Our Teaching Approach


Place-based projects at the Cottonwood School are grounded the history, environment, and people of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. Each trimester concentrates on key social studies or science concepts. Reading, writing, public speaking, and geography skills are heavily embedded into the project work. Through an integrated approach, students go deep into a topic over an extended period of time. This allows them to learn the complexities of an issue while discovering how components naturally connect with other concepts. We apply the lenses of social justice and eco-justice to all units of study.


As students grow, so do to places they study. In kindergarten through second grade, students focus on family, home, school, and neighborhood. This also includes looking at local rivers, forests, and mountains. In third grade student reach further back in time to learn about the ancient history of Oregon, and in fourth and fifth grades, students learn about United States history as well as the biomes of the Pacific Northwest. Sixth through eighth grades introduce students to national and global topics while also striking a balance with local connections. For example, as students learn about globalization in the seventh and eighth grades, they visit local businesses who sell products internationally to see how global trade impacts Portland. Coordinating scope inline with a child’s evolving understanding of the world allows us to create a developmentally appropriate approach to learning about place.


Our literacy and math programs support our overall place-based curriculum by giving students the skills they need to complete high-quality, authentic project work. All of our curricula correlate with state and national standards and student learning is assessed in multiple ways in addition to standardized testing.


The Literacy Program


The literacy program at The Cottonwood School develops fluent, capable readers who enjoy the process and learn from it, drawing from a extensive variety of literary texts. Classroom reading and writing workshops explore the details of language, and build a love for both. From the elementary years to the middle school years, readers take on evermore challenging books, exploring personal interests and local place-based questions. With the support of their teachers, students become writers who can express their ideas clearly and creatively. In all grades, students utilize their emerging reading and writing skills to guide their investigations of the world around them and convey their thoughts with confidence.


The Math Program


We use the I-Ready Classroom Mathematics curriculum in grades K-8. I-Ready places a strong emphasis on learning through problem-solving in order to help students become strong, independent math thinkers.  Students are encouraged to talk about their learning and apply it in real-life contexts.  I-Ready also provides a robust diagnostic and online component to help teachers address students’ needs on a more individualized basis. Teachers at CSCS also integrate math into place based units, allowing students to apply mathematical strategies to real world problems.

Available Downloadable Curricula


Social Studies and Science Curriculum Map

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