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Cottonwood School of Civics and Science Place-Based Fieldwork
In-person, place-based learning returned to Cottonwood every Thursday (K-5) and Friday (6-8) this spring! The majority of our students joined their teachers in Willamette and Sellwood parks to connect, learn, and enjoy the outdoors. Parent volunteers helped to create over 200 “sit-upons” (squares of tarp, trimmed with duct tape), teachers created teaching carts full of materials and supplies to bring to their weekly park day, and we have all learned a lot about how to bring school into a public outdoor space.
We were also fortunate to host several guest teachers on our park days and continue many of our community partnerships. Below is a list of individuals and organizations we worked with this spring to extend place-based learning opportunities to our students.
It has been a welcome opportunity to spend time with our students in parks this spring and we look forward to bringing lessons learned from this experience into the coming years at Cottonwood.
By: The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science Teachers and Sarah K. Anderson, Fieldwork Coordinator, The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science
Stay tuned for more updates of Place-Based Education (PBE) adventures at The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science.
Over the past year, our fence facing Bancroft Street has attracted much attention. Last summer, many students and families showed their support for our Black families by posting homemade signs. These cardboard and paper messages filled the fenceline and elicited responses from the greater community, some hostile, but mostly encouraging.
This experience taught us that we have a powerful teaching platform that we were unaware of until now: our fence! We realized that we can use our fence as a way to bring student learning into the community in a natural and effective way. Our first installation was posted at the end of April. 6th grade students in Lisa’s class researched and wrote biographies about influential Black people from American history and their work is now hanging for all to see. We regularly observe neighbors and visitors to the South Waterfront reading the biographies and snapping photos of the artwork. The students have become the teachers! Thank you to them for sharing their work with the community.
Below is the statement that accompanies the student work on the fence. Stay tuned for a new installation soon!
At the Cottonwood School, 6th graders become historians and investigate the past as historians do. By reading and analyzing primary source documents such as photos, government documents, interviews, maps, and more, the students pieced together how America was formed and how it has changed over time.
What you see here are short biographies (around 250 words) written by the students meant to answer the question “Why should we know and care about …..?” We met and worked with several professional historians who guided our research.
Finally, students put their visual art skills to work as they explored several ways to highlight a person’s face and created a portrait of the person they wrote about.
We hope you enjoy these little views into history and perhaps learn more about our past and are inspired by the resilience and courage of these powerful Americans.
By: The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science Teachers and Sarah K. Anderson, Fieldwork Coordinator, The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science
Stay tuned for more updates of Place-Based Education (PBE) adventures at The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science.
This fall the kindergarten class explored family diversity through close examination of people, place and time. We focused our study by looking closely at identity: What are the characteristics that make us who we are and how closely are they related to the place we live, the people we come from, history, historical events and the time in which we live? The kindergarteners considered the elements of self-identity and discussed how our beliefs, ideas, interests and appearance influence our sense of self. We then “traveled” to the Portland airport where we looked closely at the PDX mural entitled A Place Called Home to explore cultural, racial identity and diversity. We traveled in time through the creation of family trees, timelines, family artifacts and artistic representations of “identity” at The Portland Art Museum. The kindergartners shared how their families are unique through “family gifts,” recipes, and special places. We discovered diversity within our small kindergarten community and learned that the “Beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.”
– Kindergarten Teacher, Kimberley Bonder
This Fall, the 6th graders were gifted a free ride to the University of Colombo Medical School. In this hands-on unit, the students explored what it means to be human, looked deep into the organs and tissues that make us up, created cell models and analogies, bred marshmallow insects to explore genetics, and even dissected at home. The students taught each other about each body system to prepare for the MCAT (a tough exam on all the body systems). It was a proud moment when all the hard work paid off!
– 6th Grade Teacher, Lisa Colombo
This fall we took an extensive look at the system of extraction and deposition we call “trash.” We started with the foundational fact that just by being alive we naturally produce byproducts, like any living organism. We looked at how humans are different from other organisms around the planet in how we use what is around us. We then explored the definition of “trash” and how it can change based on who is looking at an item. We extended this concept in our exploration of the Honorable Harvest through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass. Students read passages from Kimmerer’s book about the topics of Honorable Harvest and gratitude. Each time students seamlessly made connections between how we live and what we end up throwing away.
We also looked at the amount of trash in each of our neighborhoods by taking walks for three different days in the same areas to see what litter we could find. We were able to understand this data better through graphing and discussion. We used online resources from Metro to explore their transfer station, watch videos about what happens to trash after it is picked up from the curb, and even welcomed a Master Recycler as a guest speaker. Students took their foundational knowledge and created their own questions which drove 90% of our talk with Master Recycler, Colleen Johnston. Students really appreciated how Colleen was able to answer all of their questions! Using this experience students then created surveys about trash and recycling to learn more about how our community deals with these essential parts of being alive. The culmination of the unit had students analyzing the results of those surveys and presenting that data to each other.
Students also looked at the concept of Fast Fashion through our partnership with artist and author Nina Montenegro. Nina presented on how Fast Fashion creates a plethora of negative impacts, from the working conditions of those who are making the materials and clothing we buy, to the environmental impact of waste water from where the cloth is dyed, to actual clothes and how they are thrown away once the next fashion comes out. Nina also presented the concept of Slow Fashion as a response to the overproduction and wasteful practice of fast fashion. By reading excerpts from Nina’s book, Mending Life, students learned the concepts of mending and were tasked with mending an article of clothing as a small action project to reduce the impact of clothing waste. Our last class of the term students presented the results of their mending, their data from the surveys, and reflected on what they learned about trash and our part in the system.
– 7th/8th Grade math and science teacher, Chris Wyland
The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science Teachers and Sarah K. Anderson, Fieldwork Coordinator, The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science
Stay tuned for more updates of Place-Based Education (PBE) adventures at The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science.
This fall our 4th and 5th grade students are learning all about how water moves, including the water cycle and how watersheds work.
Earlier in the trimester, students created informative and beautiful diagrams demonstrating different stages of the water cycle.
They followed instructions to conduct different experiments at home. In one experiment, students created a water filtration system using a bottle and material like rocks, soil, and leaves. In another experiment, they evaporated warm salt water in a bowl to make it condense on the cool plastic above, before it precipitated fresh water back down into a smaller bowl. Students also created models from crumpled paper to research how water can travel off of a watershed.
To support both the teacher-directed and hands-on learning, Morgen’s and Daniel’s class welcomed guest speakers from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Water Bureau to share knowledge about our local watershed. As a culminating activity, students are molding and painting their own watershed models out of salt dough using materials from the most recent supply kits. We’re looking forward to seeing how they turn out!
As part of their geology investigation, 3rd graders picked up kits in October with several hands-on activities.
Students conducted a fun experiment using Starburst candies to see how rocks transform from sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous. They went on to create diagrams to show their understanding of the rock cycle.
Students adopted a pet rock! They used research materials and a series of clues to determine what type of rock they had adopted.
The class hosted a presentation by OMSI where students learned about different types of rocks through a series of tests conducted by the presenter.
Students are now working on a digital geological timeline research project that will be displayed on the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals website. We are thrilled to continue this partnership despite remote learning this trimester. Thanks, 3rd graders!
The days are getting shorter and colder, but the plant study for our 1st and 2nd grade students is still going strong! This fall they have been learning about all things plants: how they work, their parts, the gifts they give us, and all the ways we can help care for them. At home, students are sprouting herbs and watching roots, stem, and leaves slowly emerge from a bean seed that germinated in their window. In art, students are creating above-and-below ground veggie paintings, and in literacy, many read-aloud books further student understanding of plant biology and cultural connection. Children are becoming well-versed in the lingo of botanists, learning such terms as photosynthesis and gravitropism. Students searched for seeds in their neighborhoods and several families were able to take advantage of the optional field trips suggested by teachers, such as to local farmer’s markets or Luscher Farm in Lake Oswego. The classes are especially looking forward to the upcoming visit from Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer- a plant scientist! Thank you teachers and families for supporting this fun and essential place-based learning.
Over the course of this year, students have been learning about and exploring the lives of the indigenous people of this land throughout this nation’s history. Fourth and Fifth graders have learned about different indigenous tribal communities, how their lives have been forever changed by the arrival and expansion of European settlers, and how these communities have continued to be resilient despite everything they have endured. Over the last few weeks, students learned about the indigenous tribal communities currently present in Oregon by researching the nine federally recognized tribes called the Nine Confederated Tribes of Oregon. Each student was assigned one of the nine confederated tribes, and completed an independent study and project on their assigned tribal group.
During the spring trimester, students:
6th grade has adapted quite a lot to at-home learning. Students have been exploring algebraic patterns and geometry with easy to find materials.
Students put their math skills to work in their utopia projects. After reading The Giver, a phenomenal Dystopian novel, the students began working on their ideal world, deciding on the government, economy, family structure, housing, and geography. They created floor plans of a Utopian House and found the area and perimeter of each space. Soon to come are the maps of the world, a persuasive presentation, and detailed descriptions of what makes it a utopia.
Sixth-graders also explored a topic of interest in an independent learning project. Many chose cooking but other projects ranged from Chemistry to Urban Planning, Japanese to Georgia O’Keefe.
The 7th and 8th graders have been looking outside for their place-based project this trimester. They learned about Victory Gardens–both WWII and 2020–as they investigated potential growing spaces inside and outside of their homes. They observed and mapped outdoor spaces, collected data on different spaces around their houses, and grew herbs from seed, tracking growth of seeds that they sprouted between paper towels. They constructed their own planters from recycled materials, and they’ll continue to cultivate these herbs throughout the summer! In addition to working on their own growing project, 7th and 8th graders investigated food-related topics relevant to our community, including Portland’s Blanchet House, an organization dedicated to providing resources for our city’s houseless and food insecure members. The director of the Blanchet House shared data with our students, including how many meals they served each day, each week, and for each meal; students turned this data into graphs and charts which were then shared back with the Blanchet House.
School in the spring of 2020 is for Cottonwood students as it is for children all over the world: different. For the past six weeks, our small school has worked to negotiate the contradictory concepts of “remote learning” and “place-based education.” The scope and scale has become hyper-local for our families: the home, the yard, the neighborhood. Teachers are working hard to stay connected with all of their students, keep them on track to meet learning goals, AND offer experiential activities to help kids further explore and consider their specific place and our collective place (city, state, country, planet). For this update, we are highlighting projects from kindergarten through 3rd grade this spring at Cottonwood.
The kindergartens are focusing on the concept of change. They are using their homes, backyards and neighborhoods to explore change in this place called Portland. Students observe leaves as they emerge and grow, hunt for patterns in nature, learn the basics of the water cycle, and share other changes they notice at home. The guiding theme of change has them thinking about the natural world and how they themselves are changing from day to day and year to year.
Our 1st and 2nd grade students are experiencing their spring place-based unit as planned! Teacher Nesa reports: ¨The first and second graders are learning about Oregon forests in a collaborative and engaging way. Individual plants and animals that the kids drew were printed out and put on a large forest landscape made by their teacher. Over the next month, the landscape will have things happen to it like lighting striking a tree, so that the kids can learn about forest fires and other life cycles in the forest. The project will also include information writing about specific forest animals.” Research on Pacific Northwest forests and animals is complemented by suggestions to “adopt-a-tree” near their home to visit and observe throughout the spring. Check out these photos of the evolving forest-scapes!
Over the past several weeks, 3rd grade has continued the study of Northwest plants used by Native peoples. Teacher Fawn continues to make project work a daily part of the learning plan and integrates it into literacy and math whenever possible. As part of the current unit, students engage with Confluence’s web library of personal narratives that connect to plants, water, and lifeways, and go on virtual field trips to places that we intended to visit this spring such as the Grand Ronde cultural center and Camassia Nature Preserve. Students make connections to their neighborhood through plant walks and activities related to the plants they have already studied: conifer trees, nettle and now camass. Through our grant from the Gray Family Foundation, we are providing native seedlings and bulbs for students to plant in their home gardens and extend the learning to their whole family.
Next month: remote place-based learning in grades 4-8! Stay safe and hope you are finding a way to love your place.
It’s winter break already and many of our classrooms are wrapping up this phase of their fall place-based projects. Here’s what happened this trimester at four different grade levels.
For over seven weeks the 7th and 8th graders trekked to Oaks Bottom wildlife refuge to collect data about the ecosystem. Focus groups concentrated on topics spanning from waterfowl presence to the quality of the water to vegetation. The work is a partnership with Portland Parks and Rec to document to impacts of a culvert renovation to the reservoir in Oaks Bottom. PPR’s ecologist, Laura Guderyahn, trained students in bird ID, and environmental educators from PPR gave a hands-on class about the role of decomposers in the Oaks Bottom ecosystem.
Student teams presented their findings on December 10th to parents and partners, comparing data taken two years ago by former CSCS students to the same data they took this year. This has been an amazing project that has allowed our students to do real science. The added bonus is that students have also gained an appreciation for how human efforts can impact an ecosystem for the better. The unit will culminate in a celebration at Sellwood Riverside Park on December 20th, where the students and other students from Portland will release Salmon they raised in the classroom this fall through Multnomah 4-H into the Willamette River.
This fall the 4th and 5th grades have been laying the foundation for a year-long study of American History through an Indigenous lens. They began by examining the federal holidays and examining the history and reasoning behind all of them. Students specifically considered Columbus day and its significance as a jumping off point for learning about the time period when European American began to colonize the Americas. Daniel’s class delved deep into the story of Columbus, the Taino tribe, and the standard set by Spanish conquistadors for relations between Europeans and Americans. Morgan’s class is researching several different Indigenous tribes across North America to gain perspective on the sheer diversity of Native Peoples. For fieldwork, both classes visited the Confluence Landbridge in Vancouver guided by Indigenous educators and interpreters from Fort Vancouver National Park. There will be more fieldwork to come in the winter, when this unit flows into local history.
Geology is the place-based focus for 3rd grade in the fall. Students learn about the geologic history of the Pacific Northwest and gain a fundamental understanding of rocks. To help with this learning, students visited OMSI to take a class on fossils and a class on the rock cycle. They also traveled to the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, took a tour of the Columbia River Gorge, and explored a fossil kit on loan from the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This year, we are happy to partner with Portland Parks and Recreation for the culminating project: students will be creating educational materials to help the city’s environmental educators lead geology-focused field trips at Mt. Tabor. We are excited to complete the project in January and hand the work over the PPR. Thanks, third graders!
After completing their classroom mapping project earlier this fall, kindergarteners have been exploring the topics of identity, family, and art. Supporting fieldwork has included a trip to the Portland Art Museum, a visit to the Oregon Historical Society, and three voyages on the MAX Orange Line to examine public art. When looking at art and artifacts, students considered the questions: “What story does this tell? What does it tell you about the person who made it? What does it tell you about this place?” IIn the classroom, students have made self portraits and engaged in “family sharing.” This unit will extend into the first part of January with one more visit to the Portland Art Museum and more classroom visits from students’ families to share artifacts and traditions.
What is a neighborhood? What is a community? Are they the same thing or are there differences? These are just a few of the questions our 1st and 2nd grade students are exploring this fall. Both classrooms have built neighborhood models and are busy adding buildings, streets, and characters. To inform their classroom work, students have been out and about in the city to learn more about important elements of neighborhoods. They toured Gray’s Landing, the apartment building across the street, and Mirabella retirement home. They traveled to OHSU on the aerial tram and journeyed downtown twice to visit a Portland fire house and see behind the scenes at Umpqua bank. Charlene Zidell spoke in the classroom about the history of her family in the South Waterfront, and next week the classes will visit the Central Library for a tour. In each location, students are asking about how different agencies or business help the community. They will use this research to consider how they can help their community and create their own service projects. This unit lays critical groundwork for our students by establishing a working understanding of community and their role as a community member. Civic education in action!
Did you know that The Cottonwood School has a whole class of medical experts? Another group of 6th grade students have entered the University of Colombo Medical School and have recently passed their MCATs. They are on their way to becoming specialists and presenting their knowledge to a panel of professionals at the grand rounds later this trimester. To prepare for med school, students conducted a few fieldwork trips. The class visited the Oregon Zoo to help their understanding of primate evolution. A trip to Portland State University’s Natural History Museum gave students the opportunity to observe dozens of mammalian skeletons. In September, the class visited the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) for a guided garden tour and to learn about the medicinal properties of plants. In November, they will revisit NUNM for a class on naturopathic medicine, and in December, the class will journey to the OHSU primate lab to learn more about the field of medical research. In addition to field studies, students will have many hands-on experiences in the classroom (no spoilers!) that make for a completely memorable unit. Best of luck!
As the school year came to a close, students stayed busy with their place-based community projects. Here are just a few highlights from the past two weeks.
This past weekend our 3rd graders ran an exhibit at the Portland State University Archaeology Roadshow. The theme this year was “Daily Life,” which student applied to their studies of the Chinookan Peoples. To prepare for the exhibit, students met with several experts. An archaeologist came to the classroom to talk about what an archaeologist does and answer questions. The class traveled to the Portland Art Museum to learn about Chinookan art from contemporary artists and even learned how to make paint from clay. Students traveled to two different ecosystems– Tryon Creek Natural Area and Camassia Natural Area– to learn about the importance of native plants and seasonal rounds. Students also visited the Oregon Jewish Museum for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of how to make a good exhibit. Finally, students were able to create and present. This is the fourth year our 3rd graders have participated in the Archaeology Roadshow, and as far as we know, we have the only exhibit that is run by students younger than college level. So proud of them!
As a companion project, the 3rd graders have also been researching the possibility of our school adopting a land acknowledgement statement. Students worked in groups to write several different drafts and presented them at a staff meeting.
This spring, students explored the scientific method, properties of matter and phase change, periodic table, chemical reactions, and looked at how these concepts can be explored through food. Last week, the class presented a science fair for the school community to teach others and explore science concepts. To prepare for the exhibition, students created a testable question and hypothesis, wrote a detailed procedure, performed the experiment (multiple times for some) and collected data in order to confirm their hypothesis or not. Topics ranged from Dry Ice Ice Cream to the Effect of Yeast in Bread, to Phase Change through Jello. According to Teacher Lisa: “The students really rocked out on the science fair. It was so great to see how many parents came and students were really proud of their work.” Thank you for teaching us, 6th grade!
Once again, our 7th and 8th grade students undertook Project Citizen as their final work for the school year. Through Project Citizen, students identify and research local problems, propose a policy-based solution, and put in place an action plan. This year, our eighth graders focused on the sanitation needs of Portland’s homeless community, and our seventh graders learned more about challenges facing small businesses. Students spent the spring reading, interviewing, surveying, and meeting with expert guest speakers to refine their projects. A highlight for the eighth grade class was being invited to testify at the commissioners at City Hall so students could ask the city to include several mobile sanitation units in next year’s city budget. Dylan spoke for her class and elicited a round of applause and commendations from Commissioner Hardesty.
Both classes presented their final projects to a panel of judges in Salem last week, where they were able to view projects from other schools around the state. Thank you to the Classroom Law Project for supporting a program that provides so many avenues for civic education and engagement!
Lastly, we held our first place-based symposium on Thursday, May 30th. All classrooms hosted parents, community members, and partners for mini-presentations on place-based projects completed this school year. Student presenters shared slideshows and 3-D models, performed plays, and led participants in activities. The evening was a great success, culminating in a lively round-table discussion for interested guest educators. We’re looking forward to next year’s symposium!
It has yet again been a busy year for fieldwork and place-based studies!.Thank you so much to all of the parents, community partners, and teachers who make it possible for us to live our mission. See you in the fall!
This spring, the 7th and 8th grade classes took a 4-day, 3-night trip to Smith Rock State Park. Led by Northwest Outward Bound, the trip was meant to get students to step outside their comfort zone, make new connections, and build awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Here are some of the reflections that our students wrote upon their return.
By: Andrew Cortes
One time during the Smith Rock trip we were able to participate in something called repelling. Repelling is where you get attached to a harness on a really steep cliff and you have to slowly reach to the bottom until you touch the ground. There is also an instructor helping you with everything from the start to the finish of the whole activity. When I was first introduced to this I was really scared because I had never done anything like this in my life and I was also a tiny bit scared of heights. In the beginning I was scared, but I took a really big step out of my comfort zone.
While I was waiting for the other people to try it (I was number 10 out of 13), I got a bit nervous. Some people came up saying it was super easy while others only just got strapped in. When it was finally my turn I came up to the instructor. He explained to me everything that I needed to know and I fully understood. I finally got strapped in, leaned back, and took the first step. I thought it was easy and traveled down a tiny bit more. It was hard at first but I got a lot used to it. My original goal was to get strapped into the harness and take a couple steps but I wanted to go further.
While on the really steep cliff I looked down and realized I had a long way to go. At the one fourth mark there was this part that made my body feel really uncomfortable and I wanted to go back up. We couldn’t really make that happen though so I had to go all the way down. I positioned myself to the right way and felt way more comfortable. I then began climbing down more and more. There was also this one part where my legs didn’t have contact with the rock and I felt really scared. I just pulled myself down thinking everything was gonna be okay. In the end I completed all of it and went past my comfort zone! I felt really proud of this moment and I will always remember this.
By: Soren Nilsen-Goodin
One moment from the Smith Rock trip that was special to me was the circle we had in the night. Our group went out to the edge of this cliff, and we all sat in a circle as we reflected on our day and told stories. The stars were out that night and it was such a magical feeling looking up at the stars. I could see the city lights at a distance and the feeling of being there, the feeling of solitude, the feeling of wondering was so perfect in that moment of time.
Our instructors past out M&Ms and each color corresponds to one story we could tell. I shared three rules I would like to live by in my life. One was to live in the moment. Two was to always do what I feel. And three ways to make the most of my life while I have it. I will remember the walk back to our tents as well, talking with my friends and walking through the dark night was such a great feeling. I hope I do something like this again with friends.
By: Zoe Carcia
One thing from the Smith rock trip that will always be funny everytime I think of it is when Dylan, Aurora, Sage, and I were in the bathroom getting ready for our sweet dreams in the freezing cold tarps. There was this riddle we were telling Dylan and she was not getting it. You say, “So listen, if this trash can is a stick, this paper towel is a stick, and the water faucet is a stick, are you a stick?” and the answer is yes because you say “so listen” at the beginning and if you don’t say “so listen” at the beginning it’s no, and Dylan wasn’t getting it and we were all taking turns telling Dylan the riddle and we were all laughing and thought it was so funny. I thought that was a time I really had fun with people I don’t really talk to.
It is perfectly normal to be nervous about going on this trip. I was so nervous about going I tried to convince my parents to let me stay home but they made me go and I had a amazing time. Yes you will be stepping out of your comfort zone but if you don’t let that bother you you will be having an amazing time. I was too afraid to go on the scramble and the repel but I went rock climbing and it was so fun seeing how high everyone can go. Some advice I will give you is to bring layers, bring so many layers. It was so cold the first night. There was frost on the tarps and my toes were numb when I woke up. And bring snacks for both the bus rides there and back because I got so hungry on the bus. It is natural to be nervous. All I say is that you go and see how much fun you will have.
By: Esme Pearl Barsh
A moment I stepped out of my comfort zone was definitely scrambling (squeezing through a cave). It started with my entire group sitting maybe about 5 ft away from a cliff in the blaring sun, we were all waiting for our turn to tunnel through the entrance. I was excited but also very scared because of all the videos I had watched online of people getting stuck inside caves and not being able to get out of tight spaces. As I made my way through the cave there was a few tight spaces that were a little bit of a struggle to get through, but otherwise everything was going smoothly for myself, but maybe not for Brian. Brian, Owen’s dad, got stuck in between 2 rocks at the last small space. I was a little nervous, especially because since I was in front of him I was expected to help him through the small space by telling him the best way to get through. Luckily, our instructor Ralph helped him get through the tight space.
Once we got out and the rest of my group went through the tunnel, we got to sit on a ledge made out of large rocks and enjoy the view of the trees, cliffs, mountains, the rock climbing group, and the beautiful river. Ralph took a picture of all of us and don’t get me wrong, it was amazing up there but I was very ready to get back onto flat ground. Little did I know I had to go through the cave again–but backwards. As everyone started making through way back into the cave I realized I was going to be one of the last people entering, which just put more pressure on me because of the fact if I take too long I would be holding everyone up. I made my way into the cave, through the small spaces, and wiggled up the upward tiny spaces. And before I knew it I was out of the cave back into the blaring sun I started in.
By: Talus J. Miller
Heart pounding, mind racing, and adrenaline pumping all from excitement. As we approach the scrambling site we do a trust activity. We all partner of into pairs and choose one partner to close their eyes and the other to lead, and we place our hands one on top of the other then I lead my partner through the outstretched claws of the sagebrush and dusty sand revealing hoof and paw prints. Hands clammy in the heat of the sun, we laugh and joke and blindly walk towards the unknown fun ahead. We get to the gear pile. Standing sheltered from the sun by juniper trees we listen the guides rhythmic accent surrounded by the smell of sagebrush and juniper and the sound of birds chirping, frogs croaking, and the nearby Crooked River rushing and lapping.
After instructions it’s time to go. With help we spring across a gap with a bone breaking, jaw dropping, and heart skipping thirty foot drop we land with a sigh of safety on the cool moist rock on the other side. As we wait murmuring to each other we look at the flooded Crooked River and our other classmates climbing on the other side of the river. As soon as everyone has made the jump we try not to fall asleep as the sun warms our backs and we listen to more rhythmic instructions from our guide. Then we enter the unknown.
As I enter the dark ominous crack in the rock, the cold air surrounds and sends small daggers through me. As I crouch legs shaking perched on a small ledge I wait. My small friend in front of me makes a small hole look smaller. She looks back at me and a bright smile filled with excitement, nerves, and anticipation breaks across her face persuading a smile from mine. My heart thuds at the thought of such a small space and the possibility of getting stuck. As I swallow my fear and allow my curiosity and excitement to surface, I tell myself, “This is an awesome opportunity and will be a great experience,” then I proceed. I slither through the small hole and walk along between two rocks and through other small cracks and holes.
Out we come inching along a narrow ledge pressed tight to the rough surface of the rock to keep from falling off. When we get to the end we peel off the rock one by one and step lightly onto the boulders where we sit and wait for everyone to come out. As we wait we look at the beautiful muddy brown river flooding its banks and spitting water spray over rocks and logs, and we wave to our fellow students waiting for their turn to climb as we clamor about the repelling to come later that day and the rock climbing the next day. We take a couple group pictures as we are perched precariously on rocks and ledges and over small gaps between the rocks. Then after more instructions we head back.
One by one we press ourselves close to the cold rough surface of the rock wall and inch our way slowly across the narrow ledge then scramble up a two-foot gravel-covered ledge. As I make my way up feet slipping and hands clawing for hand holds, I hear the murmured chatter of my group and the words of encouragement from my friends ringing out. I wiggle past a rickety old latter and then go head first through a small gap in the rock wriggling and squirming my body to get through. A few more steps and I duck down head touching my knees to get under a rock then a sharp corner a big step up to a little sip of rock covered in moss and gravel. At the next part I pass mapping out the way I’m going to get up the three feet of nothing to get to the precariously placed wobbling elevating rock. I press my back hard against one wall and my feet firm against the opposite boulder shifting my weight I wriggle and worm scuffing my back against the wall behind my my feet. Scuffing the other wall I put more pressure on my back and put one foot down onto the untrustable wiggly rock levitating above a ten foot drop. With a hop I put both feet down and bring my torso of the wall and above my shaking legs. My friend and I laugh as we walk to the next part of the course. The small hole my feet against the bumpy rock behind me and my head and shoulders squeaking and scraping through the hole, my feet pushing me through on my stomach. Up we come blinded by the hot sun, and with eyes squinting we scramble over the slippery moss like it’s nothing. A hop, skip, and jump, and we’re back on the sand and dirt path.
Now that the days are warmer and dryer, many of our students have been out and about learning from the natural world. Below are some place-based education and fieldwork highlights.
Observing the new growth of spring is a great time for our youngest students to learn about life cycles. These last couple of months, Teacher Noelle has connected the kindergartners to three different hands-on projects related to the topic.
Students incubated chicken eggs in the classroom, with support from Maureen Hosty and Multnomah County 4-H. Children learned about the different stages of embryo development, learned the skill of “candling” (holding a light to the egg to see inside), and recorded observations in their egg journals. All viable eggs hatched in the classroom and the student had a week to spend with the chicks before the little guys were adopted by one of the classroom’s families.
Parallel to the chick hatching, students made two visits to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to observe tadpoles and baby salamanders in the frog pond. The first visit was led by a Portland Park and Recreation educator and the follow up trip allowed for students to monitor frog/salamander growth.
Lastly, students raised caterpillars in their classroom and watched as they spun chrysalises and emerged as butterflies. To support these observations, traveled to Willamette Park to visit the Butterfly Garden and once again meet with a Portland Parks and Recreation educator to learn about the lives on these most beautiful insects. The kindergarten classroom also housed ladybug larva, courtesy of Multnomah County 4-H, watched as they transformed into adult beetles, and released them into an ideal outdoor environment, with lots of aphids nearby.
What is a river? What makes a river healthy? What is it like to be a salmon? These are just some of the questions our 1st and 2nd graders explored this spring, focusing specifically on the life cycle of salmon. In the classroom, the students built a “frieze” of a river on the classroom wall, adding elements such as native animals and vegetation. Each student added a salmon egg to the frieze, which changed every week- first developing an eyeball, then hatching with the yolk-sac still attached to their bodies, and then growing into a juvenile fish, preparing for the long journey to the Pacific. At times, the salmon encountered obstacles (added to the frieze by the teachers), such as garbage in the water, leading the students to generate solutions to the problem. With every development on the frieze, students drew and recorded events in their journals.
To support classroom learning, students made many forays into the field. Most memorable was the trip to the Clackamas Fish Hatchery, located in Milo McIver State Park. Children had the opportunity to hold real fish eggs, see tanks of young fish, and even witness an osprey catching a steelhead from the river! Both classes visited Tryon Creek Natural Area to learn about what a stream needs to be healthy and Angie’s class traveled to Smith and Bybee Lakes in North Portland to explore an important stop-off point for salmon traveling up the Columbia River. Additionally, the classrooms hosted three guest speakers: the head of the Northwest Steelhead Association, a representative from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and an educator from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Science. All of this learning will be valuable background knowledge for potential river and stream play this summer!
After some initial instruction in oceanography, the 4th/5th grade unit on Oceans was really launched by their overnight trip to Newport. While there, students had the opportunity to play on the beach, fly kites (the first time, for some!), observe seals at Yaquina Head (some students even saw a seal give birth!), and learn from an educator from the Oregon Coast Aquarium about new strategies for cleaning plastics from the beach. Students spent the evening at the Aquarium, learning and exploring, and retired for the night in the shark tunnels.
Upon return from Newport, students dove into the issue of plastics in oceans. The documentary and supporting website, “The Plastic Ocean,” has served as a guiding text. Children applied their learning to create educational posters which will be on display at the symposium at the end of the month. Students also plan to write letters to lawmakers, urging them to limit plastic production and pollution.
As a final culmination project to the 4th/5th graders’ year of water education, students worked for an entire week with Yakama artist Toma Villa on a mural depicting the Columbia River watershed, from Mt. Hood, to the Pacific. Each student had the opportunity to work in a small group with Toma several times over the week. We are so grateful to both Toma and the students for this amazing piece of artwork that will grace the walls of our school for years to come. Thank you so much to the Confluence Project for funding this project!
Middle School Overnight Trips
If you noticed that the school was a little more quiet earlier this month, that’s because our middle school students all had overnight trips in April.
The 6th grade class ventured to outdoor school soon after spring break. From teacher Lisa: “The 6th graders, courtesy of Outdoor School for All funds, spent 3 days in Fossil, Oregon at OMSI’s Camp Hancock. They spent a day learning survival skills including firemaking, shelter building, and finding and purifying water. Students played teambuilding games, went on a night hike to experience adaptation skills and learn about triboluminescence, hiked to the Hancock tree to learn about rocks and minerals and the local geology, and observed plants during an ethnobotany class. Highlights for sure were the campfires, the food, and the squirrely dance.”
Sounds like so much fun and definitely something for the fifth graders to look forward to next year!
Meanwhile, the 7th and 8th graders journeyed to Smith Rock for a four day rock-climbing camp led by Outward Bound. Students set up their own sleeping tarps, survived a cold, rainy night exposed to the elements, and enjoyed the beauty of Smith Rock while learning rock-climbing basics. From Teacher Chris:
“In our final closing circle our director asked the group if they had fun in Smith Rock and the group overwhelmingly yelled ‘yeah!’ A few students have come up to me during this trip to say that they didn’t want to come before the trip but they are so glad they came. All students seem able to articulate how cool of an opportunity this was for them. Giles, our Outward Bound director, finished out by talking about transference. This is where you take lessons learned on this course and transfer it to your life. After the climbing wall the instructors asked students “Who belays you in your life back in Portland?” Many students listed parents, friends, pets etc. they were thinking about people/beings who support them through challenging situations. Many students expressed overcoming hurdles they thought were insurmountable. At the evening meeting I attended last night, the whole group identified how everyone deserves to feel proud because of how they supported each other and overcame personal challenges.”
Thank you to everyone who make these invaluable trips possible, including Outdoor School for All, Outward Bound, parent chaperones and drivers, and those who supported the fundraising bake sales. These trips are an important element of our school culture and we are grateful that we are able to provide such lasting memories for our students.
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Willamette Park. Tryon Creek Natural Area. Willamette Greenway and Cottonwood Bay. What do all of these local natural areas have in common? They have all been “adopted” by our classrooms as part of our Adopt-a-Place program. Through this program, every class visits their adopted place several times over the school year. Some of those visits are exploratory, some are related to classroom curriculum, and a couple are focused on restoration efforts to help maintain the site, such as planting, mulching, or pulling invasive species. The purpose of the program is to foster connections between our students and our natural areas by providing time for them to play, learn, and care. We have also built meaningful relationships: Portland Parks and Recreation and Friends of Tryon Creek two of our longest standing partners. Thank you to parent chaperones who help us maintain the program by chaperoning our visits- we couldn’t do it without you!
When you walk down the hallway between our 4th/5th grade classrooms and the kindergarten, you have certainly noticed and appreciated the student artwork hung by k-5 art teacher, Melissa Allen. Melissa brings many topics and themes into student projects, such as holidays, families, art history, and she also connects to our place-based themes. Examples over the winter include animal crowns as part of the “Animals in Winter” unit in kindergarten, mountain portraits in the 1st/2nd grades, and etchings of the trickster god Raven as part of the 3rd grade unit on the Chinookan People. Melissa has collaborated once again with Sean Z Becker Real Estate in the South Waterfront to host a student art show. Please come on May 7th, 3-6pm to support our budding artists!
What stories do mountains tell? Our 1st and 2nd grade students explored this question all winter through a variety of investigations and learning activities. Both classrooms built model mountains in their classrooms and gave them names: Angie’s class model is Mountain of Dragons and Nesa’s class has Mount Snowy Top. Students learned the different ways that mountains are formed, with a special focus on volcanology. This dovetailed into a visit to Mt. Tabor to explore the Portland Park’s volcanic past. Back in the classroom, students researched plants and animals that live on mountains and discovered that they live in different zones depending an altitude. Plants and animals were then added to the class mountains. A mountaineer visited the classrooms to share stories of climbing northwest mountains and Amanda McAdoo shared her experience as a witness to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Students went on to visit Tryon Creek Natural Area to investigate the impact of erosion, which they also applied to their own classroom mountains.
Alongside the scientific facts uncovered through research, students also found other stories emerging. The classes read Indigenous stories about mountains and volcanoes and even hosted a storyteller who shared stories about local places. Drawing from both science and stories, students then wrote plays about mountains which they performed for families this week. As another culminating event, Mount Hood National Forest hosted both classes at Timberline Lodge. Students toured the historic lodge, learned about the native history of Wy’East, and had a fun time in the snow!
This winter the third grade have considered the question “What is culture?” as a jumping off point for the investigation of the Chinook. This investigation led to more questions: How do geography and the environment influence the way the Chinook meet their needs? How can we makes connections between our culture and to that of the Native American? How do daily routines, rituals, and structures show what a culture values? We were able to borrow the Cathlapotle Plankhouse trunk, put together by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for an entire month to access several teaching resources specifically about the Chinook. An educator from the Museum of Natural and Cultural History (part of the University of Oregon) led a hands-on presentation in the class about “Oregon’s First Engineers” and storyteller Will Hornyak visited the classroom to share stories from the Chinook and other Indigenous peoples. One of the most special events of the unit was a trip to Tryon Creek Natural Area led by three Indigenous educators on the topic of cultural biology and seasonal rounds.
An undercurrent to all of these explorations are the questions: Should Cottonwood School officially recognize that we are on Indigenous Land? Why would we do this? Is acknowledgement important? These questions and lessons on the Chinook with continue in the spring as the third grade prepared for their 4th PSU Archaeology Roadshow (June 1st!)
Also this winter, third graders raised trout as part of our partnership with 4-H and released the fry in Commonwealth Lake.
Is Portland a progressive city? Why is Portland primarily white? What power do I have and how do I exercise that power? How can I be courageous in my own life? Once again our 6th graders have explored these questions as part of their unit on the history of Portland, focusing on the experience of our Black community. The unit begins with a delve into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, where students learned about significant leaders and events. To support this part of the unit, students viewed the film Selma at the Clinton Street Theater and brought the Selma march to life through their own day-long walk through downtown Portland. When it came time to learn about Portland history, students practiced being historians by observing dozens of primary source documents and thinking critically about the stories they tell. Students worked in expert groups to teach the rest of the class their part of the history. Subtopics included: exclusionary laws, red-lining, gentrification and displacement, Vanport, the Albina community, police relations, and school segregation.
Throughout the research process, several speakers visited the classroom to share their knowledge and experience. Guest speakers included Ed Washington, former Metro council-member and Vanport resident, JoAnn Hardesty, City Councilwoman, Kimberly Moreland from the Oregon Black Pioneers, and Randy Blazak, head of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime. Students also toured the new permanent exhibit on Oregon history at the Oregon Historical Society and visited the police accountability office at City Hall. As always, the most notable event of the unit was the all-day scavenger hunt where students traveled around the city in small groups to visit and learn about significant historical places. Highlights included a guided tour of Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church and lunch at Black-owned businesses. The class is currently discussing possible culminating projects, to be completed this spring. Ideas include a podcast, a book with each chapter from a different perspective (like Seedfolks), a website, and/or online map embedded with primary sources.
In the cold months, our kindergartners work together to consider: what do animals do in the winter? How did different animals survive? What animals are native to this area, anyway? In the classroom, students have added animals to a large frieze on the wall, they have created interactive mini tree habitats out of boxes, they are using books to research, and they are building animal habitat dioramas in shoe boxes. To aide in their investigation, students traveled to Tryon Creek Natural Area to learn how the forest changes in the winter. They will also journey to the Audubon sanctuary to learn more about how birds weather the season. Along these lines, an Audubon educator will visited the class to teach specifically about owls. Students worked together to dissect owl pellets to discover what the nocturnal birds eat. This year, the kindergarten students are applying persuasive argumentation to their unit. Based on research and evidence, each student will choose an animal that they think works the hardest to survive the winter and they will write a persuasive argument to backup their claim. Who would you pick?
In the 4th and 5th grade classrooms, students are looking more closely at how climate creates environment in their study of biomes. This starts out with an overview of weather and climate and how they are different. A visit to OMSI helped to illustrate this through a hands-on presentation. Students then delve into creating climate maps of Oregon to see how precipitation and temperature impact the different regions of the state, thus creating different biomes. Students visit the Oregon Zoo as a further investigation into biomes and how fauna and flora vary depending on environment. Continuing this research, students studied the skulls from Oregon mammals as part of a traveling presentation from University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. As a culminating activity, students will work together in small teams to create a biome showcase to share their learning with parents and other students.
7th and 8th graders and focusing on food for their unit on global trade. This investigation started very locally as students considered what foods are most important to them. They wrote about a food with personal meaning, and then researched the origins of the raw ingredients in that food. Students went on to unpack several more big questions:
Students traveled to the Portland Mercado to learn about the organization’s history and interview food cart owners. They hosted a local coffee roaster (CSCS parent, Trevin Miller) and had the amazing opportunity to visit (via Skype) with a class of students in a coffee-growing region of Uganda. Gabe Sheoships, education director from Tryon Creek, gave a presentation on First Foods, the most important foods for local Indigenous peoples. A representative from Equal Exchange came in to talk about fair trade versus free trade, and in March, students will go on a tour of New Seasons to hear about their sourcing choices.
All of this research is adding to students’ individual investigations into a topic that connects food and the world–they’re looking at everything from ice cream to coffee, veganism to fast food. Students are in the process of creating podcasts that explore their own questions around this topic. With the help of experts, both local (including Mikey Neilson, a podcaster and Ken Jones at KBOO) and national (Maddie Oatman, the host of Mother Jones’ food podcast Bite), they’re writing, recording, and editing these podcasts. Ultimately, the podcasts will be submitted to National Public Radio, as part of their Student Podcast Challenge. Perhaps you will hear one of these stories on national broadcasting later this year!