Education from the Trenches

How Ashkelon is getting kids involved in archaeology

Last summer Nichole Moos, a public school teacher from Hamilton Elementary School in Chicago, participated in the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon in Israel* and developed curriculum for a pre-K audience. Through her blog on the Dig Ashkelon website, Nichole was able to interact with her students in the U.S. and introduce them to archaeology and the types of objects found during excavation. This year, she’s back in Ashkelon for another round of investigation and curriculum development geared toward those in higher grade levels. Anyone who is interested—teachers, students, parents or those outside of the education system who still want to learn about archaeology—can follow her daily blog entries at

Nichole recently explained her role as a curriculum specialist at the site of Ashkelon to Bible History Daily:

What am I doing in Israel?

Third graders at Hamilton Elementary School in Chicago learned about Roman oil lamps from the excavation staff at Ashkelon (see video below) and then tried their hand at making some of their own.

During the morning excavation time, I am a volunteer excavating on the dig in Grid 51 where we are uncovering the remains of a Persian-Hellenistic neighborhood. I am learning about the theories and methodologies that archaeologists use. I then translate these into lessons, activities, and units of study for teachers and students to use in the classroom and at home. I blog each day about what we are finding, answer student questions and post videos to pique kids’ interest. [See an example of a video post featuring archaeologists at Ashkelon below.]

Why use archaeology?
Archaeology is one of those magical things that sucks in kids and adults alike. Children are naturally curious; they are natural archaeologists. They are always looking for objects—treasures—on the ground and then love to create stories about them, and they have an endless stream of questions. The methodologies used in archaeology require both of these skills—desire to find and curiosity—so for kids the thinking behind archaeology makes a lot of sense. Also, children aren’t afraid to hypothesize outrageous things, and sometimes you need that in archaeology.

With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), expectations of teaching and learning are shifting. Where once memorizing dates, places and times was valued highest, now being able to infer, problem solve and connect are valued very highly. This is not to say knowing dates, places and times isn’t important; instead, we need students to be able to use that information to build their own knowledge and understanding about the world.

What to expect this summer?

I, along with other CPS teachers and members of the Ashkelon staff, have spent the last five weeks working with six Chicago Public School classrooms in a pilot program we created called “Skype with an Archaeologist.” These groups of children, in grades K–5 across the city, participated in Skype conversations with an archaeologist in Ashkelon once a week for five weeks. I created lessons, gathered resources, modified work, documented learning and supported teachers through the process. I will be using many of the students’ questions to guide my blog posts this summer. In terms of curriculum development, I will be building content for the education part of the Dig Ashkelon website.

The module section of the website follows a very distinct format and is good for classes to explore as individual topics of study. The new areas of the website I’m developing this summer are meant to be used before the modules and contain content presented in a variety of media (video, photos, keynote presentations and comic books). These are more “units of study.” There is more of a sequence to the presentation of content, and teachers are given specific lesson plans. These areas stem from requests from teachers and from the work we have been doing as part of the “Skype with an Archaeologist” program.

Interested in archaeological youth outreach programs? Check out this video on USC’s ArcSmart program, a “standards-based curriculum enrichment program which provides students with hands-on access to ancient artifacts and exercises and reinforces their problem-solving skills and knowledge of ancient civilizations.”

Find out more about ArcSmart.


* For more on Ashkelon, see Lawrence Stager, “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1996; “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1991.

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