Though I suspect that this activity is applicable much more broadly than an introduction to methods class, next week I will be trying an exercise I call the Archaeologist’s Quandary.
Class size : 10-50 students
Time required: 30 minutes at the end of one class bridging to the beginning of a second class.
Purpose: Ice Breaker that helps students think critically about interpretation and facts.
Break class into several small groups, likely 4-5 groups ( will be trying this next week so I will let you know how it goes).
Supplies: Ideally, a couple sets of markers and one big sheet of paper for each group.
Instructions: Tell each group to create an imaginary civilization, to imagine themselves within it….to think about every aspect of how those people lived and governed. Then, have them imagine their civilization was wiped out and is being rediscovered in an archaeologist’s dig. Have them draw a map of the dig site and all the artifacts that the researchers will find. Give the students 20 minutes to plan and develop their dig site. Assign them homework to continue working on the map and the details of each artifact.
At the beginning of the next period, have the students trade their maps for someone else’s map. Now ask each group to study the new map very closely. Ask them to develop a narrative of what that map represents and what each of those artifacts means.
Each group will present their narrative of the other group’s dig site. Then the original groups provide their original meanings.
Takeaways: It is my hope that this lesson gets my students thinking carefully about the kinds of ways we try to represent the social world, the ways in which artifacts can be interpreted differently, and discuss ways in which we need to talk to the original society members in order to get clarification. This is first and foremost a way to get a foot in the door about qualitative methods, but also a way to think about research and interpretation in an exercise that helps the students become familiar with each other while being creative.
Although the exercise may be more fun than functional, its higher points about interpretation should stick with the students as they struggle with methods concepts.