Outreach by Harvard students is a win-win situation, said anthropology Professor Matt Liebmann. “It opens a door into Harvard for grade school students who otherwise might not have any experience with the University,” he said. “So it helps to demystify both Harvard and the discipline of archaeology. At the same time, it provides valuable training for our graduate students who are just embarking on careers in education.”
“One of the biggest challenges for us student archaeologists is talking to diverse audiences about our research,” said Rose. “This is good practice and helps broaden how we relate to our own research. Sharing with kids and teachers gives our own projects more meaning.”
The Harvard Museums of Science and Culture launched the pilot program in January to engage kids with social studies. “These articulate and enthusiastic grad students model the skills needed to actively explore the past and discover history,” said Polly Hubbard, director of education for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East. “Teachers looking for links to curriculum tell us they love having ancient history brought alive by field researchers. And it is not just social studies. Science teachers, vocational trade teachers, and English teachers have also responded.”
Hubbard designed the program to meet several goals.
“We are a tiny but mighty department with one staff person devoted to school programs, so we tend to think in terms of things that do double or triple duty,” she said. “When in-person fee-based school field trips were canceled due to the pandemic, we wanted to support the teachers with expertise that was live but safe, uniquely in our wheelhouse as an anthropology museum, and affordable.”
Another goal was to benefit the graduate students. They practice how to communicate effectively about archaeology, a skill that can help enlist community support for field research or attract funding. Students are paid hourly stipends and choose presentations schedules that work with their class commitments.
In anonymous follow-up surveys, the elementary to high school teachers gave the archaeology experience good marks. Several appreciated how the program met teaching standards for ancient civilizations and differentiated fiction from non-fiction; a few noted how a special program makes a big difference to remote teaching. One wrote, “We’ve been virtual since the start of the school year, and in all honesty, the idea of an educational (and free) program to switch things up for the kids was like music to our ears!”
Demand for the program has been high. Group size averages 26 per session but some presentations have had as many as a hundred students. Teachers from New England are the most frequent responders and the program has received eager requests from Florida, Washington, Canada, and England.
“Next year we hope to support requests from non-school groups like Girl Scouts and to offer more than one program per teacher,” Hubbard said. “Oh, and we hope to add more grad students. They are so great!”
The Virtual Classroom Visit with Harvard Student Archaeologists program is offered at no cost to schools through June, and will be offered again with undergraduate and graduate students starting in October 2021.