Jeffrey Fletcher

GET REAL! A Practical approach to teaching archaeology to school students

Archaeology for children should be about DOING. While based on academic pedagogical principles, this paper has been conceived as a practical resource to assist educators in helping school students explore archaeology and engage with the fascination of exploring the past and everything that can open up to us. The strategies outlined here are aimed at upper primary and junior secondary students (i.e. ages 10 – 15) but could easily be adapted for senior students or younger children. They are based on practical frameworks currently used in maritime archaeology workshops at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
The over-riding principle of this discussion is to GET REAL! The focus is the importance of giving students access to real artefacts, real people, real experiences and real situations so they can make connections to archaeology as a discipline, not only objects or time periods. Providing this access can take many forms ¬– your own or other institutions’ collections, an excursion or incursion, in-person or on-line sessions with those in the field, meeting with local experts such as Indigenous elders, using replicas to demonstrate a reality – the list is open-ended. Most importantly, fostering active student involvement within those forums is the key to real engagement. Applying a pedagogical scaffold to what the students do in a program helps them to build upon previous experiences and make connections between them. This model is one that we have used successfully:
1. Foundation
2. Investigation
3. Interpretation
4. Application
5. Presentation
6. Consolidation
This presentation will explore how we can approach these principles in a very real way. Among the practical elements we incorporate at ANMM are actual artefacts from shipwrecks such as HMS Dunbar, a mock seabed and props of the HMS Pandora wreck site, cross-curriculum experiments such as the science of corrosion and salinity and its importance in investigating shipwrecks. The overall approach involves ‘piecing together the puzzle’ to investigate the past through material history. Possible extension areas may incorporate new models such as Citizen Science and ethical considerations. The guiding principle is always giving students time to investigate the objects and situations before them, consult with each other, draw conclusions then present those ideas in a variety of formats.

Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney (NSW)
Link to Australian National Maritime Museum


Jeff has been working in education for thirty years. He initially trained as a secondary English/History teacher and worked in a variety of schools in NSW. Jeff’s ten-year teaching career included teaching Ancient History to senior students and Ancient Societies in junior history. He worked as Education Officer at Sydney Tower before moving to the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) as Education Officer in 1997. The ANMM has a strong archaeology program and Jeff feels privileged to work with some of Australia’s best practising maritime archaeologists on a variety of projects. Shipwrecks are an important part of Australia’s history and enthusing students about investigating them is a rewarding experience. The education programs at the ANMM aim to inform, engage and challenge students to look at the process and discipline of maritime archaeology as well as the content, and working with the outstanding objects in the Collection helps bring the experience of history to life for the students. In keeping with this philosophy, in 2008 the ANMM ran a competition which selected two Year 10 students and their history teacher to participate in the archaeology expedition to search for the 1829 wreck of HMCS Mermaid. It was an outstanding educational experience that they will carry with them for a lifetime.