January 23, 2019

Lesson Plan Series, #1 – The Archaeology of Food

Welcome to the Lesson Plans series! Over the next several months, we’ll be sharing a selection of lesson plans and activities that Teaching SIG members have created and found useful, along with brief interviews about the lesson plans with the authors. We’re actively soliciting lesson plan posts from our members; if you would like to have your work posted on the blog, please email the Teaching SIG Coordinator at esclippa (at) gmail (dot) com.

Our lesson plan and interview today are from one of our Blog Team members, Carol Ng-He:

Virtual Teaching on Archaeology

By Carol Ng-He

What is your name? Where are you in the field currently? What has been your teaching experience thus far?

I’m on the ARLIS/NA Teaching SIG Blog team, and am currently the Exhibits Coordinator at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Illinois, where I lead the development and coordination of library-wide exhibits for visitors of all ages. Prior to joining the library, I was in museum education and taught humanities courses in colleges over the past decade. Teaching has always been essential in my profession, whether it takes the form of direct instruction or creating exhibit experiences. My approach to teaching is to develop meaningful learning opportunities that people find relevant and empowering.

What is/was the name of the institution and the position that you were in when you wrote and gave this lesson plan? What is the context of the lesson plan you wrote – who was the audience, were there specific learning objectives that you had to work with, or were you able to write your own, etc?

My last position was at the Oriental Institute (OI) of the University of Chicago as the School and Community Program Manager. I planned and facilitated K-12 and adult programs with museum exhibitions, collections, and archival materials. I started getting involved with Project Archaeology in 2014 through adopting their resources for developing school programs, and later got certified as their Master Teacher, which allowed me to train other educators with the Project Archaeology curriculum. Project Archaeology is an educational organization that teaches scientific and historic inquiry, cultural understanding and the importance of protecting our nation’s rich cultural resources. While I was at the OI, I was fortunate to lead the publication of Investigating Nutrition, a curriculum guide for sixth grade students focusing on food, subsistence, and culture through the lens of archaeology. To prepare teachers in using the curriculum, I co-developed and taught the associated eight-week online course – “Investigating Nutrition Through Archaeology”–with the University of Chicago’s web-based learning management system after the guide was published in 2015. The course has been offered twice since then, and I plan on teaching it again in spring 2019.


Investigating Nutrition: The Advent of Agriculture in Mesopotamian curriculum guide cover. Image source: Project Archaeology

The learning objectives for teachers include, but are not limited to:

  1. Gain new knowledge in teaching students to apply archaeological concepts as they investigate a site using primary data sources such as maps, artifact illustrations, historic photographs and oral histories
  2. Develop and strengthen instructional skills in guiding students’ discovery in archaeology and history through engaging hands-on activities

Were there any resources you used in the creation of the lesson plan? What were they?

In following Investigating Nutrition as my teaching guide, I used “props.”  One of the most beloved lessons in this curriculum is The Archaeology of Food. The lesson is centered on answering a question about how archaeologists study the past. Through this lesson, students will learn how to apply observation, inference, evidence, and context – the basics of scientific inquiry – to the study of food remains. To achieve this goal, we use modern trash as an archaeological investigation to analyze and determine changes in diet.


The Archaeology of Food lesson in action – Middle school students document and analyze changes in modern diet. Image source: Project Archaeology

Here’s a snapshot of what the lesson looks like: First, I would need to gather samples of modern food remains (that are clean, such as empty packages) for participants to investigate. The items would be arranged, possibly in layers, in a clean trash can or paper bag to represent the progression of diet over a two-day period. Multiple sets would be prepared for a group exercise. As participants went through the trash, they would record their findings in the “site form,” a data collection sheet from the curriculum guide to capture information about the artifacts (e.g. food package/item), observations (e.g. type of food), and make inferences (e.g. consumed by one or more people, any indication of special/seasonal/cultural occasion, etc.). Once data is collected, participants would move on to analyze the data by completing the “site report,” and they would address questions like “what role does context play in your analysis and interpretation of these food remains?” to reflect on their discovery.

How was the plan received? Would you make any changes if you had to repeat it in the future?

The whole curriculum was well received. Because of the virtual nature of the course, educators from across the country and beyond exchanged experiences that reflect their local community while exploring a universal theme. Down the road, I hope to integrate virtual “behind-the-scene” visits to other museums and archives and guest speakers to explore the archaeology of food in different cultures.

Author’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about Project Archaeology and its upcoming professional development or other curriculum, visit their Teachers page.

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1 Response

  1. January 31, 2019

    […] a Teaching Special Interest Group Blog they’re starting things off with an assortment of lesson plans and interviews created by the Teaching SIG blog team.Working in digital preservation, collections, […]

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