Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Project Archaeology : Investigatng Shelter Teacher Training

June 2015 Status Report
By A. Gwynn Henderson
Kentucky State Project Archaeology Coordinator 
Linda S. Levstik
Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter Teacher Training and Classroom Implementation Project Co-Principal Investigator

In July 2014, Kentucky Project Archaeology held a week-long teachers academy, Making History Local: An Inquiry-Based Approach, for 14 elementary and middle school teachers and three archaeology/anthropology educators in Somerset, Kentucky Old dwellings bring new understanding of world). Of the participating teachers, four went on to pilot Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter ( during the 2014-2015 School Year using the revised draft of the Kentucky-based case study, “Investigating A Shotgun House.” Its development was funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet as part of the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project (

We are nearing the end of the project’s implementation phase, so we thought now would be a good time to provide you with a brief status report.

Participant Sample

All of the teachers who volunteered to pilot the curriculum attended the 2014 Academy. Although one of the teachers from Laurel County was interested in participating, in the end, only one out of the eight Academy teachers representing the originally targeted Lake Cumberland counties (Clinton, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, or Wayne) participated in the pilot project. She taught at Nancy Elementary in Pulaski County.

These volunteers were experienced teachers (their careers as educators range from nine to 35 years), well-established in their schools/school districts. Although they had taught social studies for between four and 15 years, none had taught the Investigating Shelter curriculum before. They were trained in its use during the 2014 Academy. Each teacher entered the pilot with the full support of their district curriculum specialist/school principal/school district superintendent.

All of the schools within which these teachers taught are located in rural or small-city/town locales. Two of the schools are part of independent school districts (Barbourville and Burgin are small towns in Knox and Mercer counties, respectively). The other two schools are part of county school districts: Nancy is an unincorporated community in Pulaski County; Liberty is the county seat of Casey County.

Notwithstanding the similarities of teacher experience and school context, the four schools provide diverse teacher instruction approaches, student population profile, and local cultural context.

Context 1: Barbourville Middle School, Knox County. Independent city school district. Slightly more than sixty percent of the students in the school district are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Ethnic makeup of the district is 96 percent White and 4 percent Other. Instruction started at the beginning of the school year as part of an eight-week “pull out” program for gifted and talented (GT) 6th-grade students. Classes met daily for a full 55-minute period. Despite the GT designation, the teacher assessed students as ranging from high to low on academic achievement.  Instruction lasted from September 2014 to November 2014. Out of 22 students, 13 chose to participate: 6 boys and 7 girls.

Context 2: Jones Park Elementary School, Casey County. County school district. Slightly more than seventy-five percent of the students in the school are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Ethnic makeup of the school is 96 percent White and 4 percent Other. Instruction started after the school year was well underway and was carried out during daily social studies instruction intensively over the course of three weeks. All students in the 5th grade were instructed. As assessed by their teacher, a wide range of student performance was represented.  Instruction lasted from November 2014 to December 2014. Out of 46 students, 22 chose to participate: 13 boys, and 9 girls.

Context 3: Nancy Elementary School, Pulaski County. County school district. Almost two-thirds of the students in the school are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Ethnic makeup of the school is 99 percent White and 1 percent Other. Instruction started after the school year was well underway and was part of an enrichment class for high achieving 5th-grade students. The class met three days a week for a half hour each day (as time progressed, the class met for four days a week for a half hour). As a result, instruction extended for 30 weeks over several months (October 2014 to April 2015). This is the only school located within the initial target counties. Out of 24 students, 13 chose to participate: 7 boys, and 6 girls.

Context 4: Burgin Independent Middle School, Mercer County. Independent city school district. Slightly more than one-third of the students in the middle/high school are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Ethnic makeup of the middle/high school is 91 percent White and 9 percent Other. Instruction started after the school year was well underway. The unit was piloted in the 7th-grade social studies class daily for a standard class period (about an hour) over the course of four weeks. All 7th-grade students were instructed. Instruction lasted from December 2014 to March 2015. Out of 29 students, 19 students chose to participate: 8 boys, and 11 girls.

Out of 121 students who received instruction, 67 (55.4 percent) students received parental permission/chose to participate in the pilot study. Of these students, 65 were interviewed (two were absent during interview days). We have 58 pre- and post-unit instruction surveys to analyze to assess student learning.

Based on teacher assessment of student academic performance, the sample of interviewed students included 



Classroom piloting would take place simultaneously in the four schools. However, due to the specifics of teacher scheduling, school schedules, and weather, this did not happen. Instead, instruction began as early as September 2014 and extended through April 2015.

Our pilot study has generated a variety of datasets. Interviews with teachers (individually and as a group) and students in small groups has generated the bulk of our data. We also have collected information about students through written pre- and post-unit instruction surveys, visits to the classroom during instruction, teacher-submitted student work, and information about piloting and the curriculum from teachers through post-piloting written questionnaires.

Pre- and Post-Unit Instruction Surveys

Identical four-page written surveys were administered to all students in each classroom so that the teachers could assess all students’ learning. These surveys were administered immediately before instruction began and (usually) immediately after instruction ended.

Among other things, the survey asked students for their opinion concerning ten statements about archaeology, history, and culture. In short essays, they were asked to describe the work archaeologists and historians do and to contrast that work; to consider what could be learned about people through the study of their shelters; to provide examples of important archaeological concepts (like observation and context); and to answer questions about their views on site protection and preservation. Only surveys completed by study participants are included in our data set.

Classroom Visits During Instruction

In-class visits during curriculum instruction occurred in three of the four schools (scheduling issues did not permit visiting the fourth school during instruction). The goal of these visits was to assess student participation/involvement in unit instruction.


Student Interviews: We conducted 45-minute interviews with students in groups of two or three, depending on the amount of time available to us to interview students and the number of pilot project participants at the school. Each student was assigned a pseudonym that appears on transcribed interviews to preserve their anonymity. The questions in the IRB-approved interview protocol were designed to elicit student responses that would help us assess what students had learned, and their thoughts about the past and the value of learning about the lives of the working poor/residents of Davis Bottom, but also elicit their opinions of the overall curriculum.

Teacher Individual Interviews: We conducted interviews with each of the participating teachers at or near the conclusion of their instruction using an IRB-approved interview protocol. The goal was to capture their immediate assessment of student learning, the appropriateness of the curriculum for their teaching experience, and any particular affordances or constraints they noticed as they implemented the pilot.

Teacher Group Interviews: Once all teachers had completed instruction, we met as a group to discuss their piloting experience using the IRB-approved group interview protocol (one of the teachers was unable to make the rescheduled meeting. We interviewed her on the phone on June 14). This protocol was intended to capture more specific teacher evaluations of the inquiry-based instruction, the civic action phase of the program, and a page-by-page review of the curriculum. Also, in preparation for the meeting, we asked the teachers to answer a series of questions on a written questionnaire, focused on the goals of the group meeting. This was intended to generate deeper reflection to bring to the group assessment of the unit.

Student Work Samples

We collected samples of students’ work from each classroom as follows:

Photographs of participants’ work displayed in each classroom

Completed worksheets from “Investigating A Shotgun House,” the Davis Bottom Shelter Investigation

Student essays and final papers

Museum triptychs

Class feedback sheets

Student-made posters

Teacher-Made Video

One of the teachers prepared a YouTube video showing her students presenting and conducting classroom activities as part of in-class learning (the school had secured parental permission for student photography). Here is a link to her video, Project Archaeology Movie 2015:

Research Reporting

Some of the insights we have gained from this pilot project, based on student interviews and individual teacher interviews transcribed to date:

It is crystal clear that the subject of archaeology in general, and the Investigating Shelter curriculum in particular, are powerful tools for student learning. The Investigating Shelter curriculum can serve as a vehicle for modeling inquiry-based teaching for deep conceptual understanding of diverse humanities subjects. Archaeology is the engine that drives instruction. The drive shaft is inquiry-based teaching and learning. And the car is Investigating Shelter.

Our preliminary results suggest that our teacher colleagues were not really doing much inquiry or were not using inquiry to its full potential. They did not appear to be comfortable or familiar with inquiry-based instruction techniques. This is not necessarily a problem with the Investigating Shelter curriculum. Inquiry is hard to do. It supposes a question that grows out of some experience in the world, and it requires content, data, analysis, thinking, and drawing conclusions to answer the question.

To ask established teachers to change their teaching style means they have to move out of their comfort zone and learn a completely new way of conceiving of teaching, as well as learn to teach in a whole new way. In retrospect, we realized that the Making History Local academy had provided “hard scaffolding” - the instructional outline and examples, even some practice - but not the “soft scaffolding” - the expert on-site/in the classroom to support or intervene in the moment. Teachers need both kinds of scaffolding to “do” inquiry well and confidently.

Preliminary Observations

Drawn from our student interviews and our individual and group teacher interviews, below are some preliminary observations we can make and some important themes and issues that our study has raised.

Student enthusiasm for inquiry-based exploration of a “working poor” community.
The challenges of instruction in inquiry-based units.
Time constraints
Administrative support for and recognition of the academic benefits of this kind of instruction
The benefits of the Investigating Shelter platform.
Teachers could use it easily, adapt it to various needs, identify fit with academic standards
The combination of hard copy and on-line resources worked very well for these teachers. The video interviews with Davis Bottom residents on the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project webpage and in the hour-long video documentary, “Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives,” were particularly powerful for teachers and students. Students wanted to meet the people from the community.
The scaffolding for inquiry worked at each grade level. Neither students nor teachers reported serious intellectual stumbling blocks. In fact, students repeatedly asked if they would get to do this kind of thing again, and if the students coming in next year could be part of this kind of investigation.

Student identification of similarities and differences between their own lives and those of people in Davis Bottom. Strong empathetic response: “I can understand these people. I know what it is like to be poor.”
Strong civic/preservation response. Students identify the value of preserving aspects of ordinary people’s lives, of recognizing histories that might otherwise be invisible. Responses: 
Several students talked their parents into driving through what remains of Davis Bottom and brought back pictures. 
Overwhelmingly positive response to preserving aspects of this community: “Keep one shotgun house as a museum. Maybe the smallest museum in the world!”
Students perceive a moral/ethical component to preservation and civic response to tearing down a historical community, though they are not entirely sure how the people might have been able to advocate for themselves.

Students strongly identified with an integrated community, with a close-by civic issue, and with the importance of civic leaders having a better understanding and familiarity with this historic community.

What Comes Next?

Our teacher colleagues now know how to adjust and modify the instructional materials, having been through the curriculum. Three of the four pilot project teachers hope to be able to teach Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter again. However, one has been moved from teaching social studies to teaching technology in the 2015-2016 School Year, and may not have an opportunity to include any of the Investigating Shelter curriculum. Another is now teaching 3rd grade and also may not have an opportunity to use the curriculum

One teacher attended the 2015 Project Archaeology Leadership Academy held in Bozeman, Montana at the end of June. She is now a trained Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter teacher facilitator and has agreed to facilitate future Kentucky workshops as part of the Kentucky Project Archaeology program.

Transcribing interviews is nearly finished. Initial analysis of the pre- and post- instruction survey instruments is now in process.
Stay tuned for further updates! And thanks for your interest in Kentucky Project Archaeology!