Pilot Project and Evaluation

“Investigating A Shotgun House” Pilot Project and Evaluation

During development of “Investigating a Shotgun House,” funds from the Nashville District, Army Corps of Engineers became available to pilot and evaluate a draft of the unit. These funds were part of the District’s efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts to archaeological sites as part of the drawn-down of Lake Cumberland in southcentral Kentucky.

These funds were used to hold a week-long teachers’ academy in the region in 2014, and to conduct a formal, in-class piloting and evaluation of a draft of “Investigating a Shotgun House” during the 2014-2015 School Year. The project explored how well the curriculum served as a model for inquiry-based teaching approaches and techniques in history and social studies education. Data were collected from students and teachers- for more information about the pilot project, read a 2017 presentation here.

2014 Week-Long Teachers’ Academy – Making History Local: An Inquiry-based Approach

The academy was attended by 14 elementary and middle school social studies teachers and three archaeology/anthropology educators. Based on their written evaluations on the draft of the materials, response to the academy was overwhelmingly positive:

1. Participants understood the strength of inquiry-based teaching (“It’s very doable – even for me!” “Inquiry should be used in all classrooms, including all subjects.”).

2. Participants appreciated the relevance of the curriculum (“I can see the applicability of this curriculum across all content areas.” “I feel like I can use the activities to make history more relevant and come alive.” “Who knew shelter was so emotionally charged?” “I never knew about the laws on digging /discovering artifacts and the civic responsibilities of going to federal lands.”).

Almost every participant indicated that they planned to incorporate/integrate/adapt some or all of the Investigating Shelter/“Investigating a Shotgun House” lessons into Native American, colonial history, or other units they taught, mentioning the hands-on aspects of the lessons, links to literature, and how much their students would enjoy learning through these lessons.

2014-2015 School Year Classroom Piloting

Four of the Academy teachers piloted the revised curriculum materials in their fifth, sixth, and seventh grade classrooms during the 2014-2015 school year. A total of 121 students received instruction and 67 participated in the pilot project. One piloting teacher, Karla Johnson, developed a PowerPoint/video of her students as they worked through the unit, and this is accessible here.

The Pilot Project had three goals:
1. To understand how historical archaeological inquiry might inform students’ ideas about the significance of working-class people’s lives, and by extension, the lives of other people often underrepresented in the historical record.

2. To examine how well the unit promoted deep conceptual understanding of how humanities subjects inform the development of a preservation ethic.

3. To evaluate “Investigating a Shotgun House” by field-testing its usability before it was finalized.

Below is a brief summary of the research findings—first with respect to the teachers and then, with respect to the students.

Pilot Project Teachers

Based on interviews with the piloting teachers’ about the curriculum and from their completed written questionnaires, and evidence of student learning based on classroom observations and from interviews with them, the evaluation shows that the subject of archaeology in general and the Investigating Shelter curriculum in particular are powerful tools for student learning. It is also clear that Investigating Shelter can serve as a vehicle for modeling inquiry-based teaching for deep conceptual understanding of diverse humanities subjects.

Several teachers were able to see many connections to the standard social studies content and how Investigating Shelter and “Investigating a Shotgun House” fit with academic standards. One teacher cited being able to flow much of what she covered in Investigating Shelter and “Investigating a Shotgun House” into her other social studies classes.

After learning about the Davis Bottom neighborhood through “Investigating a Shotgun House,” students demonstrated enthusiasm for inquiry-based exploration of a “working poor” community. They also had a strong civic/and preservation response to the curriculum, as they understood the value of preserving aspects of ordinary people’s lives and recognizing histories that might otherwise be invisible.

The teachers were able to integrate elements of Investigating Shelter and “Investigating a Shotgun House” into their on-going social studies and language arts curricula. Using primary sources was a rich experience for their students. Time constraints forced them to make adjustments, and thus content coverage varied. Because inquiry is a challenging instructional approach, it was not surprising that these teachers did not use inquiry to its fullest potential. Neither the teachers nor their students, however, reported having serious problems with the unit’s inquiry aspects.

Pilot Project Students

Archaeological inquiry was a powerful tool for introducing to students concepts and skills specific to inquiry, and basic to historical thinking. Students tended to identify strongly with the perspectives of people who they saw as similar to them socioeconomically (class): in other words, they saw something of themselves in the people of Davis Bottom. Students also identified with the perspectives of people who were different from themselves in terms of race and ethnicity. This represents the impact of an instructional shift: from race as an inevitable problem to race as a fact of human communities. In part, this shift appears to be a function of an archaeological emphasis on the guiding question “What can a Davis Bottom shotgun house tell us about the lives of poor, working-class people?” As powerful as the guiding question was in shaping student inquiry, material objects, documents, and oral histories also shaped these students’ responses.

Students were strongly in favor of preserving aspects of ordinary people’s lives and recognizing histories that might otherwise be invisible. They identified a moral/ethical component to preservation. However, they struggled to explain what alternatives might have been available to people on any of the various sides of this public issue, or how citizens might have intervened at any point over the years.

Informal Evaluation

The unit also was evaluated informally. Project personnel piloted several of the lessons with college students, middle school teacher candidates enrolled in a social studies methods class offered by the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, Department for Curriculum and Instruction. This provided an additional check to see if there were tasks that presented challenges to novice teachers in terms of content knowledge and inquiry procedures.

Also during unit development, the archaeological data recovered from the Davis Bottom neighborhood served as the case study data for a high school video gaming class. High school students were challenged to develop an educational video game that would use archaeological tools and concepts to engage “players” in interpreting a shotgun house in Davis Bottom.

The developers of “Investigating a Shotgun House” commissioned the class to design the program, and brought them to the archaeology lab. Students also toured Davis Bottom in preparation for developing a game environment that captured the physical as well as historical and archaeological aspects of the community. Students presented their work to the program developers. Students described this experience as “the best class ever,” “my best day at school” and the like. Sadly, a series of winter storms closed schools and ended the class before students completed and tested their game.