Submitted by: Matt Arleth

Teaching with artifacts, particularly in social sciences, has long been shown to be more valuable than simply teaching from a textbook. The problem for some teachers, however, has become how to use artifacts in the classroom to teach critical thinking and authentic inquiry. Some teachers seem to fear the ambiguity of teaching with artifacts, and therefore construct teacher lesson plans that lead students to fixed answers. The challenge then is for teachers to embrace the ambiguities inherent in teaching with artifacts and not fear the unanticipated student response. This will help the students in their class be able to think on their own and learn to develop their own responses.

New teachers in particular are reluctant to let go of the outcome of individual discovery. They appreciate the value of using digital 3D artifacts in the classroom to help students develop an understanding of the time and place under study, but hesitate to allow the diversity of interpretation innate in teaching with artifacts. Using 3D artifacts in the classroom gets students thinking critically, and their multiple interpretations lead to authentic discussion. This discussion deepens the learning of all students in the classroom as each student will have to explain why and how they came to their conclusion. Controversy is a natural outcome and should be embraced and encouraged. Yet teachers are often reluctant to open inquiry with these tools for teaching, because they are unwilling to embrace the ambiguity of interpreting the past. It s much safer and easier to lead students to an outcome than it is to allow for discovery.


The use of education websites that specialize in using digital 3D artifacts in the classroom can be effective resources for teachers if they have confidence in their own ability to interpret the objects. Understanding the past involves analyzing objects in relation to what is already known, in other words, in historical context. Teaching with artifacts allows students to build the context one object at a time. The teacher will need to bear in mind that although a student s frame of reference will interfere with an accurate historical construction of the past, the more digital 3D artifacts in the classroom that are presented, the greater the eventual accuracy in reaching conclusions. It s part of the discovery process that has to be allowed in the same way it is for archeologists.

Teachers need to consciously construct the lesson plan format to encourage multiple viewpoints. Instead of showing students how to use artifacts in the classroom to reach a fixed outcome in a sort of Sherlock Holmes approach, teacher lesson plans should help students reach diverse interpretations about an object within the limits of the text and known context. Such an approach to using artifacts as tools for teaching helps students engage with the objects and connect them to prior knowledge, which in turn creates real learning and helps students make the new information part of their knowledge base. Teachers then become confident and skilled facilitators of student inquiry rather than information mediators that lead students to accept fixed information.

About the Author: Teaching is my passion! I am a Colorado Social Studies Teacher who has also been training teachers across the state for the last 10 years. I believe in harnessing the power of artifacts in the classroom. Artifacts teach is revolutionizing classroom teaching. We provide teacher-guided 3D learning in the cloud. Teachers can create classes and build lessons around artifacts and context support documents.


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