Students in the eighth grade social studies classes of Eric Eaton and Matthew Russell at Polk County Middle spent a sunny October day learning early Native American lifeways in a history lab created by their teachers.

Students got out from the four walls of their classrooms in exchange for blue skies and open spaces to learn about food, pottery, hunting and gathering, and shelter building.

“We developed our hands-on history lab after seeing our students engage in their outdoor science labs with (science teachers Elisa Flynn and Stephanie Luedi). We thought what a great opportunity to engage our students in learning more deeply about our Native American past,” Eaton said.

“The best part of today’s activity was seeing students that might not normally enjoy Social Studies jump all in and be fully engaged,” Russell added. “History should be more than reading a text. It can be very experiential and engaging to all of our senses.”

Students examined real fragments of pottery more than 600 years old to see how Native Americans designed and added decoration to their pottery and then used raw clay to create their own pottery and add texture and decoration. Students also engaged in grinding corn on stones after examining food sources and food ways prior to the 1500s.

Other students tried their hands at weaving a gill net as part of their study of hunting and fishing techniques.

“Today our students were able to ‘walk a mile,’ so to speak, in the shoes of early North Carolina natives,” Russell said. “I know our students now have a much better understanding and respect for Native culture.”

“The students have a great time being outside and really engage with each other and the hands-on experiences,” Eaton said. “We have done this for several years and are pleased with how students take what they learn in the classroom and then apply it to these various activities.

“It shows history can be exciting.”