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Digging technology

Wielding multimedia tools, Oakland sixth graders study the ancients

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted May 3, 2000

When students and faculty from Berkeley's Archeological Research Facility set out last spring to collaborate with Oakland's Roosevelt Middle School, they soon discovered one significant stumbling block.

The project they envisioned used the World Wide Web and multimedia technologies to teach sixth graders about ancient civilizations, but the school's computer lab lacked access to the Internet.

What the Berkeley team realized, however, was that Roosevelt students -- the majority of whom are disadvantaged -- would still benefit from exposure to computers, to acquire basic literacy and to practice such skills as handling a mouse and typing on a keyboard.

"Roosevelt Middle School and the 1,000 students who attend it are the classic example of the digital divide," said Tamara Sturak, who coordinates community and after-school outreach for Berkeley's Interactive University, sponsor of the collaboration. "While some public schools have had computers and Internet access for years, other schools wait endlessly for simple things like telephone service."

In place of a Web-based approach, the Berkeley team developed a multimedia curriculum -- using hands-on activities, CD ROMs, computer games, word processing and spreadsheets -- to teach ancient history in an after-school program.

Berkeley undergraduates introduced the sixth graders to the Mayans and other ancient peoples and engaged the students' creativity and critical thinking skills, while helping the school meet state standards for history and social science instruction.

One exercise has students digging through bags of "garbage" to learn about the culture of those who generated the trash. They sort and list the artifacts, making inferences about how their subjects may have lived.

In another, Roosevelt students handle artifacts from an archaeological dig under Oakland's Cypress Freeway, sketching findings from the 19th-century site and reconstructing what turn-of-the century Oakland was like. After their data is entered into the computer using spreadsheet software, the children create bar charts to visually depict the information they've gathered.

"Technology is a tool to build relationships," said the Archeological Research Facility's Amy Ramsay,

project manager for the collaboration. "Not only are we teaching students about ancient history, but we are also exposing these kids to the educational opportunities that lie before them, building an awareness that college is an attainable goal."

Berkeley undergraduates -- some of whom come from schools like Roosevelt -- serve as mentors and role models.

"I was born and raised in the projects of East Los Angeles, so my experiences are similar to these kids," said David Sanchez, a senior in anthropology who hopes to communicate to students that no matter where you come from, you need to believe in yourself.

Training teachers how to integrate multimedia into the instruction is another component of the program. Graduate students in Professor Ruth Tringham's seminar on multi-media authoring for teaching anthropology work with sixth-grade teachers at Roosevelt and Havenscourt Middle Schools to develop curriculum on early human origins, ancient agriculture, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Graduate students also team with teachers in the classroom to present background information, custom-made videos of excavation sites and related Web pages, role-playing activities and writing exercises that help teach both computer and written literacy.

"We're using technology as a way to engage an exchange between students and teachers," said Tringham. "The end goal is communication; understanding the technology is only half the job."

She noted that Berkeley students profit as much from the collaboration as do the Oakland middle-schoolers.

"The training and mentoring collaboration helps undergraduate and graduate students learn how to improve their communication skills, design learning materials, implement multimedia pedagogy and create a critical awareness of multimedia resources," said Tringham. "It also improves their skills as anthropologists as they observe and document the culture of an elementary school classroom."



May 3 - 9, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 32)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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