Spring Fieldwork and Place-Based Education Round-Up

What have our students been up to this spring? Here’s an overview:

Oaks Bottom

Kindergardeners have made multiple treks to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to investigate pond life and learn about native plants. They’ve created a 3D map in the classroom of the pond and surrounding area.




Student-made salmon in the “alevin” stage of the life cycle


1st- and 2nd-graders have been immersed in a river study, focusing on the salmon life cycle. Students traveled to Smith and Bybee Lakes in North Portland to learn about fresh water animals, Tryon Creek State Parks to learn about healthy rivers, and took multiple walking trips to the Willamette River. The class also hosted a fish hatchery expert and a representative from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services who taught about “riparian zones” (the land area along a river). Over the trimester, each student role-played the life of a salmon from egg, to the ocean, to spawning adult.


3rd-graders spent the spring learning all about the Chinook tribe. They traveled to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge to tour a life-size replica of a Chinook longhouse and met with the Ridgefield archeologist both on-site and back in the classroom to specifically learn about how the tribe traveled and traded. The class also went to Tryon Creek State Park to learn about “ethnobotany” (how local tribes used native plants).

Students running the booth at Portland State University’s Archaeology Roadshow

Back in the classroom, students worked hard to create an exhibit for Portland State University’s Archaeology Roadshow. For the second year in a row, our booth was the only one run by students under college age and our students wowed the visitors with their knowledge and quality materials!


Investigating tide pools Yaquina Head

After learning about climate and world biomes in the winter, the 4th and 5th grades concentrated on ocean tidal zones for the spring. Students created ID cards featuring animals living in different zones and learned about the reason behind tides. The primary fieldwork for this unit took place on an overnight to Newport, where students explored tide pools and spend the night in shark tunnels at the Oregon Coast Aquarium!


6th-graders trekked out to Central Oregon for their annual OMSI camp in April. This 3 night, 4 day trip was a marvel of

Hiking near Fossil, Oregon.

environmental science in Fossil, Oregon. Students went on a night hike and learned about triboluminescence, went on a 5 hour hike on two different days to learn about the people who lived there and how they interacted with the environment, and concluded with a dance party trivia contest. Along the way, we had awesome campfires, learned how to play volleyball, and had a real bonding experience.  


7th- and 8th- graders journeyed to Smith Rock for four days in early May for an Outward Bound rock climbing camp. Students slept under tarps, cooked their own food, learned how to climb, and rappelled off of the top of Smith Rock.

Climbing Smith Rock

Clearly, it was a exceptional experience that could never be recreated in a classroom. (Look for another post from an 8th grade student detailing the trip.) Additionally, the 7th grade bused down to Salem at the end of May to present their Project Citizen

Project Citizen State Champions!

portfolio on the need for resources for male and transgender survivors of domestic abuse. The thoroughness of their project impressed the judges and won them the state title! Congratulations!

A couple more end-of-year notes:

You may remember that Elizabeth’s 4th and 5th grade students wrote letters to their representatives as part of their fall watershed unit. The persuasive letters urged legislators to vote for funding to replace the 100-year-old culvert at the confluence of Tryon Creek and the Willamette River with an overpass that will allow salmon and other fish to reach spawning ground. We recently heard back from Carl Axelsen from Friends of Tryon Creek:


The volume and quality of letters received by the Oregon congressional delegation was a prime factor in their willingness to fight for inclusion of the Lower Willamette Project in the WRDA 2016 legislation. And, they made it clear that the letters from children packed the most impact. Those children were SW Charter School students. Let the students know that being authorized by that 2016 legislation has proven critical as the new administration’s agenda does not include ecological improvements. Due to this prior authorization, the project stays alive in the law and awaits a time when appropriation of funding will occur. Otherwise the Project could have simply disappeared. Big deal and thanks to the kids!

Wow! Thanks to our students for their powerful civic action!

Lastly, an article published last month by the Society of Professional Journalists highlights the partnership between our 7th- and 8th- graders and local journalist, Garrett Andrews. At the bottom is a link to several of the stories our students wrote about local businesses:

It’s been another action-packed, place-based year at Southwest Charter School! I look forward to the fall, when we return as The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science, exploring our community through service and fieldwork. Until then, happy summer!

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