Classroom archaeology

At the combined MERGA/AAMT conference in 2011, one of the keynote speakers was Matt Skoss, a high school maths teacher in the Northern Territory. I talk a lot about how much we at uni have to learn from schoolteachers and Matt was case in point: he had a lot of most excellent stuff to say. But the thing that stuck with me the most — and is still with me more than 15 months later — was the concept of viewing your own classroom as an archaeological dig.

This concept originally came from maths education researchers Zevenbergen and Flavel. [ Zevenbergen, R., & Flavel, S. (2007). Undertaking an archaeological dig in search of pedagogical relay. In: B. Sriraman (Ed.) The montana mathematics enthusiast. Monograph 1: International perspectives on social justice in mathematics education (pp. 63–74). Missoula, USA: Department of Mathematical Sciences—The University of Montana. ] They talked about how, as a maths education researcher, you can tell a lot about the sort of learning that goes on in a classroom by simply observing the artefacts left behind: the students’ work on the wall, the arrangement of the desks, what’s left on the whiteboard, etc.

Matt took this concept and turned it upside-down: if someone were to perform archaeology on your classroom, what evidence would they find of learning? He encouraged us to think about deliberately leaving artefacts behind for the archaeologist to find. Of course, not all of us will be in the position to let an education researcher into our classroom, but Matt’s point was that an “archaeologist” is anyone who sees our classroom: the potential students who visit on Open Day, the teacher who uses it after you, the students who use it after you, your very own students a week from now, and finally yourself at some point in the future.

All of these people glean information about what goes on in your classroom simply from the things you leave behind, so it makes sense to be purposeful in what you choose to leave. Matt in particular pointed out that your own students will benefit from seeing evidence of their own past learning, especially if you want to use that past learning for future learning. Two examples he gave were to get students to write on butcher’s paper when doing group work and then stick it on the wall; or to get them to write on the whiteboard, then take photos of what they do and post them online.

So, what evidence will you leave behind?

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