An Educator’s Handbook For Teaching About the Ancient World

Dr Pinar Durgun discusses the context and background behind her innovative new handbook presenting ‘recipes’ for teaching about the ancient world.

How did the book come about?

The world has changed so quickly and so drastically around us in 2020. So has our teaching: online and open-access resources have often been the only way students and educators can access and share information, when libraries, schools, and cultural organizations have been closed for much of the year, and in many cases remain so. Even when they have re-opened, educators have been forced to teach in entirely new or hybrid formats.

Teachers (inspired by ancient Assyrian, Mayan, and Greek depictions holding teaching tools)  and students (holding various school supplies) in a classroom. The image imitates the style of painted ancient stone reliefs. The colors and details are worn. Cover artwork by Hannah M. Herrick.

Now that many of us are required to teach over digital platforms, can we expect our students to listen to us lecture for two hours and give us their undivided attention? The instructional designers I work with in preparing my online courses suggest that online lectures should be 10 minutes maximum. So do many other educators. This is how long your students can focus on your lecturing voice and your ‘floating head talking’ video. In the physical classroom, the maximum is around 15-20 minutes. So how do we communicate information and teach content for longer stretches of time while still enabling students to interact and engage?

Interactive classroom activities make learning undeniably more engaging and fun, in addition to providing students with physical dexterity, collaboration, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. There are very creative educators among us who have been teaching about the ancient world in exciting ways using hands-on, project-based, and experiential activities. I wanted to use these activities in my classes. And based on dozens of activity exchanges with my educator friends, I was sure that other educators were also looking for new strategies to engage their students with the ancient world. This is why I created An Educator’s Handbook for Teaching About the Ancient World.

‘Live like it’s 3000 BC: Experimental Archaeology; students are flintknapping to produce an Acheulean hand axe. Brown University, 2018.

What is in the book?

The initial idea was to format the lesson plans into a cookbook, with teaching ‘recipes’, which include the materials, budget, preparation time, and level of students so that any educator could replicate these recipes in their classes. Some of these activities require materials, some do not. Some need to be prepared before class, some require no preparation. Some of the activities are very much tied to the culture, time period, or place, but some can be applied to any content. Some of the activities were written by a single educator, and some are a product of collaborative teaching. All of the activities, however, are tested in the classroom and peer-reviewed by other educators. More importantly, all activities are engaging, hands-on, immersive, and/or experiential. They are only a small portion of the endless possibilities of making teaching and learning about the ancient world fun, meaningful, and informative.

An example of the ‘recipe’ format: ‘Making Lions at Babylon’ by Anastasia Amrhein and Elizabeth Knott

In addition to these teaching recipes, this book also addresses some important issues in ancient world pedagogy: Why should we publish educational resources as open access? How can we effectively make use of museums and ancient objects in our teaching? Why should our research and pedagogy be collaborative? Our teaching has broader implications. These essays address such implications and provide great examples and case studies for educators to apply these methods and ways of thinking to their own teaching. I hope this book will be a resource where we can learn from each other about ancient world pedagogy regardless of the time periods, cultural or geographical areas, and subjects we teach.

Who is this book for?

Educators teaching about the ancient world. Students and parents learning how to teach about ancient world. Anyone who is interested in the ancient world and pedagogy. The activities in this book can be implemented online or in-person, in school, university, library, museum, or home classrooms. Every activity specifies the age/grade level of students for which the activity is appropriate. Many activities also have optional steps to make the activity work for other ages/levels. The activities and essays were written by school teachers, university instructors, and museum educators who teach about ancient objects, materials, peoples, and cultures.

Some of the activities were also written in different languages. Contributors and educators Leticia Rovira and Cecilia Molla from Argentina, who wrote their activity both in English and Spanish, say that this book is:

“a novel contribution to the didactics of ancient societies’ teaching. The main objective is challenging and enthralling: to go beyond the thresholds of academy and reach another very important audience –students at different levels- and try to capture their interest, drawing their attention towards our fields of study through a wide diversity of appealing didactic proposals.”

You can find out more about the Contributors here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient

One of the goals of this book was to open up the conversation about ancient world pedagogy and create a hub for more collaboration. I encourage you to try out the teaching activities and share your photos and observations with other educators: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient/gallery 

You can also explore further pedagogical resources about ancient world pedagogy here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/teachancient/copy-of-about

About the Author

Dr Pınar Durgun is an art historically-trained archaeologist with a background in anthropology, cultural heritage, and museums, passionate about outreach and education. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University and has been teaching for about a decade in universities, museums, and school classrooms about archaeology and the ancient world. As a dedicated public scholar and educator, Dr Durgun hopes to make academic information about the ancient world accessible, fun, and inclusive. Find out more about her work here: https://pinardurgunpd.wixsite.com/pinardurgun

Grab it and spread the word!

The eBook version of my book is FREE to download in Open Access. To download the free eBook or to purchase a printed hardback copy, please click on the cover image below:

Sincerest thanks to Dr Durgun for writing this article for the Archaeopress Blog. To submit an article, please send your proposal to Patrick Harris: patrick@archaeopress.com

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