Tag Archives: inquiry

Find Your Place: Musings from the Bear Creek Greenway

Bear Creek Greenway in the fall

In the summer, insects drone loudly beneath a thick canopy of riparian vegetation and ripe blackberries, while white fluff falls like snow. The future of Black Cottonwood trees along Bear Creek is certain. My wheels whir a harmony with the insects and the breeze down by the water is refreshing, a meditation to combat the southern Oregon heat. In the fall, cottonwood leaves dance pirouettes in the air, yellow-brown hearts strewn about the trail. School has started now, and I begin riding to Medford each Wednesday for my graduate teaching classes. A weekly celebration of bikes and the seasons and learning. Winter is stark. The rains are cold, but the path is clear of ice near the water, and the Great Blue Heron nests are now visible high in the trees. Bare branches reach for the sky, as I-5 traffic barrels past. cottonwood- The School for Aromatic StudiesThe path smells musty, like decomposing leaves, and we hope that spring will come again soon. Like clockwork it comes, with its sweet smell of lilacs and warmer days. The mornings come sooner and the rains are less chilling. Cottonwood buds emerge by the thousands coating the path with little brown bullets, resinous and fragrant. The smell is overwhelmingly delightful, like warmed beeswax inside a busy hive.

Riding my bike has always been a way for me to connect to the world around me. Everything seems so alive from my saddle: smells, sights, sounds, the feel of the air…all of it is so close, so present, so tangible and alive. I have traveled to great lengths and accomplished much on the seat of a bike. I have climbed mountain passes, slogged through three inches of snow, ridden from city to ocean, found hidden paths inaccessible to cars, and regularly glide by “rush hour” traffic in Ashland.

This past year, I have had the joy of getting to know the Bear Creek Greenway, a 20-mile trail that connects Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point with a single, concrete track. It meanders its way alongside Bear Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River that originates near Emigrant Lake. It is home to deer, salmon, and countless birds, including a notable Great Blue Heron rookery near Phoenix. During my rides along this path, I have written poems, had conversations with friends, watched the creek rise and fall with the seasons, and am always able to experience the world in the raw, even if I am riding through the pouring rain.Greenway

Riding a bike is just one way to feel connection with the natural world in our busy, technology-driven lives. As Karelia wrote in “The Water Ouzel,” a previous post, finding places to go back to again and again is essential for all humans, but most of all environmental educators. If we are to teach our students the importance of caring for and conserving beautiful places around them, we must practice what we preach.

NatureAwarenessI leave you with my favorite environmental education activity, “Secret Spots,” a classic EE activity written up by world-renowned environmental educator, Joseph Cornell. He encourages his audience of educators to feel connected to the places around them and pass this along to their students. Cornell’s bestselling book, Sharing Nature With Children, has now been updated 35 years later in an all-inclusive book called Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages. In this practice, the instructor allows his/her students to find their own “secret spot,” away from all other students. They return to this spot day after day, to write, draw, and observe how it changes. It is likely that we will never know every spot in our yard, our neighborhood, our town, or our favorite wilderness area, but it is important that we do form those connections as a modeling practice for our students, the future stewards of wild places. After all, as Jane Goodall reminds us, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”





Discovering the Mystery of Where We Live

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

-Rachel Carson-

Rachel Carson in the field
Rachel Carson in the field

Rachel Carson (1907-1964), renowned biologist and writer, is most well-known for her career as an activist, taking a brave stance against pesticides with her publication of Silent Spring in 1962. She is a prime example of how science can be used to educate the public and effectively change attitudes about the environment. However, Carson was also a sensitive nature writer and mentor to her nephew Roger. Her book, The Sense of Wonder, chronicles their adventures in the varied terrain of the Maine wilderness, through intimate and sensory accounts of their findings. As environmental educators, it is important for us to follow Carson’s example, using our strong background in scientific principles to strengthen the messages of our lessons. However, she also shows us the other side of the coin: the importance of fostering a sense of wonder in children.

hiking in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
hiking in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

The Masters of Environmental Education program at SOU does an excellent job at finding the balance between these practices. We integrate ourselves into deep scientific study of natural history, botany, ornithology, herpetology, etc., but we also recognize that it is our job to practice Carson’s advice: “rediscover with [children] the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” The educators of Cohort 8, in all of our diverse experiences and geographic homes, were already united around this common purpose before we arrived in Ashland this July. We all seek careers in which we can make a difference while spending most of our time outdoors. But why now? Why Environmental Education?

Some of us have worked in wildlife research in the past and are now looking for a more direct way to impact conservation. Some of us have worked in schools and are looking to diversify our skills teaching outdoors. Some of us seek more scientific knowledge. Some of us are fresh from undergraduate degrees, eager to continue learning. And some of us intend to work in nonprofits, seeking experiences in management. We arrive from homes all over the country: Upstate New York, rural Washington, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, San Francisco, Hawaii, Maine, northern Michigan, Oregon, and fishing boats in Alaska. One of us even arrived in Ashland by foot via the infamous Pacific Crest Trail! We come together united by a common goal: how do we transmit information to people of varying contexts, attitudes, personal histories, agendas, ages, and skills? And how can this program prepare us to do this?

It all began by immersing ourselves in our new place. We spent a weekend together when we first arrived, camping, hiking, swimming, eating, camp fire-ing, and identifying new plants with our professors and Cohort 7, at the nearby Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. We then took a four-week place-based Environmental Issues class, in which we were introduced to six quintessential ecosystem types and their flora and fauna that we will encounter throughout our studies in this area. We practiced critter catching and collected data and dreamed about the environmental education programs we would soon begin designing. And we hiked to the tops of stunningly tall peaks where we could see the entirety of our new homes from a new vantage point.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument: http://www.cascadesiskiyou.org/
from Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument: http://www.cascadesiskiyou.org/

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, practically in our backyard, is a place of unmatched diversity. It is a mystery of colliding mountains, where ecologically distinct regions coexist in the nexus of the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Klamath ranges. Pygmy Nuthatches and kangaroo rats, typically found east of the Cascades, share habitat with western species such as rough-skinned newts and Northern Spotted Owls. Bigleaf Maple and Eastern Juniper grow on the same bluff, as do Manzanita and White Fir. All of these species coexist at the CSNM, along with the highest butterfly diversity in North America.

Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius

During this summer’s orientation weekend, we hiked to the top of Hobart Bluff, one of the tallest vantage points in the CSNM. Its high elevation reveals unique plants that exist in exposed, wind-swept areas. One such species is Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, or Cercocarpus ledifolius, a hardy specimen with bending branches, uneven bark, and small, indistinct leaves. But its ability to take root in a harsh, rocky environment is its true wonder. How does it do it? The answer is in the seeds. Spiraling out from the base of each leaf cluster are countless numbers of corkscrew-like seeds, whose fine hairs allow them to leap into flight at a passing breeze. And if they are lucky, each will find a piece of damp Earth in which to uncurl, drilling themselves into the ground, rooting their way to nutrients and new life.

Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff
Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff

Like the CSNM, our cohort is one of great diversity: age, experiences, and career trajectories. But for eighteen short months, we come together to learn. We will dream up and facilitate a program of our own creation. We will learn how to work together in close quarters, practicing life-long skills of conflict resolution and program planning. For eighteen short months, we will ground ourselves in the Rogue Valley like the curl-leaf mountain mahogany, wind-dispersed from our home places, and rooting ourselves into this new place.

Stewart Janes (Environmental Education program director) reminds us continually, “In a year, you will be the experts.” And we will. We will study the land and its diversity, acknowledging the unnoticed and marveling at the big picture. We will look closely, taking it all in as we ask new questions. And we will discover the mysteries of where we live, reminding ourselves of the inevitable stories of some of our future students: What would I do if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

If You Want to Learn More:

Learning all about insects!

Last week SEEC hosted three classes from John Muir School for a program all about insects! Six SEEC-ers currently in the entomology class planned a fun-filled morning to teach students in grades 2 – 8 about the diversity of insects and various adaptations they have developed during their more than 400 million years on the Earth.

In the first session, students rotated through stations to take up-close looks at insect mouthparts, legs, antennae, and homes. They put their jumping skills to the test in comparison to a grasshopper, which would be able to jump 50 feet if it was a human!  Students dissected insect galls to see if they could find the larvae inside, and took a peek into a paper wasp nest to see how these amazing insects structure their home. They looked through dissecting scopes at beetles and butterflies, and were able to identify the different types of antennae and mouthparts and why they vary from insect to insect.

Caterpillars were just one of the insects the students learned about!
Caterpillars were just one of the insects the students learned about!

In the second room, students used their entomologist skills to observe the similarities and differences between insects, from Rhino beetles to tiny fleas. We discovered that all insects have six legs, antennae, three body regions, and may or may not have wings. Then we talked about all the adaptations that make insects different and help them survive in certain situations. Did you know that more than 1 million different species of insects have been identified and described? But because new species are being discovered every day, scientists predict that there are actually probably more than 3 million different kinds of insects in the world! Students had the opportunity to ‘discover’ their own insect by drawing their own completely unique insect!

Students and SEEC-ers alike had a great time and learned a lot. It was a great opportunity to open our doors to the local community and have some fun sharing our knowledge about insects!

Gaining Perspective: Seeing EE through Different Lenses

Oakland, CA, here we come! The entire cohort is traveling down to Oakland tomorrow for the 2012 North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) Annual Conference.

And not only are we attending the conference, but we are presenting….not just once, but twice. Which is kind of a big deal! Our presentation titles and summaries are:

“Empowering EE Leaders through Project-based Collaboration”

We will share a project-based model which cultivates new leaders and a cooperative decision-making environment. Learn how intention and organization helped our diverse team successfully face challenges of collaboration, project management, and group dynamics in developing a residential outdoor program.

“Re-imagining Inquiry in Place-based Education”

Discover a unique model for incorporating student directed inquiry into classrooms and residential programs.This model encourages students to build on each other’s knowledge and emphasizes inquiry as a nonlinear process, leading to new questions rather than definitive answers.


We know that the above summaries barely scratch the surface of what we have done and are going to talk about, so here are some notes that outline the basics of each presentation. If you are interested in more information, please feel free to contact us at seec@sou.edu.

“Empowering EE Leaders through Project-based Collaboration”

  • Our diverse cohort was asked to create two environmental education programs from scratch in a year. While taking graduate courses, working, and (sometimes) sleeping/having a life.
  • I say “diverse” cohort because we all have different experiences and career goals.
  • There are a lot of challenges that can come out of the above situation: potential for disagreements, tight time schedule, everyone having an equal say, and more.
  • We chose to succeed. This is a vital point.
  • We realized individual success and group success were synonymous.
  • So we set a culture of: positivity, interdependence, adaptability, patience, and respect for individuals.
  • We took the time to establish group process. (How to make decisions, role of facilitators, etc.)
  • Our recommendations to other facing similar challenges:
  1. Set a Positive Intention and Repeat It
  2. It’s Worth Taking the Time Now
  3. Use The Diversity of Your Team
  4. Prioritize Personal Dynamics
  5. Maintain a Team Orientation


“Re-imagining Inquiry in Place-based Education”

  • We came up with an awesome system of scientific inquiry for our Fall in the Field program. It works like this:
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Communicating
  • Collecting data
  • There is no specific starting point, and there is no end point! This is the true method that scientists use, unlike the typically taught “scientific method”.
  • In our lessons, we focus on developing one of these skills, with questioning being a thread throughout.
  • We have found that this method focuses the students to the place they are in, develops confidence in their scientific skills, and leads to increased environmental literacy.

Ashland Middle School at Deer Creek!

We had 3 classes from Ashland Middle School come out to Deer Creek this past week, and they all had a great time!

The 6th grade students from Ms. Harper’s class wanted to share some reflections below, answering the following prompt.

There are many unique places on the Deer Creek site and we want to know what your favorite natural place was. Can you describe it so it puts us in that place with you?


Griffen: My favorite thing at deer was the Darling Tonya and how it could lure little critters w/ it’s lure leaves (mustache) and kind of “eat” them.

Jude: I really liked the fen it was like two different communities right next to each other or even combined. I really liked dissecting the Darlingtonia and smelling the Geoffrey pines. It was a really cool experience and I think it would be cool to go again.

Ashley: My favorite memory was going down to the creek with the class and splashing around. My friends and I were dunking and splashing each other and then one of my friends dropped her shoe and it sunk to the bottom. We couldn’t find it for at least ten minutes. We were starting to get out of the water so someone dunked under and was under for a long time but then found it.
I also really liked dissecting the Darlingtonia. When we were dissecting it the counselor asked me to hold the end where all the bugs were digested. After I held it my hands smelled like a million dead rats. I was really cold at night so every once in a while I would go into the bathroom and chill. Breakfast was the best. We had maple brown sugar muffins and hot chocolate. I had a great time at Deer Creek and I would definitely invite more people next time to enjoy the fun!

Sierra: My favorite place at Deer Creek Park is where the bridge goes over the creek.I loved making my two fairy houses with my best friend Grace, the instructor Katie and my mom.I loved everything but that was my favorite.

Habib: My favorite place was the creek because it was a nice cool place to be when it was hot.it was also cool to see the animals that lived in the creek like crawdads and waterskidders .I had fun looking for frogs up and down the creek with the nice cool water splashing my legs.

Rosie: My favorite memory and spot at Deer Creek is the part of the creek with the giant serpentenite rock to sit and gaze up at the sun, or gasp as the freezing cold water touches your skin as you walk into the chest deep water. All my friends are splashing and screaming as someone else splashed the cold mountain water on them. I remember walking upstream to look for crawdads and to stand in the waterfall and try to not slip off the slippery algae- covered rocks. I also remember coming out of the creek dripping wet and my friend motioning to come sit next to him in the warm beach of rocks.

Julia: Deer creek … now know what you’re thinking and it doesn’t involve deer’s in creeks, but the creek was very important. A hike through the woods, catching bugs in the fen and creek. All things we did at deer creek but my all-time favorite thing at deer creek, other than staying in yurts, was swimming in the creek. We got to play, splash, swim and just be a kid I loved it. It was so much fun. I will never forget playing and learning so much about nature like macro-invertebrates. I never knew so much before I love deer and all its guides they were so nice.
I love deer creek

Madison: I had a great time at Deer Creek, I am thankful for learning all the things we did; using senses, replanting invasive plants with other not invasive plants, learning about macro-invertebrates, serpentine, and learning about Deer Creek. My favorite part about Deer Creek was spending the night, and being able to swim in the creek. I had a really good time. At the end of our field trip, we had a really good lunch. I enjoyed going there!

Felicia: I’m Felicia Meeker and one of my favorite things about Deer Creek was when we were all together around the fire pit and we were singing songs together and then we grouped up and then we went to where all the Blackberry bushes and the Meadow Knap Weed, it smelled like ripe juicy blackberries and fresh picked hay, it was dark but the moon made it just bright enough to see. I loved it when we played the game where one person was the blindfolded bat and two people were moths that the bat had to catch, and the rest of the people in our group were in a circle being tree so the bat did not run into the black berries or get hurt. Then we walked a little and we played a game where we were pirates and we were a boarding the queens ship and we blinded all the queens sailors. We did that by covering one eye and then Katie lit a candle and held it up to our eye and then we had to try and see which eye we could see best out of.

Maxwell: My favorite part of the deer creek trip was the creek, not only swimming in the creek, although that was definitely a favorite. But also catching little creatures in the creek. I liked this part specifically because we got to use special tools like the densiometer to measure the tree canopy, and also got to use the cool D-nets instead of just trying to grab the many scrapers, shredders and other things with our bare hands. Honestly, I liked swimming more than anything else but I think that that wasn’t the most important learning thing I should say I enjoyed.

Raisa: Deer creek was one of the most positive and fun school fieldtrip. But I loved watching you at the fire pit. Helping the Native plants was fun to. For my favorite part, I liked swimming in the river with my friends. It was cold but worth it. Thanks for making this a positive experience for me and my classmates.

Wiley: My favorite part about the deer creek adventure is the night hike looking at the stars and going to the creek at night and dissecting the darlingtonia. I only wish I was able to get more sleep so I could wake up and get ready to go and see where the biscuit fire was and explore the woods.

Sailor: My favorite natural place ay Deer Creek was the fen, because I got to see so many amazing creatures and plants. I loved smelling the Jeffery pine and how it smelled so sweet. We got to see the, darlingtonia, they were the most different flower I have ever seen. The leader showed us how to dissect one, which was interesting. We saw in the older one had more bugs then the younger one, she past it around and said that was the most bugs she has seen in a darlingtonia, we all wondered if that’s all that it eats in its life. After that we caught bug and other little creatures, we caught lizards , spiders, and other little things. That was my favorite thing about deer creek.

Ben: I think my favorite part was definitely the creek or the fen with the cobra lilies. The creek was so amazingly clear and beautiful. The fen was just as cool with the smell of pine trees and the sound of birds. The trip was excellent and I hope I can go again.

Nico: My favorite place in deer creek is probably, well deer creek. The best part would probably being able to go in the creek. The water was cold and glistening in the sun, the sweet smell of Jeffrey pines filled the air. The sound of the flowing, the feel of the smooth serpentinite, all made it the best place ,and also the staff was amazing too, and the food was delicious. and,also the farms that donated the food.

Skyler: My favorite activity was being in deer creek. I got to swim, splash and make some noise. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it wasn’t for my friend because he loaned me his shoes. I found a couple of crawdad’s . I found predators, shredders and gatherers in deer creek. I used a D-net to catch them which is nifty. I learned about a new type of igneous rock called serpentine.

Sara: My favorite moment at Deer Creek was going in the creek and swimming with my friends little did I know I was swimming in a big community. In the morning my group went to the creek and I caught some scrapers predators and some of the author creatures in the creak. I learned what I was swimming in. I learned a lot at dear creak and I want to thank the teacher the chaperons and a big thank you to the SOU graduates. THANK YOU

Ayla: My favorite part of Deer creek was swimming in the creek and dissecting the darling tonia and seeing what it ate. Catching the aquatic macro invertebrates was fun too. The local food we ate was really good. Hearing the coyotes at night was really cool. I definably enjoyed going to deer creek and want to go again.

Logan: My favorite things at Deer Creek was fawn creek with the d nets. The walk in the fen. The walk in the woods. The yurt . And the fox.

Trinity: I really liked Deer Creek because you got to swim and that was really fun for me. When I got in the water it felt really nice because I was really hot. After I got in the water I didn’t want my hair to get wet but someone splashed me so I got it wet.
I also liked the darlingtonias it was so fun because that was my first dissection. I could not believe my eyes when I saw how many Cobra Lily’s there were and when I went bug hunting I caught a cricket that had a weird face. It was green and it looked really cool under the magnifier and we saw some really funny skits. I give you a high five for the bandana skit. I was laughing every second.
Good bye, hopefully I’ll see you soon.

KJ: My favorite moment was dissecting the darlingtonia. It was fantastic to do it with all of my friends and it is amazing how it eats its food. When we cut it open we saw how much food it eats. Swimming in the creek was great because it was so refreshing. I liked when we went down to the creek. We had nets to get whatever flows down the creek. When I was picking this rock up I saw crayfish two crayfish I got the crayfish in my net after that we went to go eat really good dinner. Then we started to sing songs at the camp fire then we went on this night hike it was wonderful because we played games and put my hands behind my ears.

Fall in the Field at Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

We are so excited to have some great groups of students, teachers, and chaperones join us in exploring Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument this fall, from September through October. Our partnership with the BLM has provided us and you with this unique opportunity to explore this special, local wilderness!

If you are one of the classes joining us, or you are interested in joining us, check out this video, which will give you a snapshot of some of the fascinating things you will see during your visit. Please enjoy! And, as always, please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have!

Exploring Ecological Communities at Deer Creek Center

In T-20 days, we will welcome our first group to Deer Creek Center! We have been working hard to finish up the final preparations for our 2012 Fall in the Field season (click here if you have no idea what Fall in the Field is!).
If you are joining us at Deer Creek, or are interested in learning more, watch our welcome video on YouTube by clicking here. (The audio on the first few instructors is quiet, so turn the volume up!)