TimeJumpers Update: 2017-18 Outreach

TimeJumpers Team 2017 Beach Middle School

WSU graduate students facilitating TimeJumpers at Beach Middle School.

In effort to bring archaeology to the community, Wayne State University student volunteers and faculty have developed the “TimeJumpers” classroom initiative over the past 4 years as part of the Unearthing Detroit project’s public outreach strategy.  Like other education initiatives around the country, this portable learning program is designed to introduce archaeology to middle school students within southeast Michigan using a combination of hand-on activities, discussions, and local artifacts.  TimeJumpers aims to develop a sense of cultural stewardship through learning about archaeological practice and cultural heritage.

During the 2017-18 academic year, graduate students Athena Zissis and Samantha Ellens have been lead coordinators for the initiative. Together with a group of dedicated volunteers, they have collaborated with educators to bring TimeJumpers to 8 middle and upper elementary schools in the region.

Athena and Samantha presented a paper at the annual Society for Historical Archaeology conference in New Orleans, LA (January 3-6, 2018).  It outlined the TimeJumpers program goals, successes, and challenges using the feedback received since its initial implementation in 2014.  Below, you will find the text of their oral presentation:  


Archaeologist’s toolkit on display at Thirkell Elementary School

Time Jumpers:  Inspiring Archaeological Stewardship Through Classroom Programming
Samantha Ellens, Athena Zissis

Since 2013, the Unearthing Detroit Project has been dedicated to providing public access to the archaeology of the city through a community-based approach to research. Directed by Dr. Krysta Ryzewski of Wayne State University, the project is run through the collaboration of faculty, students, and community volunteers. Our work is inspired by the efforts of countless other programs, including Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project, Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA), and The Campus Archaeology Program at MSU. This presentation focuses upon Unearthing Detroit’s school outreach program, called TimeJumpers, which has run for the last 4 years. My coauthor and I have been involved in the program since its implementation in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Here, we discuss the program’s goals, successes, and challenges, reflecting on our own experiences and feedback.

Inspired by an array of educational outreach programs across the country, TimeJumpers is designed to introduce archaeology to middle school students (grades 6-8) in southeast Michigan. This portable learning program is run primarily by student volunteers and faculty, in addition to their normal duties.  It  integrates hands-on activities, artifact interpretation, and discussions to develop students’ understanding of archaeological practices, cultural heritages and regional history.  

TimeJumpers was adapted from, “Think Like an Archaeologist,” developed by faculty and graduate students at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology at Brown University in 2010 (Ducady et al. 2016). “Think Like an Archaeologist” was later modified for use in the Caribbean by the Survey and Landscape Archaeology on Montserrat (SLAM) project. TimeJumpers adapts this curriculum to connect with Metro-Detroit’s history, archaeology, and audiences. This paper does not to suggest that TimeJumpers offers a unique approach to archaeology in education; rather, it reflects on the program’s impacts on the Metro-Detroit area and cultural heritage.  

Fisher Upper Middle School

Students at Fisher Upper Middle School learning about archaeological research!

TimeJumper’s main objective is to introduce students to the process of investigating the past, fostering an appreciation of history and instilling a sense of stewardship to [hopefully] be carried into adulthood. Heritage initiatives rely on public support, collaborative relationships with stakeholders, and engaging with communities to educate each other about archaeological resources (Bocancea & Ryzewski 2013:1-2). In this spirit, TimeJumpers has fostered relationships with educators throughout southeast Michigan, particularly in the Metro-Detroit Area, in the hope that it will increase stewardship of the region’s cultural heritage sites.

The program is typically structured in 90-minute sessions that combine presentations, artifact interpretation, and hands-on activities to introduce students to what archaeology is, how archaeological research is done, and the value of the discipline. The program is designed to focus on three main components: 1) archaeological theory and methodology; 2) artifact reconstruction and interpretation; and 3) local archaeological resources and cultural heritage.  Facilitators use a mix of teaching styles that have been demonstrated to be effective elsewhere to appeal to visual, auditory, and tactile learners and engage critical thinking skills by asking open-ended questions and promoting discussion throughout the program.


Thirkell students undergoing a mapping exercise, excavating chocolate chip “artifacts” from their cookie “unit” and documenting their location on a grid.

TimeJumpers uses 3 activities to develop interactive student learning: cookie excavation, vessel reconstruction, and a stratigraphy box exploration.  The first activity introduces students to the importance of mapping and documentation in archaeology and the irreversibility of excavation.  Students work in pairs or small groups to excavate chocolate chips out of a cookie using toothpicks, plotting each “artifact” on a grid worksheet.  During this exercise, students learn  about careful excavation, proper note-taking, teamwork, and problem solving as they approach issues like having their “unit” disintegrate, or their “artifacts” break.  By the time all the chocolate chips have been excavated, most students discover that excavation is both science-based and an irreversible destructive process. This prompts a class discussion of fieldwork and the repercussions of uncontrolled digging.


Hutchinson@Howe students showcase their completed ceramic reconstructions!

The next exercise tasks students with reconstructing a broken ceramic vessel and introduces them to the methods and skills archaeologists use in the lab. To prepare for this activity, coffee mugs were purchased, broken, and bagged separately with a few sherds removed from each and intermingled with the other bags. In the classroom, students work in small groups as if they were in the lab and use masking tape to reconstruct their bagged vessel. The students quickly discover that they do not have all of the pieces needed to reassemble the mug in its entirety, and not all the sherds come from the same vessel. This activity effectively demonstrates the patience, attention to detail, and collaboration required in the archaeology lab, and promotes critical thinking and spatial reasoning. Student feedback shows that this activity is a favorite. The students enjoy the process, the challenge, and the sense of accomplishment after putting an artifact back together.


Students removing multi-colored linens representing the different layers of the earth, and making inferences about the artifact assemblages in each layer.

The last activity introduces students to the concepts of stratigraphy and relative dating while reinforcing the scientific and destructive nature of excavation. In groups, students are given a clear plastic tub filled with 4 layers of colored linens, representing different layers of sediment, and various objects intended to be carefully excavated and recorded in situ. Utilizing their organizational skills, students bag and label their finds as a team before analyzing their finds and offering their own interpretations of the artifacts and contexts. Together we discuss these findings and the value of artifact associations in situ to consider the dangers of looting.

TimeJumpers uses artifacts local to Detroit, like those from the city’s iconic Renaissance Center building, as a case study for linking students with tangible remnants of their shared regional history.  The Renaissance Center is an iconic part of the Detroit skyline, and familiar to many of the students, yet few have considered the site’s past. When they are presented with the artifacts of everyday life, students gain a new perspective of the city’s history and the people who have inhabited the space. Such local examples create a pathway for recognizing and appreciating their own histories and the value in protecting cultural resources.

Ticketing Technique

Students writing what they learned and enjoyed about TimeJumpers.

At the end of the session, we employ the “ticket technique,” asking each student to write a “what I learned today” statement as an exit ticket out of class. Exit tickets are an easy assessment tool that provide a way to understand student comprehension and give instructors the ability to adjust lessons to best meet student needs in the future.  With the fast-paced nature of rotating class schedules, we have found that this is a quick, effective strategy for gauging the student experience on their own terms. It only takes a few minutes at the end of the period, and students communicate their major takeaways, likes and dislikes, as well as anything else they may want to share with us.

We also ask the teachers to complete a questionnaire designed to assess TimeJumpers’ impact from an educator’s perspective. Presented with a series of open-ended questions, teachers have the opportunity to comment on the program material, provide feedback, and participate in the gradual enhancement of the program to increase its overall effectiveness, particularly for schools that the program has worked with over multiple years.  Both methods of programmatic evaluation are important parts of the evaluation process and allow us to understand the impact of the program from multiple perspectives.  

By integrating student and teacher feedback with our own experiences in the classroom, we are creating new ways of approaching TimeJumpers’ education outreach. For instance, multiple teachers have expressed interest in having a video depicting a real excavation site and the process of working in the lab. Students wanted to hear more about our own personal experiences in the field, often asking about our favorite artifacts and the places we have worked. This opened them to the possibility of archaeology as a career path, something few admitted to having previously considered. One principal reported that the school librarian had a surge of requests for books on archaeology after our visit. This demonstrates that TimeJumpers has succeeded in instilling at least a base curiosity in the students, and emboldened them to learn more on their own.

TimeJumpers is not without its challenges, not all unique to the program or region.  Administratively, a lack of funding, time constraints, and high volunteer turn-over rates all challenge the program’s stability.  Given these resource constraints, Unearthing Detroit has been opportunistic in implementing TimeJumpers in cost effective and time efficient ways by leveraging existing connections to regional schools, and, at times, only if they requested the program. This has resulted in the program being provided to schools in Metro-Detroit suburbs, despite the program being located in the heart of the city; however, activity within Detroit’s City Limits and in underprivileged school districts has increased.

Schools by year

Schools visited per year since 2014.  TimeJumpers will have more than doubled their outreach during the 2017-18 school year.  Key:  Red 2017-18, Green 2016-17, Purple 2014-2015

TimeJumper’s goal for the 2017-18 academic year was to prioritize Detroit youth and strengthen our relationship with the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) while continuing to service outside of the city.  Since the Fall 2017 semester, TimeJumpers has reached 441 students, adding 5 more classroom visits at 3 schools, including 2 DPSCD schools. In the coming months, TimeJumpers is scheduled to go to 3 more  DPSCD schools along with 2 schools in  neighboring townships. The program has also been adapted for use outside the classroom, and has been an active part of annual Detroit programs around the city, reaching hundreds of local youth and their families; however, tracking the attendance of these events is more difficult.

Being present in a variety of districts, school systems, and working with multiple age groups requires TimeJumpers to be incredibly flexible, challenging volunteer and physical resources.  For each visit the program must be tailored  to the specific needs and desires of both the educators and youth we collaborate with, demanding a variety of teaching strategies built around a flexible curriculum that is designed to negotiate a variety of classroom sizes, age groups, time constraints, and distribution of resources.

DNKJcojUQAQs1VH.jpg large

TimeJumpers team preparing stratigraphy boxes.

In closing, TimeJumpers has gradually increased access to Detroit’s archaeology for Metro-Detroit youth since 2014. Departmental support and dedicated volunteers have been invaluable resources for increasing the program’s capacity to serve more Metro-Detroit schools. Despite the challenges previously noted, the program remains free-of-charge to our classroom collaborators. Its portability also allows us to combat the recent trend in reducing field-trip funding.  In doing so, we are able to maintain accessibility to a range of classrooms, foster meaningful relationships with regional schools, and contribute to community-based approaches for informing the public about the importance of archaeological research and the protection of our shared heritage. Educators are becoming increasingly aware of our program and we have seen a marked increase in requests for TimeJumpers visits across Southeast Michigan. This has been an exciting development over the past year, especially as we begin planning for the 2018-19 school year.


Thank you from Athena and Samantha!


  • Berliner, K. M., & Nassaney, M. S. (2015). The Role of the Public in Public Archaeology: Ten Years of Outreach and Collaboration at Fort St. Joseph. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 2(1), 3-21.
  • Bender, S. J., & Smith, G. S. (2000). Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century. Society for American Archaeology, 900 Second Street NE, Suite 12, Washington, DC 20002-3557.
  • Bocancea, Emanuela and Krysta Ryzewski (2013) Early Lessons on Archaeology: Teaching Archaeological Stewardship to Young Students on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat. Society for American Archaeology, Honolulu, HI, April (paper)
  • Ducady, Geralyn, et al. “Archaeology and the Common Core: Using Objects and Methodology to Teach Twenty-First-Century Skills in Middle School.” Advances in Archaeological Practice 4.4 (2016): 517-536.
  • Ellick, C. J. (2007). Audience, Situation, Style: Strategies for Formal and Informal Archaeological Outreach Programs. In Past Meets Present (pp. 249-264). Springer New York.
  • Ellick, C. J. (2016). A Cultural History of Archaeological Education. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 4(4), 425-440.

To cite this conference paper use:
Ellens, Samantha and Athena Zissis (2018) Time Jumpers:  Inspiring Archaeological Stewardship Through Classroom Programming. Society for Historical Archaeology, New Orleans, LA, January 3-6 (paper).