It's an intriguing concept: Take the data gleaned from Utah's cultural past and incorporate it into standardized school lessons in social studies and math, among other subjects. Nice idea, but will it work?
"It is difficult to remember a lesson that my students enjoyed as much," wrote Blanding geometry teacher Donald R. Sinex. "Everyone was actively involved and the real world application of geometry was understood."The lesson was entitled "Measuring Pots," in which students determined the circumference of whole pots from pottery shards. "Students with good math skills can be challenged to derive the correct formula," Sinex wrote.
Those kind of testimonials are pouring into the state office of the Bureau of Land Management, which initiated the "Intrigue of the Past" program a year ago. Since that time, about 400 schoolteachers have taken workshops to learn how to incorporate archaeology into the state's basic curricula.
More than 15,000 Utah schoolchildren are now receiving instruction in archaeology in tandem with their other lessons. And, as they learn archaeology, they also learn to appreciate and protect Utah's cultural heritage, archaeologists hope.
The program is the result of an interagency task force of state and federal land managers looking for ways to reduce vandalism of Utah's prehistoric remains. Educating a new generation of Utahns was deemed the only long-term solution.
Denise Roberts, a teacher at the Cedar Ridge alternative high school in Richfield, noted that most kids in rural parts of the state grow up collecting arrowheads or pottery shards.
"Those of us teaching the class are seeing a real change in the attitude of these kids," she said. "They didn't see the harm in taking artifacts and were defensive and protective about what they had done. Now they are seeing it from the other side, and they are very protective of those sites they once vandalized."
The program itself is the brainchild of BLM archaeologists Shelley Smith and Jeanne Moe. And the Department of Interior has been so impressed with the concept that Smith has now been developing a national initiative, patterned after the Utah program, that can be adapted to the archaeology of any state or region.
Smith recently presented the concept at the nation's most prestigious gathering of archaeologists, and the response was overwhelming. "Everybody wanted a copy of the teacher's manual," she said. "Everyone recognized sections needed to be changed to reflect the prehistory of individual states, but they were taken by the flexibility of the lessons."
Utah teachers of grades four through seven already have access to an "Intrigue of the Past" lesson manual, and a more detailed text for grades 8 to 12 should be ready for distribution later this year.
"It goes beyond giving a book to a teacher and telling them to use it in the classroom," Moe said. "The key is giving the teachers hands-on training on how to use the information in the classroom."
That approach is a matter of simple economics. There are not enough archaeologists in the state to visit every classroom and instruct every child. And if there was, it would not be nearly as effective as having the instruction come from the schoolteacher who already has the confidence and trust of the students.
Some 35 Utah archaeologists have now been trained to work hand-in-hand with Utah school teachers around the state. And though still in its infancy, the alliance is already paying dividends.
"There has to be a new ethic," Moe said, "a greater appreciation of our collective heritage. And we see it happening. Students are now becoming advocates for cultural resource protection, and in some cases they are getting their parents involved."
Added Smith: "We hope it has the effect of helping to raise a generation that will take thoughtful actions toward the past, and who will be our ears and eyes to protect the past."
Any teachers or youth group leaders interested in participating in a workshop should contact Jeanne Moe at 539-4060, or 1-800-722-3988.