Mystery Artifact Lesson


What is this object?
What does it do?
What is its historical significance and value?

You are professional appraiser brought in as an expert by shows such as Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers and Pawn Stars to determine the value of an unknown artifact. Your job is to research the object and give a 3 minute appraisal of its historical significance and value. The value of the object increases with the number of verifiable historical connections and associations you can make with the artifact.

Walking into school yesterday, I started chatting with a teacher about our plans for a joint maker challenge with our two advisory groups. I told her about the Martin Luther King Jr. design challenge I announced last week. We started brainstorming how we could incorporate this idea into her current unit and utilize the school makerspace.

Today I brought in the artifact above and presented the broad outline of the Mystery Artifact Lesson. The idea is to present students with a challenge that cannot be easily Googled and rewards depth of research.

Students might need some hints. For the object above we could tell students that the owner lives in the south. Or that the key was owned by someone in law enforcement.

Students will present their appraisals and then we’ll compare to a previous appraisal that the owner had done locally. (ie. The answer of the creator of the object.)

The next phase is to challenge students to research and design their own Mystery Artifact related to the current unit they are studying. They will need to provide information such as photographs, documents that support the accuracy of their design. They will also need to create a video/document presenting the ‘correct answer’ in the appraisal format.

We plan on introducing the lesson to students next week and are looking for objects related to Presidents that we can use as the mystery artifact. The object needs to be something we can digitally fabricate using a 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC mill, 2D printer/button maker or vinyl cutter.

Please fee free to give us suggestions/links/ideas in the comments or contact me on Twitter @DesignMakeTeach. Seriously, we want to make this lesson better. 🙂

Did you figure out the Mystery Artifact?

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It’s a key.
A key to a jail cell.
A jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama.
A cell where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated.
A cell in which he wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail.
A letter which defends the strategy of nonviolent opposition to racism.
A strategy which became a pivotal part of the American Civil Right Movement of the 1960s.
A movement which helped to end segregation in America.

You can download a replica of the MLK Birmingham Jail Key on Thingiverse for 3D printing.