Metropolitan Museum of Art: Earth Materials and Ancient Cultures

Wayne Powell
Brooklyn College
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Initial Publication Date: April 30, 2008 | Reviewed: October 18, 2012


Students investigate properties of earth materials through the lens of art and archeology. It allows ties to other required core curriculum courses (particularly classics and art history), and integrates the use of NYC's cultural resources. Although it is specifically designed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, the activity design could be applied to any other museum setting in which there are a variety of stone artifacts.

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This is a two-week lab exercise for an undergraduate, required course for non-majors that is part of a core curriculum, and in particular was designed to tie concepts with a gen-ed course in classics.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students require an introduction to rocks and minerals, weathering, plate tectonics, and general knowledge of the ancient cultures associated with the activity.

How the activity is situated in the course

It is a stand-alone exercise in a series of 12 labs.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Origin and properties of rocks and minerals

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of concepts between science, art and social science.

Other skills goals for this activity

Use of basic maps (floor plans); working in groups

Description of the activity/assignment

Students in a learning community that includes classics and geology complete labs involving rocks and minerals. The class meets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekend; in groups, the students document and describe the earth materials displayed in art halls of ancient cultures. The following week reformed groups meet in class to compare and contrast their museum-based findings and explore the geological concepts that underlie the use of materials by ancient cultures (jigsaw assignment). It is assumed that students have some prior knowledge of the ancient cultures being studied at the museum through a paired course, assigned reading, or introductory lecture.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The students present the work of their teams in two report-out sessions, after which the instructor can support or redirect student perceptions.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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