In June of 2016, six teachers and 18 to 24 high school students from rural eastern Oregon communities will spend a week at Oregon’s newest and second largest state park, Cottonwood Canyon State Park in eastern Oregon, as part of the second session of the Cottonwood Crossing Summer Institute. Here they will perform field studies in natural resource education and return to their communities to build connections and interest in rural sustainability and natural resources.
Teachers and students attending the six-day Summer Institute will spend most of their time outdoors: tent camping, outdoor cooking; and conducting field studies. Students will have access to laptop computers and video cameras to complete data analysis, and to create posters and other displays of their work. Participants will arrive on Sunday and be assigned to cohort groups. The organizing theme for 2016 is One Million Drops, during which the fate of a drop of water in the watershed is explored. The specific topic areas selected by participating teachers for the 2016 Institute are: macro-invertebrates; riparian areas and stream health; hydrology; and photography/writing.
While the CCSI program is intended to serve the entire 10-county John Day Watershed, most of the students in the program are expected to come from adjoining Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties.
The Institute will be organized and led by a volunteer steering committee composed of representatives from Oregon Parks and Recreation, Oregon State Parks Foundation, Regional Solutions/Department of Environmental Quality, Classroom Without Walls and Eastern Oregon University/GO-STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) Hub. The latter two organizations are experienced providers of professional development for educators.
Classroom Without Walls has been leading authentic outcomes-based learning experiences for teachers and students since 1994, and provides coursework and curriculum that spans an entire year including classroom planning and preparation for an outdoor field-based project, the field experience itself, and follow-up for data analysis and project completion in the classroom.
GO-STEM provides regional professional development focused on the integration of STEM
content areas in real-world applications. GO-STEM provides professional development;
supports teachers in developing lessons within rigorous content standards; and guide students to
utilize science practices (e.g., questioning, problem solving, data collection, etc.).
The high school teachers will develop an augmented, outdoor based curriculum for their
students. The 9th to 11th grade students will participate in a week of field studies in hydrology
and biology with natural resource experts and instructors from Eastern Oregon University.
Teachers and students will take the knowledge gained from the Institute to replicate a similar
study within in their own community. College-level writing and art instruction (e.g., photography, poetry) will help the students explain the science behind the studies completed at the Institute to their community. Results of their work will be shared with the public at
Cottonwood and within their own communities.
The field studies portion of the Summer Institute will take place over six days in June (June19- 24, 2016). Upon completion, participants will complete a second natural resources project in
their home community that will take place during the 2016-17 school year.
What is the goal of CCSI?
The goal of CCSI is to serve John Day Watershed area students and educators with outdoor education opportunities that enhance their natural resource literacy and other learning needs. CCSI was founded around the central idea of cultivating a sense of place in rural communities by developing pathways for students and teachers to participate in authentic outcomes-based learning outside the classroom and in their community. The Oregon Parks and Recreation themes of Nature, History, and Discovery form the framework of the curriculum. There are specific objectives for each of the three audiences served through the CCSI: to offer professional development opportunities for six teachers and begin to form a rural network of K-12 teachers dedicated to developing and integrating authentic outdoor learning experiences into their classrooms using the local watershed; offer 24 students the chance to work on high-quality, long- term projects that deepen their knowledge and understanding of real issues in their watershed and community; and to build community connections and interest in rural sustainability and natural resources through place-based education. Consistent with best practices, CCSI offers authentic outcomes-based learning opportunities for students. Projects are rooted in real, relevant community issues, and connected to Oregon career pathways. Place-based education boosts student engagement and academic achievement and
forges connections within the community by allowing students to make tangible contributions to
real community problems. GO-STEM will work directly with the instructors and teachers to support the integration of grade level content standards and the development of inquiry-based lessons that can be implemented in the classroom. Throughout this professional development experience, teachers will be immersed in a practicum that models place-based education. CCSI will use best practices for professional development by providing an experience that employs active learning; models strategies that teachers can implement with their students; and provides an experience that builds teacher’s knowledge and skills.
The ultimate outcome of this program is an autonomous, supportive network of K-12 teachers from the watershed in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) dedicated to using
experiential place-based education. Achieving this goal requires long-term sustainability of the
program. To accomplish this, the steering committee is seeking to develop a business plan that would provide for paid staff. CCSI staff would organize the event each year, develop a follow-up program to work with teachers who are integrating CCSI lessons into classroom curriculum, evaluate program success, work with EOU to develop career pathways for high school students toward degree programs, develop courses for EOU education or natural resource students to readily connect with CCSI, and expand the project to other watersheds in
eastern Oregon.
Why is this project important for the John Day watershed community?
Many rural youth are exposed to a more limited view of career options than their urban and suburban peers. Rural economies do not support the variety of careers that exist and that
students can aspire to achieve. It is an objective of CCSI to expose students to a broader view of
what is possible for their futures and to inspire them to continue their education after high school
if their goals require it. While rural living is often seen by the general population as synonymous with a healthy lifestyle, the numbers tell a different story. Rates of cancer deaths are higher in some of our rural communities and the increased risk has been associated with behaviors including physical inactivity. Rural adolescents have also been shown to consume less fruit and are more likely to
be overweight than their peers. CCSI exposes youth to outdoor adventure and life skills that can
be transformative.
As a group, students in eastern Oregon perform about 5% below the Oregon average on their math scores for standardized tests. In addition, teachers in rural schools tend to be isolated from
their peers. They often teach several subjects and may be the only teacher of a particular content area at their school. CCSI will build a Professional Learning Community for teachers around the concept of place-based learning which integrates math content into authentic real-world applications.
CCSI and Oregon Parks and Recreation would like to encourage and equip future generations of Oregonians to live the life they dream of and to understand, value and be good stewards of
our region’s public lands. CCSI extends classrooms into the outdoors, and connects students with
the natural environment while supporting the achievement of the Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan. The interactions that will take place also help address the economic challenges faced by ranching and farming communities in rural Oregon.
Have you run this program before?
In June 2015, CCSI was successfully launched with 10 high school participants from Arlington, Condon, La Grande and Boise and five participating teachers from the John Day watershed. The students and their teachers camped out for five days and earned college credits while studying local plant species, archaeology, writing and photography. They also went rafting, gazed at stars, told stories, and held a chili cook-off.
OPRD archaeologist Nancy Nelson led groups on discovery and interpretation of stacked rock
features within the park. Students learned how to take great care and practice responsible environmental stewardship when coming into contact with historic and prehistoric artifacts.
OPRD natural resource specialist Noel Bacheller also spearheaded a plant inventory in Esau Canyon, where students were able to track native and invasive species and then made
comparisons to previous inventories to spot possible trends.
What is the future of the Cottonwood Crossing Summer Institute?
Eastern Oregon University (EOU) is eager to continue working with the Oregon Parks and
Recreation Department, Regional Solutions Centers, North Fork John Day Watershed Council,
Grande Ronde Model Watershed Council and the Oregon State Parks Foundation to grow a
Summer Institute devoted to experiential education at the newly created Cottonwood Canyon
State Park. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Gilliam County, Sherman County and the
Oregon Community Foundation have already made significant political and monetary contributions to the construction of an Experience Center, a facility expressly designed for information display, learning, and service to communities and citizens. Gilliam County has publicly challenged Wheeler and Sherman counties to provide funding to support education
through the newly-constructed center.
Expected Outcomes of this Project
Teachers who participate in CCSI are expected to:
●Increase their knowledge and skills related to the watershed
●Increase knowledge and use of inquiry-based lessons
●Increase pedagogical knowledge and use of experiential place-based teaching methods
●Participate in a regional PLC
Students who participate in CCSI are expected to:
●Increase academic achievement and engagement in school
●Increase understanding and engagement with natural resource and community issues
●Enhance understanding about future natural resources career options
These outcomes are expected based on:
●use of best practices in professional development including active learning and modeling
teaching methods
●sustained collaboration among teachers through the PLC
●implementation of place-based
and inquiry-based learning at the summer institute and in
the classroom.

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