A classroom with a view

By Chris Collins September 25, 2013 09:36 am

S. John Collins/Baker City Herald: Katie Langdon, left, and Jaden Barnes learn about soda  cans without the fliptops from Katy Coddington.
S. John Collins/Baker City Herald: Katie Langdon, left, and Jaden Barnes learn about soda cans without the fliptops from Katy Coddington.

By Chris Collins

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Sixth-graders used their deductive skills to piece together stories about the lives of people traveling through the area based on what they’d left behind as part of the annual Outdoor School Tuesday.

The lesson was taught at the archaeology station, positioned on the far reaches of Phillips Park, about 10 miles west of Baker City.

Instructors Katy Coddington, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist, and Erik Harvey, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, asked students to consider artifacts gathered from three different periods in time

Items displayed at one table included a “Wizard of Oz” scarecrow toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal, a disposable diaper and a receipt for gasoline purchased on Sept. 20, 2013.

Students rotated to a second table to examine a rusty shovel, a pick and cans and bottles assembled from a mining site operating sometime between 1863 and the 1930s.

At the third table they considered the Native Americans who used tools made from obsidian, antlers and basalt in prehistoric times.

“Archeologists study cultures through the things people leave behind and the places they live, which tell stories,” Coddington said. 

After examining the artifacts, the students were asked to sketch one item from each table and write observations about the object.

As the lesson ended they shared information they had gleaned from each display.

“We’re telling a story based on our assumptions,” Caddington told the students.

A total of 140 sixth-graders from the Baker School District’s South Baker Intermediate and Haines schools and the North Powder Charter School are attending Outdoor School this week, as weather permits. The program was moved from spring to early fall two years ago to take advantage of the usually warmer, drier weather this time of year.

It had been scheduled in late May and early June the previous 18 years and was more often than not threatened by rain, wind and even snow.

While sunshine dominated the past two fall sessions, this year’s sixth-graders haven’t been quite as lucky. The long hot summer and warm fall days turned cold and wet this week, with more stormy weather expected today.

Rain squalls threatened the lessons Monday and Tuesday and distant thunder was heard Tuesday afternoon, but the heavy downpour that pelted Baker City did not fall on the outdoor school classes. Dorothy Mason, program coordinator, said students were just boarding the buses to head back to their school buildings as more rain began to fall Tuesday.

Archaeologists Caddington and Harvey join a wide range of natural resource specialists, some of whom are retired, and agency representatives who dedicate time to teach the 15 different outdoor classes Monday through Wednesday. Topics range from forestry and geology to wildlife and habitat, soils and fire. Parents also join teachers to help supervise and guide students through the park stations.

On Thursday, the students will choose from among a slate of 11 electives that include lessons in activities such as knot-tying, outdoor music, beekeeping and emergency preparedness.