Mill Valley archaeology teacher digs a little deeper to help students learn in creative ways

SHAWNEE, Kan. -- Most students use their desks to write, but some students at Mill Valley High School in Shawnee are using them to discover history.

That's all thanks to one archaeology teacher's creative way of helping students learn.

Even before you walk into Keil Hileman's classroom, you can tell it's different by the glass case of artifacts waiting outside.

When you walk inside, it's a trip back in time with suits of armor, black and white photos, telephones from every age and Egyptian figures lining the walls.

"I was a little overwhelmed when I walked in here," junior Derek Widener said. "I immediately went straight to the back of the room. I'm not back there anymore."

Keil Hileman

"It's cool. You just look around, and you see history and people's memories," junior Grace Johnson said.

The students pull off the top of their desks to reveal a sandy inside with artifacts waiting to be uncovered.

Hileman said by teaching this way, students can dig a little deeper into the past.

"Some need to see it; some need a story told to them," Hileman said. "Some students physically have to touch it, take it apart and put it back together. They all learn differently."

"I think it's pretty refreshing," Widener said. "It's getting away from the bland stuff that we do every day, and I think students enjoy this more than anything else. I know I look forward to it at the end of the day."

Most of the items in his classroom were donated by students, parents and grandparents, but some of the items Hileman found on his own.

Hileman's way of teaching not only has his students appreciating the past, but also looking towards their future.

"It's helped me learn, and it's also kind of help me learn what I want to do with my life because I want to be a teacher," Johnson said. "It's teachers like him who inspire me to be able to teach. So I probably wouldn't be the person I am and want to be if it wasn't for teachers like him."

"That's awesome," Hileman said of his student's future goals. "Teaching is a profession you can believe in 110 percent, but its not for everybody. So when I hear that, it makes me feel good."

Even though his walls can't hold any more artifacts, Hileman will keep collecting.

"I don't see an end to it," he said. "I don't think I'll ever be caught up -- not even in 15 years. There's a lot of good work to be done."

Although all of his students have a favorite object in the room, Hileman's favorite is a little different.

"The most important thing in this room is actually my students," he said. "Some of them will tease that I have connected them and inspired them, but they inspire me every day. Right back at ya."

Hileman said if you have something historic in your home, don't get rid of it. Call your local school instead, and see if it can help kids learn in a creative way.

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