African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS

Gift to the Future
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Introductory Activity:
1) Ask your students to imagine that the principal has enlisted your class to create a time capsule of items relating to the life of students in your school during the current school year. Ask your students to develop a definition for exactly what a "time capsule" is. (Accept all answers; guide students to realize that a time capsule is a collection of objects or information, intended to be a means of communication with people in the future. Time capsules are often created to commemorate important events, such as the construction or dedication of a new building.) Write your students' definition of "time capsule" on the chalkboard or whiteboard.

2) Tell your students the time capsule you will be creating will be stored in the school and opened one hundred years in the future, and it will be up to them to determine what items and objects will be included in it. Explain that the items included in the time capsule will need to fall into one of five categories: Entertainment (which in this case will mean music, movies, or television), News and Current Events, Science and Technology, Books and Magazines, and Everyday Life. Write these categories on the chalkboard or whiteboard. As a class, brainstorm one object that could be included in each category. (Entertainment sample object: a DVD of a popular movie. News and Current Events sample object: a school newspaper or yearbook. Science and Technology sample object: a cell phone. Books and Magazines sample object: a copy of a book you've read in class. Everyday Life sample object: a menu from the school cafeteria.) Remind your students that the purpose of a time capsule is to provide people in the future with objects and information that are unique to the time and place, in this case, life in your school during the current school year.

3) Divide your class into five groups. Assign each group one of the five categories of objects for the time capsule. Distribute the "Time Capsule Inventory" student organizer to your students. Ask each group of students to brainstorm a list of items they would like to include in the time capsule that fall into their assigned category. Students should record their group's ideas in the appropriate place on the organizer. Give your students 10 minutes or so to complete this task.

4) When the groups have finished brainstorming, ask one student from each group to report on the objects their group would like to place in the time capsule. Ask another student from the group to record the items on the board. Ask students to record the brainstormed objects from each of the other groups in the appropriate space on their "Time Capsule Inventory" student organizer.

5) After each group has reported on the objects they would include in the time capsule, explain to your students that the items they've listed are part of your school's "material culture." Ask your students what they think "material culture" is. Work with your students to develop a definition for "material culture." (Guide students to understand "material culture" as objects with a meaning or purpose within a culture; it includes all items that people make or build, such as clothing, architecture, printed material, technology, art, etc.) Tell your students that historians and archaeologists use the term "material culture" when referring to objects and artifacts from past societies and civilizations.

6) Ask students what possible problems or challenges might be associated with creating a time capsule for students 100 years in the future. If they actually created the time capsule described on the board, what might be some of the challenges be? What might some of the obstacles to be to a successful opening of the time capsule in 100 years? (Accept all student answers; do not provide any additional information or input on student ideas.)

7) Explain to your students that you will be coming back to the idea of time capsules later in the lesson. Tell them to be sure to keep their organizers with details of the items that will be going into the time capsule. Now, you will be exploring the "material culture" of our ancestors who lived generations ago, and how the objects and artifacts they left behind provide clues to understanding the world in which they lived.

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
The Coca-Cola Company Johnson & Johnson Buick
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