Category Archives: Environmental Education

Flying Home

The erratic weather patterns of late winter seem to be the signal for birds to return to the Klamath Basin.  Some will stay in southern Oregon for the warmer months while others just lay over here as they journey along the Pacific Flyway.  With over 350 bird species migrating through the area and a significant concentration of bald eagles, the Klamath Basin is a winter haven for birds and birders alike.

I have been doing my own bit of migrating lately.  As a nontraditional student with a family and a career, I commute from my home in Keno, OR driving 110 miles a day to attend graduate school at SOU.  Imagine then, my delight, when our program director decided to lead a birding trip to the Klamath Basin to view Ferruginous Hawks and other migratory birds.  I would finally have the opportunity to share my home with these people who have become my second flock.     

Early on that crisp March morning, seven members of the Environmental Education cohort piled into Subaru Outbacks (stereotypical, right?) to make the journey from Ashland to Keno.  They came in their own kind of winter plumage dressed in cold weather gear, and equipped with binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird guides.

Owls_Klamath Basin_By JohnWe started the day along Townsend Rd., a.k.a. “raptor road” due to the plethora of birds of prey which can be found there.  We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Rough-Legged Hawks hunting the open fields.  The highlight of raptor road was two Great Horned Owls perched above an irrigation ditch. John, the photographer of our group, cautiously made his way around the canal to capture this amazing photograph just before the owls took flight down the canal.  

Flock_Klamath Basin_By JohnNext, we moved on to the Klamath Wildlife Refuge along Stateline Rd.  This vast marsh area is home to abundant water fowl and shore birds.  It was salt and pepper skies as thousands of Ross’s Geese flew in.  Our professor had fun challenging us to a game of ‘name that waterfowl’ as we fumbled through our bird books trying to identify the many species on the water.  I can definitively say that we all got the Northern Pintail right.  

Sandhills_Klamath Basin_By JohnJust outside of the refuge, we spotted Sandhill Cranes mixed in with livestock drinking from a pond.   Joyful expletives were shouted as we rushed out of the cars to get a better view of the birds which for some in the group was their first crane encounter.  This moment depicted all that I love about living in the Klamath Basin: spectacular natural resources, wildlife, and people, existing in juxtaposition.   

Fruggy_Klamath Basin_By JohnThe final leg of our trip took us across the California border near Dorris to find Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Ferruginous Hawks.  At one point, we found all three perched on a single irrigation line.  As I watched these large birds of prey take off and soar above us, I couldn’t help but be envious of their ability to fly (it sure would make my commute easier).  

As we pulled into my driveway at the end of the day, we noticed a Merlin resting on a utility post across the street.  One last bird to close out this epic birding adventure.    

To learn more about birding in the Klamath Basin, visit .

 Below is the full list of birds we saw on this trip.  

-Common Raven

-Lewis’s Woodpecker

-Stellar’s Jay

-American Robin

-Black-billed Magpie

– Great Blue Heron

– Canada Geese

-Rough-legged Hawk


-Red-winged Blackbird


-Red-tailed Hawk (Dark morphs and regular plumage)

-House Finch

-Great Horned Owl

-Common Merganser

-Common Goldeneye

-Lesser Scaup

-Tundra Swan

-Northern Pintail

-Greater White-fronted Goose

-American Wigeon


-Northern Shoveler

-Ruddy Duck (Winter plumage)

-American Coot

-Bald Eagle

-Ross’s Goose (One dark morph was spotted)

-Eared Grebe

-Sandhill Crane

-Ferruginous Hawk

-Say’s Phoebe

-Golden Eagle

-Northern Harrier

-American Kestrel

-Downy Woodpecker




+ 1 coyote

Written by:  Christy Vanrooyen

Pictures by:  John Ward


In Search of Invertebrates.

On November 10th, several of our cohort members went on a field trip to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology  (OIMB) with Dr. Carol Ferguson’s Invertebrate Zoology class.  The purpose of the field trip was to meet with biologists working on marine invertebrate research, observe marine invertebrates in their natural habitats, and have a fun experience in an exciting location.

OIMB is located on the Oregon Coast, in Charleston, OR, and acts as the marine station for the University of Oregon.  Upon arrival, the visiting students from Cohort 9, along with several other SOU students, quickly made themselves at home in the dorms and, then, went out for a night exploration of the Charleston Boat Docks.  Using flashlights and headlamps, students explored the nearby marina for anemones, sea stars, crabs and more, all of which utilize 15094288_10154325375494690_1494818490654910913_nthe docks for habitat.  The highlight of the evening was the discovery and observation of a marine polychaete swimming near the docks and responding to our flashlights.

The following morning, the visiting students were welcomed for a complete tour of the facility and were able to talk with several of the students that are currently studying at OIMB.  The institute houses undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students as they take courses and pursue research projects in the field of marine biology.  The research happens on site in various labs with multiple saltwater tanks, scanning electron microscopes, a confocal microscope, and DNA analysis machines that utilize PCR to amplify DNA sequences.  Current research projects include how caffeine induces tetraploidy in certain inverts, how certain fatty acids are transferred through trophic levels and how parasites affect that transfer, and the reproductive cycle of cold-seep mussels in deep ocean ecosystems.  These are all very special opportunities for students, who get to explore topics, design their own projects, and carry them out.  This sometimes 20161111_100437includes the use of research vessels, including manned and unmanned submersibles.

Aside from touring OIMB, SOU students were also allowed to visit the Charleston Marine Life Center.  Here, they were able to touch and observe several unique species of marine invertebrates in touch tanks and aquariums.  Some of the more interesting ones included nudibranchs, armored sea slugs, and an octopus.  They were 20161111_113905also able to converse with some experts in marine biology and explore amazing exhibits about the local marine ecosystem.

After lunch, the class went tide-pooling at Cape Arago.  Armed with rain jackets, rubber boots, and laminated field guides, the students struck out searching for tidal invertebrates.  Thirty-four different marine species 15094264_10154325363749690_563838647025621390_nwere found including gumboot chiton, sea anemones, and multiple species of sea stars.  However, the most exciting might have been the clown nudibranch that was found by Melissa Donner and Morgyn Ellis.  

On the final morning at OIMB, the visiting students packed up, ate breakfast, and headed out to visit the Interpretive Center at the State of Oregon South Slough Estuarine Reserve, which was the first national marine reserve in the United States.  Here, students explored several exhibits about the importance of the South Slough Reserve and were able to buy some fun momentos at the gift shop.  They then returned to OIMB for a presentation from Scott Groth, the Pink Shrimp and South Coast Shellfish Project leader with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Scott shared his expertise with the invertebrate zoology class, discussing the multiple invertebrate fisheries in Oregon and how they are managed.

This all created a wonderful experience for everyone that was involved.  Hearing about ongoing research projects and getting to see and touch wild invertebrates sparked interest and fostered creativity in nearly every student on the trip, all of which was enhanced by the passion for the subject and expertise of Dr. Carol Ferguson.  And now for the question that we are all surely wondering… When can we go back?


Written By: John Ward

Photos By: Dr. Carol Ferguson, John Ward, Alessandro Broido, and Malia Sutphin

Earth Day

As another Earth Day comes upon us I think it is important to take some time to reflect on what Earth Day means to us.  The first ever Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 and was the idea of Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin senator.  Nelson was inspired by the many political protests on the 1960s and sought to harness that energy toward a developing public consciousness about pollution.  The first Earth Day was a great success and people across the spectrum gave support to a day to celebrate the earth and it lent a hand in passing the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the years have gone by Earth Day has spread across the globe and has brought environmental issues and action onto the world stage.

Today Earth Day celebrations come in all different shapes and sizes.  Parks offer clean ups and family friendly activities, political groups rally around environmental causes, fairs and festivals take place gathering people together to “love your mother [Earth]” as the bumper stickers say.  Here at Southern Oregon University there are an array of events from pollinator celebrations, to musical performances, to bike rides, and discovering ways to get involved with environmental groups both on and off campus.  On Saturday the 25th the Rogue Valley celebrates Earth Day with an event at Science Works where anyone can join in and see what different groups are doing in the Rogue Valley to have a positive impact on the environment.

As Environmental Educators this day may be one of the most important to our cause.  It is a day that reminds people that the earth is in need and individuals have the power to do something about it.  It is a day where we can easily connect with people who are already conscious of environmental issues or educate those who are unaware of problems and help to work toward solutions.  It is a day we should celebrate and enjoy what the earth has given us and make sure we give something back.  So weather you choose to celebrate Earth Day by joining in a rally, picking up some trash, or maybe just taking a moment to enjoy a little nature remember all the work that is being done by our planet and by people working toward a cause and celebrate.

For more information on SOU and Rogue Valley Earth Day events please visit:

Fall in the Field 2015: Rooted in Discovery

Cohort 7 is proud to introduce Fall in the Field 2015: Rooted in Discovery.

For those of you who may not know, Fall in the Field is a place-based capstone experience for SOU Environmental Education Master’s students. Each cohort designs residential and non-residential environmental education programs for and delivers them each fall. This allows emerging environmental educators to put into practice what they have learned in the program and provide a much needed service to students throughout Southern Oregon. This year, we will be accepting classes from grades 4-12 (grade range varies by site).

The residential and day programs are offered at three field sites this year. Residential programs are held at the Siskiyou Field Institute’s Deer Creek Center for Field Research and Education in Selma, OR. Day programs are offered at two sites in and around Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument off of Hwy 66 near the Green Springs Summit, and this year we are introducing a pilot day program at Ashland Pond in Ashland, Oregon. All programs are aligned to interdisciplinary state standards including Science, English, Math, Social Sciences, and much more.

This year’s theme is “Rooted in Discovery: Explore our space, Find our place.” The phrase was born from our collective interest in guiding students to explore connections in nature, with nature, and with each other. By discovering the world around them, we hope students will gain a better understanding of their environment and the role they play in their communities, ultimately rooting them in discovery.

For more information, check out our Fall in the Field website or contact us at (541) 552-6876 or We’d love to have your class be a part of our program!

Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

A few years ago I worked at an outstanding outdoor science school in southern California and had the privilege of moving into a program coordinator position. At the time, I had no idea what this position would entail.  None of us really did.  We were in need of inspiration to get us started for the year.

After speaking to our boss’s wife, a brilliant and motivated local teacher, she directed us to Los Angeles teacher Rafe Esquith. You may have heard of him. Just a few of his honors include the 1992 Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, A Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, Oprah Winfrey’s “Use Your Life Award”, and he was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. If you would like to read one of his New York Times Bestsellers, check out There Are No Shortcuts or Lighting Their Fires.

Rafe Esquith
Rafe Esquith

This man writes of truths that have a place in every classroom (inside or outside). For example, the simple aspect of building trust among your students, rather than fear, is crucial to establishing a working system within your class.

Teach Like Your Hair

Esquith also devotes a chapter of his book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. As my reading began, I felt that this concept transcended not only every aspect of teaching, but also our everyday involvement with other human beings. These levels are so beautifully simple, yet require a lifetime of work to accomplish. Please read on for a brief summary of Kohlberg’s Six Levels.  As you read through these six levels, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

What are my motivations for some of my decisions, actions or behaviors?  How can I work up towards the sixth level?  How can I create a teaching environment that encourages students (of all ages) to aspire towards the sixth level?  

Are you eager to know what these are yet? Then read on…

Continue reading Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

Kids and Creeks- A Day of Exploration!

Just a few weeks ago, the Siskiyou Environmental Education Center enjoyed teaching kids and adults all about the salmon life cycle at the Kids and Creeks event located at Bear Creek Park in Medford, Oregon. This event was organized and sponsored by the Bear Creek Watershed Council, OSU Extension (BCWEP) and Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners, and there were many exciting educational booths. For example, kids took the opportunity to look at male and female dissected steelhead trout, then do some salmon watching guided by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Our SEEC graduate students quizzed their internal anatomy fish knowledge with the salmon dissecting table (and remembered more than they thought!). While watching our very own Chinook salmon spawning (laying eggs in Bear Creek), we had the opportunity to speak with biologist Chuck Fustish with ODFW. He was generous to share his fascinating knowledge about this incredible fish that has made a comeback in Southern Oregon. Check out our impromptu interview of Chuck speaking about these fish, as well as some actual Chinook spawning behavior!