Utilization Strategies

Lesson Plans

Meet the Teachers






by Jeannine Korus
University of Idaho

ITV SERIES CHALLENGE OF THE UNKNOWN: The Ananzi, What they Left Behind



Through viewing a video on prehistoric archaeology and performing related activities, students learn about the importance of careful data collection. Without written records, the artifacts of a past civilization must supply historical information. Unless artifacts are carefully cataloged, vital information about their context is lost. In the classroom, students develop a system of cataloging objects using coordinate mapping to indicate where objects are located. Students also participate in an online discussion with real-life archaeologists where they can ask questions related to the video.


Students will be able to:

  • Discuss the importance of careful data collection.

  • Define the terms archaeology, artifact distribution, and controlled sample.

  • Develop a system of cataloging objects using coordinate mapping.

  • Interact online with a group of archaeologists.


  • Challenge of the Unknown video
  • Television
  • VCR
  • 25 math/science journals
  • 50 sheets of lined paper
  • 25 sheets of graph paper
  • 25 pencils
  • 6 computers with Internet access.


1) The day before the pre-activity, ask each student to bring a shoebox to school containing five items or "artifacts" that demonstrate who they are. Items can include photographs, letters, stuffed animals, awards, jewelry, sports equipment, etc. Refer to the shoeboxes as "Cultural Artifact Boxes."

2) The day of the pre-activity, place the students into groups of two. After they have been paired off, have the students trade artifact boxes with their partners. After they have traded boxes, inform the students that they have journeyed to the year 2150 and their partner is no longer living. With no verbal explanations exchanged between partners, the students will analyze each item in their partner's box in order to develop a written summary of what their partner might have been like. Emphasize the fact that written or oral information cannot be exchanged during this period of time!

3) Following the artifact analysis and interpretation, have the students read their summaries to their partners. After this point, they can ask each other questions for clarification purposes.
Note: While explaining the activity, write the following instructions on the board:
i) Exchange boxes. Pretend your partner is no longer alive.
ii) Quietly write down each artifact (analyze).
iii) Write a few sentences about your partner (interpret).
iv) Read the summary to your partner.
v) Ask questions. Was the summary accurate?

4) Following the activity, discuss the difficulty of the artifact analysis task. Was it difficult not being able to converse? Relate this task to how historians and scientists piece together the events of the past. Emphasize the fact that the careful collection and analysis of data is crucial when creating an accurate historical picture. Relate this conclusion to the focus for viewing the film segment.



To give a specific responsibility while viewing, ask students to note why it is important to collect careful information when analyzing data.


Using The Challenge of the Unknown Anasazi video segment (approximately 3 minutes and 40 seconds total running time): PAUSE the video following the first discussion by archaeologist Randy Morrison and before the transition to the discussion on the 1890s. Discuss the term archaeology so that the students understand the work that Morrison is performing. Discuss why Morrison's job is so difficult in this instance (no historic records or traditional stories). Following this discussion, have the students write the term and its definition in their math/science journals.

RESUME VIDEO & PAUSE the video after the discussion on the 1890s and before the transition to the next Anasazi ruin. Discuss what the archeologists in the past should have done differently (record information in context). Discuss how the unsophisticated techniques of the past made data gathering difficult for today's archaeologists.

RESUME VIDEO & PAUSE the video after Morrison discusses evidence, saying they are "never going to get a conviction out of this." Discuss the term artifact distribution (the way things are laid out) and how an archeologist could carefully build evidence for a case using available artifacts. Following this discussion, have the students record the term and its definition in their journals.

Following the conclusion of the video, discuss the term controlled sample (knowing exactly where samples come from). Discuss the quote "trash never lies" and ask students to consider what their "trash" would reveal about them.

Have students record the term and its definition in their journals. Have the students write a short reflection on the video, using all three terms and answering the focus for viewing question.


In the video, archaeologist Randy Morrison suggested that it is important to determine the location of an artifact when finding out about the people who used it.

One way that archaeologists record the locations of artifacts is to treat them as points on a grid. An area of exploration can be divided into equal squares, like a piece of graph paper, and the location of found artifacts can be recorded using coordinates. This is similar to coordinate geometry, which describes the location of a point on a plane by giving its distance from a pair of perpendicular lines called axes.

In this activity, students map their classroom. They imagine that each desk in the classroom is a square on a piece of graph paper with a pair of lines, the x and y axes, running through the middle rows of the classroom. The axes separate the room into quadrants. The classroom consists of 7 X 5 desks, evenly spaced.

Using graph paper, the students map the classroom, identifying with coordinates the locations of at least 6 desks and 10 "artifacts" in the classroom (books, chalk, etc.). They then switch graphs with a partner and try to find each other's "artifacts" using the identified coordinates. If an object's coordinates are incorrect, the student who created the map must make corrections.


In groups of no more than four, students will interact online with a group of six archaeologists. Student groups must have at least six teacher-approved questions written beforehand. The discussion must include the concepts of artifact distribution and controlled sample.


Using current journal articles and online information, students research recent discoveries/hypotheses made about the Anasazi Indians, including theories on why they disappeared. Focus topics include trade, roadways, ceremonial great houses, and kivas.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

The Idaho 2000 National Teacher Training Institute is made possible through the efforts of

Idaho Public Television