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Dig In

Ninth-graders enrolled in an unusual world history course at a pair of private schools in California are learning how to dig up their future by burying the past.

Developed in 1997 by teachers at the 365-student Webb Schools—two high schools, one for boys and another for girls, that share a campus in Claremont, Calif.— the freshman course gives students a hands-on experience of what real archaeologists undergo when they excavate early civilizations.

The students are divided into groups and each is assigned an ancient civilization. During the six-week project, each group must research its civilization and construct artifacts resembling those used by the ancient people they are studying.

Students then bury their objects on campus. Some items, such as pottery, are broken as they would be at an actual archeological site, while more-modern objects are placed in soil layers closer to the surface to make the effect more realistic.

Each group is then given a site map of the campus, and using archaeological techniques and instruments, they must find and excavate the material that another group has buried. Once the artifacts are unearthed, students must determine which civilization they've discovered. Students are then asked to write research papers on their excavations.

Vivian Holt, a spokeswoman for the schools, said the experience builds students' skills in mathematics, science, history, writing, and teamwork.

"It goes as far as their imaginations will take them," she said. "It incorporates more than just what's in a text and gets them outside the classroom. Our curriculum is designed so students experience and don't just sit."

At the end of the project, the students set up trade-show booths featuring their civilizations. Parents and staff members are invited to view the objects that students have found and learn more about the various cultures. Students even treat them to a taste of native delicacies.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 29, Page 3

Published in Print: April 3, 2002, as Take Note

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