The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s new digital repository of artifacts from dozens of archaeological digs in all five boroughs is a terrifically rich educational resource. It connects in powerful ways to the Social Studies teacher’s charge of making history relevant to the communities they serve, and lends itself well to hands-on student inquiry lessons.

In the New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence curriculum document (DOE, 2014-2015), “Graph and Image Analysis Skills” – decoding. Interpreting, drawing conclusions and making predictions” -- is called out as one of six key Social Studies Thinking Skills. The photographs in this digital repository, and the contextual information that accompanies them, provide superb examples of such images, especially for Grades Four, Seven and Eleven, where local, state and national history comprise the subject matter. In Grade Four, these two pivotal local history Units, followed by the New York State Social Studies Standards they address, take up three of nine months of instruction: 4.2 NATIVE AMERICAN GROUPS AND THE ENVIRONMENT (Standards 1, 3, 5); 4.3 COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD IN NEW YORK (Standards 1, 3, 4).

One of the largest parts of Unit 4.3 is FOCUS: Case study of early New Amsterdam/New York 4.3b, and in a later Unit we find: FOCUS: Case study of immigration/ migration in New York City 4.7a, both case studies with clear and explicit connections to artifacts in the archaeological repository – whether they be an 18th century teac cup from the Van Cortlandt Mansion in the Bronx or the cast-off 19th century medicine bottles of immigrantsin Downtown Brooklyn.

In Grade Seven Social Studies, the same local history strands return just as prominently with a more detailed and nuanced treatment of New York History; while in Grade Eight, as the curriculum moves forward chronologically, students learn about Immigration and Industrialization 8.2a, 8.2b: Rise of NYC and other cities, Urbanization, New technology, and Comparison of urban and agricultural regions.

High School Social Studies devotes the entire junior year to U.S. History and Government, where students are asked to explore topics such as, Transportation and Transformation: Growth of urban and industrial patterns of life in the North, Transportation revolution (Erie Canal, rise of the Port of New York) and New York City becomes a trade and manufacturing center 11.2.

In the Bronx, I recently led a team of teachers that developed award-winning Elementary and Middle School Social Studies lessons around “Urban Archaeology Kits”, each made up of 25-30 objects (c. 1880) recovered from actual archaeological excavations at three different Brooklyn sites which is described in this August 11, 2014 Archaeology Magazine article: Letter from the Bronx Dozens of teachers have borrowed one of these kits over the last three years, and many developed and shared their exemplary lesson plans and instructional materials. Based on this “pilot”, archaeological artifacts may be readily adapted to provide youngsters with a potent springboard to multi-faceted assignments and activities fully consistent with Common Core Writing, Reading, Speaking and Listening Standards such as:

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (K-5)

Speaking and Listening Standards

  1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    1. Come to discussions prepared having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
    2. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
    3. Pose and respond to specific questions by making comments that contribute to the discussion and elaborate on the remarks of others.
    4. Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions.
  1. Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

Writing Standards

  1. Draw information form literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Reading Standards for Informational Text

  1. Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from a text.
  1. Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

Finally, I am convinced that working with this collection will appeal to your students and help powerfully convey the idea that history is all around us and that material culture of ordinary folks in every neighborhood, then and now, matters. And of course learning about how an object was made, how it was used by someone long ago right here in our city, and why we don't (or do) still use it today, provides robust opportunities for interdisciplinary learning experiences in numerous aspects of science, math, geography, and culture.

Philip Panaritis is currently the Senior Borough Instructional Lead in Social Studies for the NYC-DOE Bronx Field Support Center. From 2014 to 2015 he was the city-wide NYC-DOE Director of Social Studies, and an editor and writer of the K-12 New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence. He has served as a Social Studies teacher, supervisor, curriculum-writer and professional development specialist since 1985.