All Roads Lead to Rome

By Ashley Opalka, 8th grade teacher

This spring, eight 8th grade students dove into the world of material culture and independent research in the All Roads Lead to Rome intensive. We began our investigation by finding out as much as we could about everyday objects through pure observation, and then we visited the Roman gallery at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where each student chose an object on which to focus for the rest of the semester. Artifacts ranged from lead coffins to brick stamps, from imperial coinage to glass perfume bottles.

Every week for eight weeks, we spent one day at the Penn Museum with an expert and one day back at school, asking new questions about our objects and following that path through research. At Penn, we met with Katy Blanchard, Keeper of the Near East section, who gave us a tour of the storerooms and showed us objects from her collection that related to the ones the students chose. Crowd favorites were the eye makeup of a queen from 4,000 years ago and a brick with human and animal footprints. We also got to know conservator Nina Owczarek, who taught us the tricks of her trade and the history of conservancy. We then visited the Greek gallery to see if we could spot which objects had been restored.

Students did a test run of their presentations for Friends Select Latin teacher Ian Lockey, who asked them probing questions to help them further their research, and Penn Classics professor and TPS parent Campbell Grey showed us his favorite items in the gallery, bringing the objects and their time periods vividly to life.

Back at TPS, we learned how to embark upon independent research, introducing online and print resources, how to read an academic article to get the information you need, and how to construct a narrative around an object.

On our final day, students presented the stories of their objects to some of our new Penn Museum friends, 8th grade teacher Emily Marston, and a number of parents. When asked what they'd gained from the intensive, the students' common thread was that research can be fun. We hope that they can take their newfound love of research into high school and college — some of their topics are dissertation-ready!