From the Public Archaeology Trenches: Using Art as Evaluation

By: Becky O’Sullivan

Each summer during the last two weeks in July, staff from the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network put on a Junior Archaeologist summer camp for children between the ages of 7 and 11 at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center in St. Petersburg, FL. It is both extremely rewarding, and extremely tiring, to teach 20 kids about archaeology for a week, but we wondered what actual messages were getting across to our campers from the educational activities and archaeology hikes we were leading them through. No kid wants to participate in a pre- and post-test at summer camp, so how could we get a better idea of what the kids were taking away from our Junior Archaeologist camp curriculum without resorting to more formal testing methods?

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As an “ice breaker” activity at the beginning of camp we ask the kids to draw what they think about archaeology. This serves as a good “pre-test” to see what knowledge the kids come in with, versus how their ideas change by the end of the session.

Over the past few years, FPAN staff has used art as a means of assessment at our summer camps as a way to gauge the effectiveness of our message. This is a simple method to get some immediate feedback on what the kids have learned, as well as what messages we need to do a better job of getting across. Each day of camp we have one or two art competitions where campers draw a picture based on one of the themes we have covered during the day. The kids have fun being creative and competing against one another for a small prize, and we get good feedback on what they have learned (as well as a stack of adorable archaeology-related pictures).

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By looking through their pictures we can get an idea of the main ideas that are getting across to the kids, then tweak our approach and activities in order to make sure that they aren’t missing out on the important preservation-related messages we are trying to impart. Artistic expression works much better than written questions and answers in this context because it is more informal, and easier to accomplish for the relatively wide age range we have in our camp groups.

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Kids’ perceptions of stone tool manufacture and hunting technology.

This method has also been useful at public archaeology days as a means to assess the public’s perceptions of specific archaeology topics that are on display. So the next time you are planning an archaeology related school visit, public day, or event, make sure to bring some blank paper and crayons so you can see for yourself what messages you are really getting across!

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By the end of camp, kids often have a broader view of what archaeologists actually do as well as how we piece together clues to past ways of life.

 

 

Becky is an archaeologist working at the West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you would like more information about public archaeology or have some ideas for how to assess educational programming please contact her at rosulliv@usf.edu 

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