Unearthed Artifacts Spark Curiosity at Glenallen Elementary School

Feb 17, 2022

A cold morning is no match for a child’s curiosity. So it was on Monday, February 14, that the adults at Glenallen Elementary School stood around shivering in the blustery morning while the first-grade students, some in shorts, stared into an archeological dig site, transfixed.

Earlier that morning, as students arrived at school, they could see that something new was happening. Part of their field had been dug up, and caution tape surrounded a significant hole. In their classrooms, they learned that an artifact had been discovered in the field. Scientists had been called.

Thus began The Big Dig, a weeklong, inquiry-based, cross-curricular learning scenario that involves all Glenallen students, including pre-K. Funded by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and developed in coordination with University of South Florida (USF) professors, this immersive grant simulates an archeological dig site.

Monday was the day of discovery, and all morning classes walked with their teachers out into the cold, to the dig site, where they got their first up-close look at the massive hole in the ground. At various levels, there were artifacts, from dirt-caked Hot Wheel cars in the top layer to a piece of a dinosaur bone and a megalodon tooth near the bottom.

Students engaged in question-and-answer sessions with USF professors Mitch Ruzek and Dana Zeidler, who acted as on-site scientists. They had their first chance to handle some of the unearthed artifacts, and they began to make inferences about them. Why do you think these cars are on the top layer? Who might have left them? Why do you think this old coin was found in a layer above these pottery shards?

The students were excited. They were outside after all, no matter the cold. They got to hold a megalodon tooth and touch a dinosaur vertebra. They were able to connect those items to history and share their vocabulary, as when a kindergarten student answered, “indigenous,” promoting oohs and aahs across the crowd.

As the week progresses, students will connect archeological discoveries with trade routes indigenous peoples and colonists took through Florida. They will measure the dig site to determine area and perimeter, applying and growing their math skills. They will study dinosaurs and musical instruments, even sound waves, all of it connected to the artifacts that students discover, process, and investigate. Students will write about their discoveries and share what they have learned to all students through Glenallen’s media center.

The experience is, as professor Zeidler notes, all about connections, which are driven by the teachers. In the months leading up to The Big Dig, as Glenallen Assistant Principal Michelle Miller notes, “Teachers had the opportunity to work collaboratively on the academic focus, using authentic inquiry in preparation for the week’s activities.”

Glenallen Elementary School is a Title I school, with 77% of its students identified as economically disadvantaged. Hands-on, innovative experiences such as The Big Dig are great way to make learning more tangible—and fun.

Says Michelle Miller, “The best thing about this inquiry-based immersive experience is the excitement on the faces of our students as they explore their way into learning content and grade-level standards. I am not sure they even know they are learning.”

The Education Foundation is excited to provide amazing opportunities such as The Big Dig. We couldn’t do it without donor support, and we are grateful for the community’s generosity. We value these chances to spark the curiosity of young learners—sparks for which a cold wind is no match, sparks that can illuminate a world of possibilities.