The opportunity surfaced last year during a visit to Sydney's Powerhouse Museum for the Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives exhibition.
Taylor was on hand for the opening night when a chance conversation with Gil Davis, the director of Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Macquarie, proved fortuitous.
“It was very much a case of being in the right time at the right place and Gil said ‘you should apply for that ... I know how much you love history...'"
The scholarship included all airfares, accommodation, food and university costs – paid for by the universities and some generous private donors.
“The idea behind it was just to improve the excitement level of kids taking history for the HSC and (hopefully) because they loved it so much they would continue on with ancient history at university...” Taylor says.
Having previously taught around the world – in Brazil, Argentina, Hong Kong, Spain, Canada amongst other countries – and being a practising Christian, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity too good to miss.
“It was amazing to learn a lot of really cool things, like things that you read in the bible that you actually don’t really understand because you haven’t got that really strong image of it,” Taylor says.
“And the dig itself – actually understanding what a dig is – because, I find, Stage Four as well, when you’re introducing Year 7 and 8 kids to history, I find I would gloss over those archaeological pages in the text book, when you’re showing them pictures, because they’re so boring, they’re just a dirt hole in the ground and someone with a brush, you know... they have no purpose.
“They want to jump straight into the Aztecs or Egyptians, they want to spend time on that.
“So to go over there and actually understand what’s involved, understand the vocabulary, which is quite different from other things you learn in history; to be able to explain to them about how you find the pottery and how it’s got to be in the right stratigraphy and how you use it to date, was fascinating.
Taylor says she got to see a range of archaeological sites – ‘from right up in the north near Syria, to right down to Jordan’.
“We got to meet, of course, the curators and the experts because they were the ones who took us under their wings and showed us around places that other tourists couldn’t go.
“We just understood it so much more clearly because we actually were digging ourselves and knew what the processes were.
An interesting addition, was the opportunity to film several video segments for teacher resources, using new university state of the art equipment.
“I filmed one or two short videos just of a few minutes, and they said ‘we really like the way you’re doing this, we’d actually like to use it, too’ – so it turned into this huge activity of about ten videos where I was talking about all different aspects of archaeology, plus also applying it to Stage Four and Five teaching, so it could be used to complement the syllabus.
“So now it’s been launched on their teacher resources section of the Macquarie Uni website.”
The trip, she says, has given the history passionate lots of ideas to complement her own teaching with ways to bring history to life.
“Rather than opening up a text book and saying ‘OK, let’s look at the geography of the place and who they were’, I try to show them pictures, or show them a part of a film, or show them something very visual, bring in source material, bring in photos, and try and make them as confusing or as unusual as possible so that the kids start saying ‘what’s going on here?’ and just have lots of questions.“
On top of the scholarship, Taylor has given a talk at the Macquarie Ancient History & Studies of Religion Teachers Conference about the website, what she got out of the experience and about opportunities for other people interested in doing the scholarship, and how to use the videos in their classroom.
She’s also excited about a potential archeological dig site at her own school.
“Another teacher at our school was thinking about setting up an elective on archaeology, and maybe setting up a small archeological site – because we have an area of reclaimed land where we’ve planted trees near a creek, near our school.
“So we were thinking of maybe setting up a small dig site and getting the kids to experience the process of archaeology, so that’s something that I feel a lot more confident now to help set up.”