Science Inquiry in the Outdoor Classroom

Instructor Name: 
Rick Hugo
Course Description: 


During the pandemic: we will work on bringing the outdoors to K-12 students. Your course project will be to create a Virtual Field Environment (VFE) which will be used by K-12 classroom teachers and community educators to "visit" local field sites with their students. (See a Spring 2020 example here). Your challenge will be to go beyond the typical virtual tour and create a rich, engaging learning environment that facilitates student-centered inquiry. You must also strive to engage learners from different cultural backgrounds and with different learning challenges. This will require you to take a deep dive into inquiry, critical thinking, and educational equity, and you will push the boundaries of online education.

Our community partners include Clean Rivers Education and Forests Forever, Inc.  The full class will work on 2-4 different field sites, with each project team focusing on one site. Your field site may be a park or natural area within Portland Metro, or Hopkins Demonstration Forest near Oregon City. You can choose to be on a field team or to work entirely remotely.

If you choose to do field work, you will work in small teams to capture photos, videos, and audio clips of your field site. Each team will be responsible for scheduling and conducting your field visits. You are responsible for your own transportation. If you choose to work only remotely, you may curate and edit the field imagery captured by your field teammates, or produce supplementary materials to accompany your VFE.

During "normal" times: In this course you will volunteer as a Science Mentor helping to lead inquiry-based outdoor investigations for K-12 students. Our educational approach is based on following student curiosity rather than leading prepared presentations. No science background is required. The primary skill you will gain is the art of communicating through a Socratic dialogue. You will also learn some basic outdoor skills, local ecology and environmental management, and the realities of the public education system. 

Students volunteering on Tuesdays and Fridays will work with Clean Rivers Education (CRE), a division of Portland Metro's Burea of Environmental Services. CRE takes schoolchildren in grades 1-12 out of the classroom for small group, hands-on field lessons in water quality, habitat restoration, stormwater management, and similar topics. These field days are at natural areas within the Metro boundary, including Whitaker Ponds, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Brookside wetlands, and others. These days typically run from 9:00-12:00 and/or 12:00- 3:00, though exceptions may occur.

Students volunteering on Wednesdays and Thursdays will work with Forests Forever, Inc. (FFI), a non-profit forest education group based at Hopkins Demonstration Forest.  FFI provides K-12 students the opportunity to explore and freely investigate a forest that is managed for both wildlife habitat and sustainable forestry. These days typically run from 8:30 - 3:00. Hopkins is located about 45 south of downtown Portland.

Several of your "field" days will be in school classrooms, preparing students for their outdoor experiences. For this reason you will be required to complete a criminal background check before the course begins.

All sections will meet together on Mondays to discuss topics related to science inquiry and pedagogy.  However, the bulk of your learning will occur in the field as you actively engage with young learners.

You are responsible for your own transportation, although carpools can usually be arranged.  Arrival and departure times at the field site will vary from week to week, and you may occasionally be expected to arrive on site earlier than 8:00. 

You must contact the instructor before the course begins to discuss the course activities and responsibilities.

The current course syllabus and field calendar can always be found here. However, before the field season begins the calender will typically be blank.

Project Description: 

Spring 2009 Video project

Each quarter, Capstone participants tackle a project to help our partners continue to improve their programs.  Past projects have included a mentor training manual, a mentor training video, various rubrics to assess the quality and outcomes of Spring 2011 Capstone project Wolftree'sprograms, a guidebook for K-12 students working on yearlong Wolftree projects, and others.  Most of these projects are now in use in Wolftree's programs.

Fall 2010 Capstone project

Project Files: