Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Big Dig: Part 1

Tuesday found us aboard a 7:50am train bound for New York City.  Destination: the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Purpose: a 4 hour class led by an archaeologist and historian.  Content: Ancient Greece.  
My first thought was four hours is a very long time to spend with children ranging in age from 7 to 12 in just six rooms of an enormous museum.  How would the children attend to the lesson for that length of time?  Would they enjoy it?  My initial thoughts and fears were for naught.  This was the best museum trip of my life.  This was more than a guided tour.  This was a lesson in history, geography, geo-politics, economics, mythology, literature, and career planning.

Let me back up a bit.  Grace and Lilah are participating in a very unique program called The Big Dig.  They will learn to be archaeologists from a professional archaeologist and historian.  A back yard will be transformed into the site, and the children will be taught how to conduct a dig; record their findings, fact check, date artifacts, and put together a story that matches the data found at the site.  This will take place the first week of May.
To prepare for this, we had a field trip to The Met since the focus of the dig will be on ancient Greek artifacts and this museum has pieces spanning from 400 BC to the 3rd and 4th century AD.   My girls have studied ancient Greece in Story of the World,which gave them a basic understanding of the history and an understanding of the geography of the region.  We also read an abridged version of the Odyssey and learned about Greek mythology as we cross referenced Percy Jackson.  Our guide and facilitator Geoff commented that one could study Greece for a lifetime and still not know everything there is to know about this fascinating culture and land.

We began with a 10 minute exploration of all six rooms beginning in the most recent room and ending with the room containing artifacts dating back to before the time when Christ walked the earth.  Our assignment was to explore, find what was interesting to us and notice any differences between the rooms.

We gathered at a map of the region, a map we may have walked by and never noticed.  He explained the geography of the region, which islands contained minerals like marble and obsidian.  Natural resources led the island’s inhabitants to travel among the islands trading resources.  Eventually other cultures like the Persians waged war with the Greeks and land was always worth defending.  After our geography lesson we were sent into a certain room to find 10 different types of rocks on display.

We learned about the Trojan War and the futility of it. We compared and contrasted the Trojan War with the Persian War.  Putting it in a modern context, we discussed when a war is worth fighting, such as World War II and when it is not, such as Vietnam.  Freedoms are worth fighting for.  

During our lessons we attracted curious onlookers.  A very nice couple visiting New York from Greece tagged along with our group.  The wife was brought to tears by Geoff’s retelling of The Trojan War.  He had that effect on us.  His story telling was superb.   Grace said, “Mom, you can tell he loves what he does.  You can tell in the way he tells his stories.  When I grow up I want to talk to people about weather the way he talks to us about Greece.”

Geoff spoke to the children about finding their calling in life.  Their life work should be something that they love AND something that they are good at.  If they are good at something, try to merge it with something they love.  If they love something, become very good at it.  Grace shared that she has already found this and he told her she is very fortunate indeed.

Four hours passed by too quickly.  Our day closed with a quick visit to the Roman Room and an explanation of how the Roman culture did not value art quite the same way the Greeks did.  Many Greeks were hired by Romans to produce replicas of their pieces of art but the Romans did not invest their heart and soul in the process of creating art.  Eventually the Roman empire fell.  Our country is facing some tough issues today, from limited natural resources, political battles to be fought both domestically and abroad, and environmental issues that must be remedied.  Geoff urged the children to understand history, learn from it, incorporate it into their lives so that they may grow into adults who can help formulate the solutions to these problems, because like many great civilizations before us, we too are at a crossroads.
Four hours was simply not long enough.  

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