Winter school in Grosseto: an unforgettable teaching experience!

I know, it’s my fault! It’s been a long time since I wrote something on this blog.

My data collection in Sicily is still going on (after a year) and I think the bulk of my dataset is almost complete… Sheffield… I’ll be back soon!

Unfortunately, as you already know, my data collection is based not only in Palermo, and for this reason I often need to move from a place to another. Hence, every time it takes me a while to adapt to a different place and to start feeling like at home. In addition, only in few occasions I had access to a stable internet connection.

For all these reasons I have been absent for a long period. Sorry about that readers!

Anyway, my many trips around Sicily were very fruitful… hunting faunal assemblages from medieval archeological sites is an exciting activity: you should definitely try it! J You can always have a break enjoying the paradisiac Sicilian food as well as the archeological (and not only) amenities of this island!

So, now that I will be stable in Palermo until April, I am happy to update you about a recent teaching experience that took place at the University of Grosseto (southern Tuscany, Italy) at the beginning of February.

thumb_IMG_0517_1024Since January 2015, I have actively taken part to a series of seminars organised by the Alberese Archaeological Project. This latter organisation aims at reconstructing the development of settlements and trade in southern Tuscany between the mid-Republican period and the Late Antiquity. The seminars are organised in two sessions: the first one runs during winter (January-February), while the second one takes place in summer (July-August).

The idea of this initiative is to introduce a number of students to the study and analysis of different archaeological materials such as ceramic, glass, small finds, human and animal bones.

All the archaeological material analysed during the four weeks of the Winter School was recovered during the last archaeological campaigns in Scoglietto and Spolverino (Alberese, Grosseto). These are two Roman archaeological sites located close to the river Ombrone in the Maremma National Park. Recently, the archaeological campaign at the nearby Roman site of Umbro Flumen has revealed some interesting archeological evidence, and the materials recovered were also analysed by the students during this Winter School.

Since the Alberese Archeological Project has established a convention with the University of Queensland (Australia), all the students were from this institution, although they were not attending the same academic year.

Moving back to the session dedicated to zooarchaeology… I was able to bring to Grosseto several boxes of animal bones from different species, which I had previously selected from the small (but very useful) reference collection held at the Department of Archeology in Siena.

I decided to divide my teaching week in two parts: one theoretical and one practical. After having introduced the subject and the main aims of zooarchaeology, I discussed about all the other disciplines involved in zooarchaeological research, such as taxonomy, zoology, ecology, taphonomy and, of course, archaeology. It was a rather long session and the students were clearly tired… so, in order to get back their attention, I started the practical session.

We started looking together at the huge variety of bones and we tried to classify them in three categories: flat (e.g. the skull), long (humerus, femur, etc.) and blocky bones (vertebrae, tarsals etc.).

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We had a lot of fun and from time to time I asked specific things about the bones they were handling, in order to stimulate observation and analysis. A little bit of ‘healthy’ competition among students is always beneficial.

At the end, after having sad that in the last day I was going to do a small test, tension among students rose a little bit. However, after having shown the amazing prizes (removable tattoos of animals) big smiles appeared on their faces. Day by day, students started developing an incredible ability in the identification process, as well as in establishing the age at death of animals by looking both at their epiphyseal fusion and their mandible wear stage. Furthermore, they were even able to reconstruct entire carcasses of animals such as sheep, pig and a dog… and they did everything on their own!

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During the last day, as I had announced, I made a small test.

I divided them in three groups. I was so surprised and immensely happy to notice that, apart from some small mistakes, all the answers were almost entirely correct. They were happy and satisfied. Apparently it was clear that I felt very proud of them, as one student pleasantly highlighted that I couldn’t stop smiling. It was true.

At the end of the day all students had deserved a tattoo… to be honest I took one also for me… they were too irresistible!

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This experience made me think about the relevance and effects, whether positive or negative, that different teaching methods (or approaches) can or cannot have on students.

I remain firmly convinced that, from time to time, having fun while teaching is one of the best ways of learning. I am also pretty sure that this kind of approach prevents the risk of being considered as someone external or alien to the students’ group.

Clearly, this does not mean that you have to be always friendly with students… it only means that they need to realise that in front of them they have someone who remembers well what it’s like being a young student. And, since I’m still a student, I’m very aware of all these feelings.

The more temporary tattoos you have, the higher percentage of correct answer you will have!

Veronica

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