ship excavation

5th and 6th Grade Classroom Transforms into Sunken Ship for Excavation Activity

Hands-on learning is a big part of what sparks a love of learning at Academy at the Lakes. In Mrs. Vargas’s 5th and 6th Grade Social Studies classes, it is no different.

Every other year for the past five years, as part of an integrated unit of study during the 5th and 6th Grade Suite’s Dreamers and Doers curricular theme, students take part in an experiential experience by excavating a sunken ship in the middle of the classroom.

The curriculum for the Dreamers and Doers rotation in Social Studies looks at topics in American History, including European Exploration. Simultaneously, in Science class, students will examine the principles of buoyancy and take a deeper look at the technologies that enabled exploration to the Americas.

During the sunken ship activity pairs take on the role of underwater archeologists to recover an “artifact” from the ship, such as a Bible, a compass, and tobacco.

To investigate, the student archeologists map, catalog, and research each item to reveal how and why Europeans came to the New World. In the final steps of research, students categorize the items to infer how the artifacts reveal their motives, how improved navigation tools enabled exploration across the Atlantic, and reveal the new products from the Americas brought back by European explorers.

Students enjoy “diving” for sunken treasures from long ago. By actively participating students situate the learning task in the field of archeology, using hands-on learning and emulating scientific methods used by historians.

“Having students excavate a sunken ship, rather than conventional social studies teaching, is aligned with Academy’s desire to create lifelong learners,” Vargas said.

Learning is student-centered and dynamic, rather than the traditional, teacher-centered classroom. Students are completing an active task, which allows them to apply knowledge in a meaningful way, through critical thinking.

This lesson underscores how the past is connected to the present, specifically, how present-day archeologists apply historical knowledge to learn about the world—by emulating the methodologies actual social scientists use. It makes learning about how and why Europeans explored the Americas fun for students.

“Based on the success of our excavation, I’d say we may have some future archeologists among 5th and 6th Graders at Academy!” Mrs. Vargas said.