curricula.

Archaeology and Classics in the community

This paper will describe the implementation and impact of two projects which were designed with the aim of promoting interest in Archaeology and Classics in schools and the wider community, raising aspirations amongst pupils, while also enhancing student employability: a level 3 undergraduate module Archaeology and Ancient History in Education and our Leicester Award/HEAR accredited volunteering scheme (Archaeology and Classics in the Community). Activities and placements in local schools and heritage organisations provide students with an opportunity to build their confidence, and to develop important marketable and transferable skills through the communication of their subject knowledge, often in a challenging educational environment. These projects also provide opportunities for children from culturally diverse backgrounds, many of whom are from areas of multiple deprivation, to experience and learn from the past through a range of cross-curricular resources and activities based on local archaeology and University of Leicester research; students share their knowledge, help young people to better understand and appreciate their histories, make new discoveries about themselves and the world around them, and encourage them to help shape its future.

Teachers and archaeologists working together

Primary teachers are experts in teaching basic skills and in motivating and inspiring learning. Not very many teachers have any archaeological knowledge or a history background. There is no doubt that teachers can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of archaeologists as they face the task of teaching new National Curriculum topics such as the changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. This talk will showcase the example of how an archaeologist has helped the Hamilton Trust to create inspiring and historically accurate cross-curricular plans to be adapted by teachers for their classes. There will be a chance to consider a number of recommendations suggesting how archaeologists can best engage with teachers and convince them of the benefits of working in partnership, to promote excitement about history and the potential to provide enrichment activities that help to raise children’s achievements in English and Mathematics.

Julie St Claire Hoare, Hamilton Trust and Oxford Brookes University

Danebury and the Andover Museum of the Iron Age: the impact of the new national curriculum

Danebury hillfort was extensively excavated by Southampton University under the directorship of Barry Cunliffe, between 1969-1988. Andover Museum of the Iron Age opened in 1986, telling the story of the hillfort and its inhabitants, using finds from the excavations. Over a 30 year period, archaeologists and education officers have collaborated to develop and refine sessions suitable for school children (particularly in regard to Key Stage 2). These have become increasingly popular, especially with the introduction of the new National Curriculum in 2014. How do you interpret a prehistoric site and excite a group of children about a field full of lumps and bumps or bits of bone and pot? In this session we will look at the collaborative process between the Museum’s relevant experts to develop sessions that combine a visit to both the museum and the hillfort, always keeping the archaeological evidence at their core.

Bronze Age fancy footwork : Archaeology, schools & Bristol Museums

Archaeology outreach and the provision of opportunities for cross-curricular and local learning are at the very heart of Bristol Museum’s current offer for schools. This paper will explore the impact that changes to the national curriculum have had on both the programme and the staff that deliver it, in schools, on-site and in the museum. It will present three short case-studies relating to:

• Demystifying archaeology: the delivery of CPD for teachers and other museum staff
• Archaeology Super Days and Archaeology After School
• Artefacts as a source of inspiration, creativity and enquiry-based learning

Bristol’s programme is for the most part delivered by highly-experienced museum-based archaeologists and was formulated in conjunction with a senior formal learning officer: this symbiotic relationship has had many positive results for the profile of the collections, teaching and learning but has not been without its challenges of which some will be explored here.

View from the coalface

Despite the apparent opportunity for more archaeology being taught in schools, Oxford Archaeology East has actually seen a downturn in the number of requests from teachers for talks, mainly due to problems with their ability to fund. So how do we get into schools? Grant funded projects are often the way (such as the HLF funded Romans of Fane Road project and the Wellcome Trust funded Hinxton Hall Schools Archaeology Project on DNA sequencing and bio-archaeology). The bread and butter of the schools engagement is when schools local to a commercially funded excavation want to know what has been found, and we’re able to fund that ourselves. Can archaeology make itself more central in schools? And who has the resources to make it happen?

Stephen Macaulay, Oxford Archaeology East


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