LAW Educational Research Project

In 2011 the LAW Steering Committee initiated a collaborative project to programmatically evaluate and assess student learning that takes place at LAW, something that had never been done before. LAW Steering Committee member Dr. Gwynn Henderson partnered with Dr. Linda Levstik, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Kentucky and an expert on history education, and Mr. Youngdo Lee, a veteran LAW attendee and fifth-grade teacher at Glendover Elementary School in Lexington, to conduct a formal educational research project.

Working with fifth-grade students in the classroom and through interviews, the project sought to determine if student learning is meeting the educational goals we set for the event, and, in particular, if students are mistakenly equating simple technology with simple mindedness on the part of the Red River Gorge’s prehistoric native peoples. We are thrilled to report that students demonstrated the level of understanding we hoped and that they appreciate the complex behaviors underlying native technologies.

Living Archaeology Weekend, Kentucky archaeology, primitive technology, native technology, Native American, American Indian, Woodland Indians

Glendover Elementary students learn about prehistoric pottery technology by making pinch pots with renowned potter Tammy Beane at LAW 2011.

LAW has broader pedagogical impacts as a result of this important study. As part of the research project, teacher education students in Dr. Levstik’s Fall 2011 class in social studies methods attended the LAW event on Friday to observe and evaluate student participation, and they enjoyed the event as much as the elementary school children did. Dr. Levstik presented the preliminary results of the research at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) 2011 meeting in Washington, DC.


In early 2012 Levstik, Henderson, and Lee submitted a paper for publication in the NCSS journal, Social Studies and the Young Learner. "Teaching the Past in Place: Material Culture as Evidence of Human Ingenuity" examines how Living Archaeology Weekend promotes student understanding of the deep past, human ingenuity and innovation, and human agency in the process of material culture production by Native Americans. The students' engaged understanding of LAW demonstrations promotes an appreciation for the complex chaîne opératoire of native peoples and combats erroneous stereotypes and misconceptions of Native Americans. This article is one of several publications that Levstik, Henderson, and Lee plan to prepare discussing the educational effectiveness of Living Archaeology Weekend and follow-up in-class activities.


In October 2012, Levstik gave the keynote presentation at the Histoire Colloque at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. Levstik's presentation was entitled “No One Will See the Beauty of It: Students’ Conceptions of Human Ingenuity, Innovation, Intelligence and Agency." Henderson was the co-author of the paper.


In addition to social studies educators, the team is sharing the research project with archaeologists. In October 2013, Henderson presented the results of the research at the Midwest Archaeological Conference annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Henderson and Levstik's co-authored paper was entitled "Applying the Chaîne Opératoire ... with Kids." Here is a description of their paper: Most commonly employed in lithic technology studies, the concept of chaîne opératoire embraces all aspects of the manufacture of material things -- not just the technical processes, but the mental operations and social relationships involved as well. Our recent research in four fifth-­‐grade classrooms shows that this concept is equally robust when used to structure student learning about past peoples. This effective tool can guide student thinking about the production and use of ancient tools and technology, providing a context within which to counter stereotypes of (simple-­‐minded) prehistoric  peoples. Students learn that past technologies may seem simpler than ours, but upon deeper consideration, they are not, and neither are the people who used them.

Living Archaeology Weekend, Kentucky archaeology, primitive technology, native technology, Native American, American Indian, Woodland Indians

Levstik and Henderson co-authored another publication that appeared in print in 2014. Their work is included in an edited volume that will be published in both English and French, allowing the research to reach an even wider audience of educators. Their chapter is entitled "A Human Dependence on Things: Fifth-Graders’ Conceptions of Human Intelligence, Innovation, and Agency" and it will appear in New Avenues for Research and Practice in History, Geography, and Civics, edited by M.-A. Ethier and E. Mottet (De Boeck Publishing, Brussels). In French, the work is "Une Dépendance de L'homme Sur les Activités: Les Conceptions de L'intelligence Humaine, de L'Innovation et de L'Agence Elèves de Cinquième Année de l'" in the volume De Nouvelles Voies Pour la Recherche et la Pratique en Histoire, Géographie et Éducation à la Citoyenneté edited by M.-A. Éthier and E. Mottet.

Students learn first-hand about the complex process of prehistoric hide tanning technology - from acquiring hides to production of foot gear - at Living Archaeology Weekend 2013.

EXCITING RECENT DEVELOPMENTS! There are new developments about the LAW educational research project. In addition to the articles and book chapters described above, in 2014 the lead researchers -- Gwynn Henderson of the LAW Steering Committee and Linda Levstik of the Univesrity of Kentucky -- published “The Beauty of Other Lives: Material Culture as Evidence of Human Ingenuity and Agency” in the online journal The Social Studies and “What’s Caught; What’s Taught: Children Interpreting Material Culture” in Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture. Dr. Levstik published “Teaching History by Connecting Human Intelligence, Innovation and Agency” in Edutopia, an online resource for improving K-12 education supported by The George Lucas Educational Foundation. And, two history educators from Spain who heard Dr. Levstik’s presentation about the LAW education project at a Barcelona conference will be in Kentucky on sabbatical in Fall 2015 to study public archaeology in the Commonwealth and attend the Living Archaeology Weekend event! This level of assessment of a public archaeology program is quite exceptional and unparalleled. Congrats!