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Artifact Stories

  • Determine the stories that artifacts tell about life for early Albertans.
  • Write a persuasive letter to a curator explaining why a particular artifact deserves to be added to the museum's collection.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this challenge, students learn about the lives of people in Alberta's past by examining a collection of artifacts from a variety of communities, including First Nations, Métis, Francophone, British and European. To prepare for this challenge, assemble artifacts, facsimiles and/or photographs of objects that represent the range of these groups. The Glenbow Museum has collections of artifacts, including artifacts related to First Nations and the North West Mounted Police, which are viewable online (see References).

As much as possible, use real physical objects as they engage students' natural curiosity about the details of people's everyday lives. Being able to handle and use physical artifacts also lets students be active in their learning. Items that may be found in second hand stores include biscuit tins, military uniform buttons, initialed handkerchiefs, roller skate keys, eight-track cassettes, long-playing records, player piano music rolls, apple corers, meat grinders, embroidery hoops, decorative hair combs, stocking garters, hand forged nails and ink wells.

Activity 1
Model the process of inquiry for artifact analysis with one artifact. Once students understand the process, the class can work in pairs to analyze the other artifacts. To begin, present one of the artifacts and invite students to ask questions about it. Brainstorm questions students have about the artifact on a sheet of chart paper. Then, ask students to organize the questions into categories and eliminate any redundancies. Develop a chart, like the one below, with questions and spaces for students to record related information.




1. Where did the artifact come from?




2. Who made the artifact?




3. How old is the artifact?




4. What was the artifact used for?



5. Who used the artifact?



6. What can the artifact tell us about how people in Alberta lived in the past, and, in particular, what they believed, how they made things, and their way of life or culture?



Encourage students to touch, smell and examine the artifact, if possible. Discuss the importance of careful and respectful handling of artifacts and, if necessary, develop a few rules, such as no dropping or throwing and no hitting the artifact against other objects. Ask students to write their observations in the clues column. Students may then ask you or a guest Yes or No questions about the artifact.

Next, ask students to complete the conclusions column of the chart. Encourage them to explain why their conclusions fit the evidence collected. Ask students to orally present their artifact and its story, including who made it, who owned it, what it was used for and what it tells us about people who lived in the past. Ask questions of the presenter and encourage other students to do the same. Then, you or the guest may offer a fuller account of the artifact, focusing on its significance to the people who used it.

Activity 2
Ask students to list what they know about their object and to use the 5W questions (i.e., who, where, when, what, why) to identify other information that would be useful to find out about the history and use of their artifact. Encourage students to conduct research in books and on appropriate online sites to find answers to their questions. Consider adapting one of the charts and strategies for Recording Our Research (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 3
Explain to students the role of museums in protecting important community or provincial artifacts. Discuss that museums can not protect everything that comes from the past, so they must often make choices about which items most deserve protection. Sensitivity is important when addressing this topic as First Nations artifacts in museums may be there without the consent of First Nations people.

Ask students to individually identify three or four artifacts and determine which one of these should be preserved in a museum collection. Suggest that students consider the following criteria for selecting their option:

  • the significance of the artifact to life in the past
  • the uniqueness of the artifact
  • the interesting story it has to tell
  • what might happen to the object if it was not preserved in a museum.

You may adapt one of the charts from Considering Options (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 4
Once students have made a decision, invite them to write a letter to the curator of the museum, outlining the reasons why the artifact they chose should be added to the collection. Consider adapting a chart and strategies from Justifying My Choice (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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