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hands-on learning

Elementary place-based Units

Modeled after the hands-on lessons our educators deliver to students, our comprehensive, grade-appropriate units make it easy to teach ecological concepts and integrate learning across multiple subjects.


1st grade

2nd grade

3rd grade

4th grade

5th grade



Besides humans, beavers change their environment more than any other species on Earth! In this unit, students will participate in activities to understand how beavers, found all over North America and particularly important to the Pacific Northwest, act as engineers in their environment and have a significant effect on biodiversity. This unit uses a hands-on approach to allow students to explore how beavers build dams and lodges for their habitats, while also studying ways in which beaver dams can change ecosystems by creating complex habitats. In addition, students look through multiple social and cultural lenses to gain a deeper understanding of humans’ relationship to beavers throughout time and the points of conflict and harmony between human and beaver habitats.


SCIENCE: 3-5-ETS1-2, 5-LS2-1

MATH: CCSS: 5.G.1, 5.G.2

ELA: 5.W.3

ART: VA.5.PR2.5, VA.7.RE1.5

SOCIAL SCIENCE: Multicultural Studies (Geography) 5.10


Everything is connected! Food webs reveal how energy is transferred from the sun to all of the earth’s living organisms. And, wetlands play an important and unique role among earth’s ecosystems. Students explore energy flow between organisms, as well as the interconnectedness of ecosystems. Multidisciplinary learning engages students in science, math, English language arts and literacy, and fine art as they investigate various aspects of the subject.


SCIENCE: 5-PS3-1, 5-LS1-1, 5-LS2-1

MATH: 5.NF, 5.MD, 6.RP, 6.SP

ELA: W.5.2, W.5.3, W.5.4, L.5.6, SL.5.5


Natural ecosystems are well-balanced environments, established over many years. The introduction of non-native organisms to an ecosystem can disrupt the balance and lead to undesirable consequences. Through the Native or Invasive Plants Unit, students learn the characteristics of native and invasive plants and solve a mystery of “native or invasive?” using evidence to distinguish between organisms. Using mathematical models for seed distribution, informative-explanatory texts, and the creation of a public awareness campaign, students explore the impact people have on the environment, whether well-intentioned or not.


SCIENCE: 5-LS2.A, 5-ESS3.C, 5-ESS3-1

MATH:5.NF, 5.OA.1, 5.OA.2, 5.MD

ELA:W.5.1, 5.W.2, 5.W.3, 5.L.6

SOCIAL SCIENCE & ART: Geography 5.13, Social Science Analysis 5.28, VA.1.CR1.5



In this unit, students will dive into the study of animal adaptations, focusing on the American beaver. Each activity reinforces nine physical adaptations of the American beaver that make it uniquely suited to its wetland habitat: strong teeth, broad tail, nictitating membrane, nose and ear flap, thick fur, waterproofing oil, split nail, webbed feet, and strong front nails. Students will play the engaging Beaver LODGE-ic board game, sort descriptive and explanatory beaver facts, and create a new product using the concept of biomimicry to understand the important role the American beaver plays in wetlands across the Pacific Northwest.


MATH: 4.OA.2, 4.MD
ELA: 4.RL.9, 4.L.4a, 4.W.7
ART: MA.2.CR2.4, MA.10.CO1.4


This unit includes lessons that allow students to dive into the world of botany. Botany (the study of plants) is a great way for students to view the natural world around them by providing the necessary tools to understand how plants are identified. In each hands-on activity, students will learn the names and distinguishing characteristics of many common plants found in the Pacific Northwest, so the next time they are exploring the outdoors students can share their knowledge with friends and family.

Extension lessons offer multiple ways to become familiar with plants, including finding symmetry in leaves, conducting research on ethnobotany, and using the power of the sun to make beautiful leaf art.


ELA/SOCIAL SCIENCE: 4.W.7, 4.RI.7, 4.RI.3, 4.W.2, Geography 3.4.7
ART: VA.1.CR1.4.3



This unit is all about water! The water cycle is a continuous process in nature that affects every living anon-living thing on Earth. Throughout this unit, students will participate in lessons that follow the journey of a drop of water, understanding that water can be found in different forms depending on where it is in the water cycle. In addition, students will explore water through the lens of the Pacific Northwest ecosystems by discussing where water is found, in what forms, and how it has affected the landscape and climate over time.


SCIENCE (NGSS): 5-ESS2-2, 4-ESS2-1
MATH(NGSS): 3-ESS2-1, 3.MD.3
ELA: 3.W.3, 3.W.3c
ART: VA.1.CR1.3


This unit on birds explores the variation of traits within one of the most diverse groups of animals on the planet. Bird species are specifically adapted to their habitat, from how they find their food to how they nest, making them an ideal subject for students to study and understand how traits are passed down to help species survive. In this unit, students play the card game Old Bird to match common birds found in the Pacific Northwest with their food sources. Then, extension lessons invite students to explore birds and their food sources through building fractions, researching birds, reading a story, and doing an art project.


SCIENCE: 3-LS3-1, 3-LS3-2, 3-LS4-1 
3.W.7, 3.W.8 
VA.10.CO1.3.1, VA.1.CR1.3.3



In this unit, students use clues to learn about Oregon’s unique habitats, and then apply their knowledge about these habitats to math, ELA, and art lessons. First, students learn the names of a general list of habitats: mountain, wetland, meadow, river, ocean, high desert, and forest. Then, extensions of this lesson introduce students to habitats that have been identified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) as “Conservation Strategy Habitats”. This means that they are the focus of the agency’s protection efforts and are home to native plant and animal species. By using observations and looking at data from ODFW, students will better understand how ecologists define a natural area based on its landscape features, flora and fauna, and climate, and what they look for when they plan to protect or restore it.


Science (NGSS): 2-LS4-1
ELA: 2.RL.4, 2.RI.6, 2.W.3b
Math: 2.MD
Art: VA.8.RE2.2


What is a pollinator? Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, and other fascinating animals are important components within an ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem has many parts that work together and pollinators are a perfect example of this phenomena. In this unit, students discover  the role of a pollinator in an ecosystem and why pollinators are so important for all life on Earth- including humans! Students will learn all about pollinator species that we are likely to see in the Pacific Northwest and what makes them unique. Through science, art, social studies, math, and English language arts, students are able to fully explore one of the most important ecosystem services on the planet: pollination. 


Science (NGSS): 2-LS2-2, 2-ETS1-2 
ELA: 2.W.3 
Math: 2.G 1., 2.G 5.
Art: VA.1.CR1.2, VA.2.CR2.2, 2.25, 2.26



Bugs are an exciting and fascinating aspect of  nature. Best of all, they can be found all around us! In this unit, students are able to zoom in to their natural curiosity about the smallest creatures that live in the Pacific Northwest. “Bugs” (referring to insects, arachnids, centipedes, and millipedes) live and function in unique habitats, have special adaptations, and are very important members of the ecosystem. Students will learn how to identify local species through playing an observation game, creative writing, constructing math equations, and making field journals.


Science (NGSS): 1-LS3-1
Math: 1.OA
ELA: 1.RI.6, 1.RF.3, 1.RL.4, 1.SL.4,
Art: V.A.2.CR.2.1.1.


In this unit, students are invited to dig in to the earth beneath their feet and explore what soil is made of. In each activity, first graders will learn that not all soil is the same, but all soil has the same key elements: water, air, minerals, and organic material. This unit allows students to explore soil using sensory observation and helps them make explanations as to why a soil sample looks and feels the way it does. Students will also be invited to explore what makes soil special by reading a story, using fractions, and painting with mud as an artistic medium.


Science (NGSS)
Science and Engineering Practice: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information, constructing evidence-based accounts of natural phenomena.
1.RL.9 Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.
1.RL.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
1.G Partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, fourths, and quarters, and use the phrases “half of”, “fourth of”, and “quarter of”. Describe the whole as “two of”, or “four of the shares”. Understand for these examples that decomposing into more equal shares creates smaller shares.
VA.2.CR2.1: Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.




In the Pacific Northwest, there are many unique ecosystems that provide habitat for a variety of animals. By learning about the animals that share our ecosystems and what they need to survive, students gain a foundational understanding of animal habitats. They can then begin to understand the importance of caring for ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. Students in this age group are especially poised to share an empathetic relationship with local animals when they feel an emotional connection to their existence. In this unit, students embark on the exploration of different animal habitats, using colorful cards to match Pacific Northwest animals to their habitats, reading a beautifully illustrated book, and practicing their math and art skills in a variety of activities. 


Science (NGSS): K-ESS3-1
ELA:K.RL.10, K.W.2 
Math: K.CC.1, K.CC.3 
Art: VA.2.CR2.K 



Young students are natural ecologists. By learning the foundations of plants and what they need for growth and survival, kindergarteners begin to strengthen their connection with nature. This unit introduces the parts of plants necessary for their survival in our local ecosystems. Students gain skills in identifying plant parts and use this knowledge to drive their explorations through language arts, math, and art.


Science (NGSS): K-LS1-1
ELA: K.W.2
Art: VA.10.CO1.K
Math: K.CC, K.OA, K.MD

Ecology on demand

Bring Our Learning Environment to Your Students

Each unit provides real-world STEAM learning, grounded in place-based learning principles, and supports teachers in meeting academic benchmarks. Units are tailored to specific grades, K-5th, and are centered around fun exciting ecology themes such as Beaver Adaptations and Wetland Food Web! The interdisciplinary lessons align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Common Core Science Standards, and the Oregon Environmental Literacy Program.

To inquire about getting your own ECO Elementary Units, please contact Program Director Sarah Woods at [email protected]