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Tip of the Week: We’re archeologists, not miners

Think about the difference for a moment.

Archeology vs. mining.

The goal is different. Most mining operations focus on volume – the more dirt we can turn over, the more ore or coal or whatever we can pull out of that dirt. Most archeology operations focus on incredibly small, very specific amounts of dirt in order to find specific types of artifacts.

The process is different. To move all of that dirt, mining tools are bulldozers, large hydraulic shovels, huge trucks. Archeology tools are paint brushes, dental picks, and small trowels.

Tool Kit2WThe context is different. In mining, I really don’t care so much about what other sorts of stuff is in my dirt as long as know the ore is in there somewhere. In archeology, what else is in the dirt – those other things that may be close to where I am digging – become very important because they provide additional clues that helps me make sense of what I’m digging up.

Two very different types of digging with two very different purposes.

Earlier this week, I spent the day with about 25 other social studies folks finalizing the revised Kansas state social studies standards. During that conversation, Don Gifford, Kansas Department of Education Social Studies Consultant, said

Think about the difference between mining and archeology. What these new standards are designed to do is to encourage very specific historical thinking skills rather than simply a broad coverage of content.

I like the analogy.

Our kids don’t need to move a lot of dirt, they just need to move the important dirt – the dirt with the goodies in it. So we need to encourage teachers to change how they do social studies – less broad covering of lots of generic content and more “uncovering” of specific content that encourages high levels of thinking. This is not something new. People like Sam Wineburg and Jay McTighe have been saying this for years:

less mile wide and an inch deep teaching. More post hole instruction that focuses on less content but more deep historical thinking.

But what exactly does this sort of history archeology activity look like?

Check these sites out. All work to encourage historical thinking skills without ignoring foundational content knowledge.

And in case you’re curious about what our proposed standards look like, you can take a look here. Be sure to start with Mission, Purpose, and Standards. It’s this piece of the document that is the heart of what we’re trying to do. The five broad themes with four benchmarks each are what will be tested, what we hope kids walk away with. This piece of the document also outlines the skills and processes that are vital for the “doing” of social studies. Branch out to the individual grade levels after that.

Have fun!

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