Using nature to nurture

For Eastwood fifth-graders, STEAM is a natural fit

Asking students to read about rain forests or steelhead migration is all well and good, but at Eastwood Elementary School in Roseburg, teachers can make their lesson plans really come to life.

Fifth-grade teacher Camron Pope, for example, worked with his class to orchestrate the planting of 450 Douglas fir trees at the school in February. Root systems, best planting times, digging holes the right away – such subjects become tangible in the grubby hands of grade-schoolers. And in March, students released 2,000 steelhead smolts they’d been studying into nearby Deer Creek as part of an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program.

Photos courtesy of Camron Pope
Eastwood fifth-graders participate in the annual campout in May.

“Eastwood is really known to be the nature school,” Pope said. “We have 43 acres of land here, and a creek and a wetland. We have five or six different ecosystems, and so putting that to use is something that I find is important.”

The school’s emphasis on nature is reflected in the many ways classes make use of the campus, from third-grade nature days, where students take their lessons to the outdoors, to the yearly fifth-grade Camp Eastwood. The annual event in May, coordinated by the fifth-grade team of Pope and fellow teachers Cindy Long and Erica Workman, is two nights and three days of camping, lessons and group activities.

Experts in various fields volunteer to teach lessons at the camp. Some of this year’s activities included a study of macroinvertebrates; discussions about trees; lessons about maps, the Fibonacci math sequence and wildlife; demonstrations with animal skulls and pelts; watercolor painting; gold panning; and bird-house building. In the evenings, students performed skits and songs and learned about Native American culture, along with other group activities.

A common description for the camp by these fifth-graders is “fun,” and some said they particularly enjoyed getting to share tents with their best friends.

But the lessons and activities didn’t go unappreciated.

“It was really fun,” said Alexander Cameron. “We did all these fun classes like macroinvertebrates, where we learned about macroinvertebrates, and we did gold-panning, and we learned about how to make a fire safely, and many other fun things.”

Mckenzie Fummerton enjoyed playing capture the flag and line dancing. Studying macroinvertebrates in the creek with Randy Chase, manager of the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub resource lending library, was also a highlight.

“You put the net in there and find little creatures, and you can match them up to pictures,” Mckenzie said. “They looked like little tiny pincher bugs.”

For the camp, as well as day-to-day lessons, Pope makes use of the tools and equipment available to all Douglas County teachers for free from the STEAM Hub lending library at Umpqua Community College. For example, his students used data loggers to graph and measure the flow rate of the steelhead tanks and Deer Creek earlier in the school year.

Pope has also introduced coding to his students through the use of the lending library’s Spheros, spherical robots that can be programmed on smartphones or tablets.

The Resource Lending Library allows teachers to borrow equipment, technology, kits, books and tools, all of which can be delivered to schools or educational sites through the UCC and Douglas Education Service District couriers. Some items available at the library include: Vernier Technical Equipment (tools for investigations around physiology, biology, chemistry and more); iPads (with stop-motion video app); solar car kits; family STEAM activity kits; hand-held microscopes for primary ages; Lego Mindstorm EV3 kits; and Makey Makey invention kits.

“Our Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub lending library is full of many resources for educators from Douglas County schools and after-school programs. Many schools and programs may not be able to afford their own equipment, so we make sure we have materials they have requested,” said Gwen Soderberg-Chase, director of Douglas County Partners for Student Success. “The tools are a great way to integrate STEAM education into classrooms and expose students to new possibilities.”

Pope points out that using such technology and integrating STEAM education into all subjects help prepare students for the future. Using data loggers in a world full of hand-held devices and technology, for example, gives students a life skill as well as a job skill.

“Sometimes getting a kid out of this box and getting him out there and hands-on is the best way,” Pope said. “I have way less behavior problems. I have way more engagement.”

On the other hand, Pope, said, “I have way more parents complaining because there are muddy shoes. If that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to me, I feel like it’s been a good year.”


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