Aurora Fifth Graders Research, Report On Mystery Native American Artifacts
December 12, 2019
AURORA—Show and tell with a big impact.
That’s what a visitor to Aurora’s Holy Angels School might have called a program there Nov. 13.
About 50 fifth graders made oral reports and 22 tabletop displays to culminate an annual Museum Artifact 
Inquiry ZonE (MAIZE) project, a hands-on study of Native American artifacts. Parents and friends packed the church’s Connor Hall for the 90-minute program.
MAIZE is a partnership of Holy Angels, Aurora University’s Schingoethe Museum and AU’s School of Education and Human Performance. The program debuted at Holy Angels after more than 20 years at Freeman Elementary School in Aurora.
From Oct. 17 to Nov. 14, on Monday and Wednesday mornings, three AU educators and 24 AU student teachers brought MAIZE to Holy Angels pupils.
Program director is Deborah Stevens, Ph.D., AU professor of education, chair of Initial Licensure and chair of Early Childhood Special Education with English as a Second Language and Bilingual program. 
She was assisted by Randy Steinheimer, Debbie Steinheimer, Sue Hard and Laurie Mitz, AU education faculty, and Meg Bero, executive director emerita of the Schingoethe Museum.
In her welcome to guests, Stevens said fifth graders worked in small, cooperative and collaborative research groups led by AU students to learn about 24 mystery artifacts. 
She said Holy Angels pupils learned math, science, reading, writing, analysis and inference while researching Native American artifacts. Artifacts represented tribes nationwide including Northeast Woodland, Inuit, Plains, Navajo Southwest, Southwest Hopi and Cahokia. 
According to Stevens “The young museum curators learned how to tackle a problem by analyzing what they know and what they need to know. Additionally, they studied research, writing and speaking as they have formed conclusions about their artifacts.”
Stevens explained young curators received unidentified artifacts, analyzed them and learned to describe them with perfection. 
Students wore gloves each time they touched the artifacts to prevent oils from accumulating, modeling how artifacts are handled in museums across the world. Students measured artifacts and wrote detailed descriptions along with drawings. 
Students researched artifacts by reading books and articles about what the artifact could be, its use and how it was made. Then students focused on the artifact’s origin and identified what gender made the artifact, tribal affiliation and tribal customs, ceremonies, dress, and geographical location.
Stevens said, “Using authentic Native artifacts helps students understand the complexity of Native history and identity. There are over 550 tribal affiliations in the US and Native Peoples are extremely diverse, have different languages and cultural customs.”
After student presentations, young curators received completion certificates from AU student teachers.
Stevens added that MAIZE is a problem-based learning approach designed at Harvard University in the 1970s for medical schools. Harvard researchers determined the approach is one of the best ways to learn.
— Al Benson