Promoting Archaeological Science to Kids (With Jello?)

A colleague of mine recently published an article on how to inspire kids to enjoy and learn about microfluidics (his research area). He was able to translate complex physics and engineering concepts through the use of dyed water and Jello, and a well thought-out lesson plan for two different groups of students. Although his research is not directly related to archaeological science per se, this article speaks to the to the value of hands-on experiments in education. Many science educators talk about “hands-on science”, and Lagally and his colleagues summarize this concept very well in the introduction of the article:

“Most of us, being educators or researchers in science and technology, remember a defining moment in our adolescent years that sparked a life-long interest and passion in this field. It may have been performing an oxidation-reduction reaction; it may have been building an electronic circuit; or it may have been watching cells divide under a microscope. Regardless of the subject matter, one thing these pivotal moments have in common is that they are all examples of hands-on education.”

(Cheng Wei T. Yang, Eric Ouellet, Eric T. Lagally. Using Inexpensive Jell-O Chips for Hands-On Microfluidics Education. Analytical Chemistry, 2010) (Photo Credit American Chemical Society)

I would ask the blog readers out there- what was your defining moment that sparked your interest in archaeological science? And, how do you translate that to young scientists? What are some of your favorite household materials to use to teach archaeological science and to make it accessible to students and teachers?

I have volunteered in schools in several districts in several places in the US and Australia and presented to elementary school and high school groups and in-between, with different hands-on activities. What sort of hands-on activities have you used successfully to teach and promote archaeological science to kids? I am curious to see other responses.


  1. Jello - a dessert blast from my childhood.

    When I do career presentation to local 5th graders, I do the "magnet in a box" to demonstrate geophysics. I place a magnet on a grid inside a box, have the students make measurements with a handheld digital magnetometer on the surface of the box, have them record the measurements on a similar grid on the surface, and infer the location of the buried magnet. Although I don't present this as archaeological science per se, when I ask the students what they might want to find underground, they always answer (dinosaur) bones or buried (archaeological) treasure.

    As for my own seminal archaeological science moment, that is a longer story for another time.


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