The sight of elementary school-aged children playing in the dirt is not uncommon. But if said dirt was excavated in the style of an archaeology dig, complete with rope marking the edges of the area, you might take a second look.

In an Independent Study conducted by Assistant Professor of Education Charles Dorn and Associate Professor of Classics James Higginbotham, Mary Kelly '10 and Nora Krulwich '11 have created a curriculum centered on the study of archaeology for three classes of fourth graders at Longfellow Elementary School.

Their lesson plan calls for the fourth graders to dig around in the dirt, and not during recess.

"I have a fairly big backyard, most of it wooded," he said. "Professor Higginbotham and I were chatting one day about how to make use of it for some sort of school project and we decided on an archaeology dig that would draw on my field of expertise, education, and his, archaeology."

The two professors spoke with the administrators at Longfellow Elementary about their idea, and the project began to take shape. Kelly and Krulwich, who both took his Contemporary American Education class in the fall, had separately mentioned to Dorn their interest in having a hands-on experience with teaching outside of the classroom.

"I was having lunch with Professor Dorn, who is also my advisor, and was complaining [that I] thought all my classes were really abstract, and I wanted to do something hands on," said Krulwich.

For the Independent Study, Kelly and Krulwich first educated themselves on the topic of archaeology. Kelly, a Classics major, said she had no prior particular interest in the subject.

Asked if she had any previous interest in archaeology, Krulwich said, "Absolutely not!"

"This Independent Study has definitely changed that," said Kelly.

To execute the four-week project, Kelly and Krulwich reduced the curriculum into a one-week program, beginning in the classroom with lessons about archaeology, moving on-site to Dorn's backyard, and culminating with a follow-up reflection.

On Wednesday, Kelly and Krulwich were leading the first of their three excavations in Professor Dorn's backyard. The fourth graders listened attentively as Krulwich described the scene to the students, pointing out the stratum in the exposed soil, referencing a lesson she had previously taught in the classroom.

Rapt, the young students started to dig, quiet with determination. As the fourth graders began to uncover the planted "artifacts," the silence ceased gradually. Excited by their discoveries, each student announced to the group what they had unearthed. They carefully recorded what they had found and where in the pit their finds were located.

"[The fourth graders] all seemed to understand the importance of the different tools and procedures involved, and a lot of them made really insightful observations about the things they found, which was a very important goal of our lessons," Kelly said.

She added, "I think archaeology is a great subject to include in any child's education because it is so interdisciplinary," incorporating history, art, science, and math.

Krulwich said that she and Kelly faced some challenges when putting the lesson plans because they were "unsure of the intellect of fourth graders." Her enjoyment of the project , however, was evident as she worked with the children at the dig.

Kelly said, "Most of all it's refreshing. They see the world so differently than adults do; Their insight never fails to amaze me."