Taking science education outdoors


Last updated 2/6/2024 at 10:55am

Photo provided

ECoS participants learn outdoor skills like navigation.

Sisters Country becomes a giant outdoor classroom when Sisters Middle School students venture in the ECoS program.

The program is taught by Michael Geisen and Rob Jensen. ECoS started in 2014 when Geisen and Jensen were able to secure enough money to purchase outdoor gear such as tents, backpacks, harnesses, ropes, etc. ECoS stands for earth, community, and self, which reflects the three main levels of interaction in the program.

"We wanted to give students a chance to learn in a different environment and to teach science where it makes sense to learn a lot of it: outdoors!" Geisen said.

Jensen said, "I think we both have a love of the outdoors, and sharing that with other people."

Before Geisen was even hired, teacher Rima Givot talked to him about "bringing more outdoor learning to the middle school level." High schoolers had an abundance of outdoor opportunities but, apart from Outdoor School for sixth graders, there was a big gap of time without much activity. Inspired, Geisen and Jensen met for the first time and immediately started setting things in motion to have an outdoor program at the middle school for 13-year-olds.

"We want to get middle school kids outside the classroom and outside their comfort zones on a regular basis to experience all that Oregon has to offer, and in doing so help them learn to think critically, grow personally and be part of a community of adventurers," Geisen explained.

To do this, Geisen and Jensen take the students on a wide variety of expeditions in nature including camping, hiking, and caving at Belknap Crater, backpacking in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, forest canopy exploration (tree climbing) in an old-growth forest, Nordic skiing and avalanche training in the Cascades, snowshoeing and winter camping in snow caves, surfing and oceanography on the Oregon Coast, rock climbing and geology at Smith Rock, and climbing and exploring desert ecology. "We want students to respect the world around them and be well- educated, critical-thinking members of our community," Jensen said. "Those who play in nature will want to protect it. It's such a great way to connect students to all of it."

Due to both Geisen's and Jensen's strong devotion to benefiting the kids, hundreds of students are being positively educated and prepared for their future years.

The Nugget asked how ECoS benefits the community as a whole.

Photo provided

Students trek in challenging conditions in ECoS program.

Geisen responded, "ECoS has been hugely popular with the families we serve. They recognize the effects that these experiences have on their children and have been incredibly supportive. I've had countless parents tell me that their kids are teaching them about forests as they drive over the pass, or wanting to take their parents and siblings on hikes to show them what they're learning."

Each student coming through ECoS is being positively impacted and gaining maturity through their experiences. For example, a current student in ECoS named Verbena Brent said "There is so much support from our ECoS community that really welcomes new ideas, new personalities, and new concepts, which brings everyone together."

"Students who complete our class should be able to work better as members of any community because they have experienced difficult group activities that have challenged them to think outside themselves," Jensen reflected. "We hope they realize that there are so many different perspectives, uses, and tradeoffs for each possible choice they make and have a wider lens going forth into the world."


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