Students digging on the volleyball court. Photo by Hanni Patterson Smith.
As I have said before, in New Mexico, we have lots of sand and rocks! If you look closely at the ground you walk on out here, you are bound to find something interesting. Some sort of evidence of those who came before you; be it pottery shards from the Anasazi peoples, petrified wood fragments around old kiva ruins, or petroglyphs and fossilized sea life. We live in a really special area, and yes, it is out in the middle of nowhere but we are fortunate to have all of this available for our students when we step right outside our doors. This last week, I arose early in the morning and walked to my school campus just down the road. My husband, dog, and I live on the Navajo Nation reservation in Northwestern New Mexico, and we reside in the teacher housing provided by the school district, a one minute walk commute. We walked up to our volleyball court, knelt in the sand and began to dig.
I had to cover my tracks. I was creating a simulation for my students that morning. Burying “artifacts” from “an unknown culture”, I collected 9 seemingly random items and scattered them about the court sands. Three hours later, I led my small group of 6th graders out to the volleyball court saying, “We got a tip on this locality. There was evidence of a new culture out found out here recently. Let’s go check it out!” I would not have known what to say to my students or to have even created this simulation had I not traveled to Panama this summer and gotten first hand experience on becoming an archaeologist/paleontologist. I coached my students through the “lost earring walk” that I learned from Jorge on the shores of the Lake Alajuela. I coached them on how they would use the tools they were holding in their hands (paint brushes and screwdrivers), just as I had learned at the Gatun formation. I coached them through the triumphs of making a discovery and the feeling of defeat or disappointment when you don’t find anything that day. I coached them through the sketching and describing process, organizing findings, and making inferences. My kids had a great experience that day and when I conducted a survey to discuss who would consider a job in archaeology/geology/paleontology, 85% said they would be interested in this type of work, pointing to the simulation as an exciting experience, the possibility of world travel, and the excitement of learning about new things previously unknown. Who knew an hour in the dirt could bring new insight to our students?