Discovering Local History in a Science Unit: Using OHS’s Digital History Resources

Oregon Historical Society

Article Title: "Discovering Local History in a Science Unit: Using OHS’s Digital History Resources"

Date of Article: 05/17/2022

Article Author: Lisa Colombo


The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science is a K–8 public charter school in Southwest Portland where place-based education is the heart of every unit. Place-based education encourages students to use the community where they live as a way to practice skills, make connections with local experts, and understand how problems are solved, both in the natural and social spheres. While many units of study lend themselves easily to local connections, others are less obvious. In a recent project at the Cottonwood School, students integrated local history into a science unit by using digital history resources published by the Oregon Historical Society (OHS). By using resources published on The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon History Project, students made connections to medical professionals linked to Oregon to share the information they learned with future students.


Sixth graders at the Cottonwood School start the year focusing on science by investigating the human body through a simulation of medical school. Using the Jigsaw Method, a collaborative learning strategy where students are dependent on each other to succeed, students choose one body system to research, and with the help of medical professionals, they become “experts” in the specialty. Each student creates a 3D model, draws a labeled diagram, creates a teaching presentation, and passes a board examination to prove mastery. Students teach each other and demonstrate their understanding by taking a sixth-grade version of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Once they “graduate” from medical school, they open clinics and receive patients, played by seventh and eighth graders, to diagnose ailments and determine treatment plans. These plans are presented to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals during a grand rounds presentation, who give the student doctors feedback on their accuracy and thoroughness.

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Author Bio:

Lisa ColomboLisa Colombo is a passionate educator with over 20 years of experience in education and curriculum development. She was co-author of the civil rights curriculum, “Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs: The Black History of Portland, Oregon,” and has led several professional development workshops on teaching local history through primary source documents. She is passionate about promoting critical inquiry, place-based education, and never-ending curiosity. Lisa holds an M.Ed in curriculum and instruction and is currently a middle school teacher at The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science.



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