John Cvorak

Developing engaging archaeological contexts for primary school children

In the low socio-economic school setting of East Ipswich State School, archaeology became a means to improve student engagement, develop social skills and foster a sense of meaning within the curriculum. A mock archaeological site, based on the design of a TARDIS (Teaching Archaeological Research Discipline in Simulation) located at the university of Queensland was built to provide the archaeological context.

Designing a TARDIS to meet the needs of upper primary students requires the meeting of several criteria in terms of the archaeological context. The archaeological context needs to be relevant to the local communities as it fosters an understanding of the changes and continuities that have informed the current communities. The context also needs to be broad enough to promote critical and inquisitive thinking across a range of student learning abilities and styles. Finally, the context should allow engagement across the curriculum.

The site at East Ipswich State School involved a raised pit measuring 4 x 3 x.6 metres. The pit was filled with five layers of earth with mock archaeological evidence planted simulating the last 500 years of human usage of the school grounds. The theme that runs through the layers is everyday domestic life. These layers represented current school site (1950 – present), a suburban house block (1901 – 1950), a colonial period Welsh miner’s cottage (1860 – 1900), a contact period Indigenous campsite (1820 – 1860), and a pre-contact Indigenous stone tool making site. Through the experience, the students explore, theorise, analyse and reflect on archaeological evidence that they have located, excavated, identified and recorded.

The relevance of the archaeological context and the students’ reflection allowed the students develop meaning in their personal sense of individual, cultural and community identities.


John has been an Upper Primary classroom teacher for seven years in Queensland. As he works in a low socio-economic school, John is constantly seeking new ways to engage students whose personal and social backgrounds are at odds with the values, expectations and sensibilities of our educational system. Because John has a keen personal interest in material culture and history and is a collector of many things, he decided to use archaeology as a vehicle to motivate his students’ interest. After meeting with Stephen Nichols?then a PhD student in archaeology—and his school’s leaders, John was able to build a simulated archaeological site modelled on a field studies teaching resource (TARDIS) from University of Queensland. John used the site to conduct semester-long excavations that covered the whole curriculum and engaged students with the processes of archaeology.