Monday, October 24, 2011

I feel fairly certain that if a reader reviews my entries in our blog, he or she will find a lot of "one thing I love about my job" commentary.  There's a lot to love about the work I do, and last week I got a surprising new addition to that list.  Math.  If my junior high math teacher Mr. Roberts could read this, I'm sure he'd be shocked. I had the best time last week sharing archaeology lessons that use (and teach) math with educators.

Sarah Nohe staffs our table in the Vendors' hall at FCTM.  Teachers love highlighter pens!

The occasion was the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference, held in Jacksonville.  I was lucky enough to partner with Sarah Nohe, my counterpart in the Southeast region.  Over the course of three days we staffed a vendors' table where we encountered math teachers from all over Florida.  We also conducted an hour-long workshop.

Our workshop supplies and bags of resources for teachers await the crowd...

I can't tell you how anxious I was about it--as a girl who has to work for math to really click with me, I was nervous about how well I could communicate these lessons to teachers for whom the subject matter is intuitive.  I was nervous that maybe our subject matter wouldn't resonate--what if no one showed up? 

Introducing a lesson that uses circumference to
estimate the diameter of a vessel.

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, we were blown away with the way our workshop was received!  The room was at capacity with teachers who wanted to hear how we use math in our work.  Teachers, maybe especially math teachers, get questions all the time from students about whether they'll ever use the things they learn in "real life."  The truth is, math is a part of the science of archaeology.  We use the Pythagorean Theorem to lay out every unit!  The zillions of maps we draw rely on the ability to work with the coordinate plane.  Working with measurements and comparative quantities help to guide our understanding of the sites we uncover.  And all of that happens before we even get into a lab and really crunch the data!  Simply, math provides a framework--a structure that clarifies observable phenomena--it provides a stable backdrop that allows for effective comparison and interpretation.

Teachers mapped & excavated cookies with "rainbow" chips.  As an example of real-life mapping we showed another
colorful image: a map by the City of St. Augustine's archaeologist that uses colors to denote the date ranges
 of features at a Colonial Spanish site.
Sarah and I had a blast helping the teachers dive into hands-on lessons--in cookie excavation, they mapped the outline and "features" (chips) of a chocolate chip cookie, and listed the coordinates at which the chips could be found.  In a carbon-14 dating lesson, they got to work with probabilities and graphing using m&ms--always a favorite lesson of mine.  We used broken dishes to learn about measuring the circumference of an object working with just a piece of its arc. 

Teachers tried their hand at another tasty lesson!  In this activity, students use probabilities and graphing skills,
not to mention M&Ms, to explore how Carbon-14 dating works.

We had so much fun, I kind of wished that we had the room all day!  We left them with many more activities to try out on their own--lessons that work with principles of math at a variety of grade levels.  The feedback that we heard was great--one of our workshoppers was even able to get the C-14 lesson to her colleagues as they were finalizing math curriculum for the coming semester.  She said the teachers she works with loved the activity too, and they'll start using it in the classroom soon. 

Outreach to teachers achieved!  That makes us very happy public archaeologists indeed.

The whole conference, but especially the workshop, really encouraged me to find new ways to reach out to teachers.  Archaeology lessons fold in naturally with science and social studies, but clearly we're missing out when we don't engage teachers of other subject areas.  So, as with many events in archaeology, my discovery has generated ever more questions.  Would a mini-workshop focusing primarily on math, like the one we offered at FCTM, draw enough interest to be well-attended?  If so, would smaller workshops focusing on more specific subject areas be an effective new approach to outreach for educators?  What other subject areas should we target?

What do you think?

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