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Showing posts from 2013

(Frozen) Pond Life Class with NVLA

On the morning of December 12th, 2013, trail group B from Napa Valley Language Academy headed off to their Pond Life class, but this was not your typical Pond class. Due to the below freezing temperatures that we've had since the 7th, there was a 3" layer of ice covering the pond! This didn't stop these students from doing some hands-on data collection.

In addition to collecting data, the students had a chance to observe nature, learn about haikus, and write one. Here are a few examples of what they came up with:

The pond never moves It will always be in place Yet, I will travel -Mario Calderon
The pond is frozen Yet trees around jump with life But all life seems calm -Azrael Hillyer
After exploring the pond and writing they headed into the lab to discover what microscopic life might live in the pond. Luckily we have a tank of pond water in our lab that is full of life, where as the 38 degree water from the pond would not have much life in it. The students found ostracods,

Reagan Elementary and Fall Weather

We have some Sierra Nevada fall weather moving through SOS this week.  The cold and wet temperatures might not be for everyone, but Reagan Elementary was out in it having a good time.

High Ropes - Students from Reagan Elementary Group C don't mind the light rain.  From left Joshua, Vince, Jada, Drake, and Ashley are ready to climb the High Ropes course and go down the zipline.  In the back ground are staff members Rachael Mallon (back to camera, on the ground) and Maggie Berisha (in the 'crow's nest' getting ready to check the zipline.)

Wilderness Skills - Before trying out their skills on the orienteering course,Group B learns about the parts of a compass and how to use one to take a bearing.

Raptors and Conservation - The weather did drive Group A in for a little while to learn about our birds of prey.  Here staff members Ed Wynimko (with male great horned owl) and Justin Covino teach about the adaptations that are characteristic to raptors. Don't worry the birds up…

The California Gold Rush Experience with Our Lady of Angels and St. Gregory’s

Young miners working a Long Tom
A miner takes a rest in his tent after a day in the gold fields
Learning about Miwok culture.  Can you tell what the different artifacts were used for and how they were made?

Sept. 30-Oct. 4,

Liddell Elementary school

Trail Group B experiencing the High Ropes course and Zip Line

Ed Wynimko sends off one student from the crows nest and gets ready for the next climber coming across the Catwalk
St. Helen's School also joined us this week and took our newest class called  C.S.I. - Critter Skull Investigation Rachael Mallon helps a group determine the ratio of the size of the eye to the distance between them to see if the critter is a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore

 Justin Covino teaches his group about different types of teeth
 Devin Peyton and Kim Pedersen encourage a group as the figure out the eye ratio and do some quick math
Molly Schreiner helps a group talk through characteristics of a skull as the students puzzle out if it is a predator or a prey animal
Alta Height's Magnet School was here and took or Pond Life class.  At one of the stations the students write Haiku Poems.  Here are a few samples:
"A tiny seed sprouts It makes lovely flowers Bees take its nec…

First Week with Kids!

We welcomed Sherman Thomas, California Montessori Project (CMP), and Harold Woods Elementary School this week.  After almost a month with out kids (due to the Rim Fire and the residual smoke) our staff was excited to get out on the trails and do some teaching.
Sherman Thomas did a full range of classes with us over their four day stay including High Ropes, Team Challenge, the Silent Mile, and People of the Sierra.  It was CMP's first visit with us and we hope to see them again soon.  They also had a great visit that included some Mountain Biking.  Woods is rounding out our week.  Here are a few pictures from today's classes of a group working through a challenge in the Team class, and of a group learning about Raptors and Conservation.

Fire Update and Staff Training

The good news is that the Rim Fire is now 80% contained, the bad news is that the back fires that they have been lighting to fight the fire have been causing lots of smoke at SOS.  Because smoke levels can cause the air quality to sometime reach unhealthy levels we have had to postpone some of our visiting schools; we look forward to seeing Knightsen, Pinewood, and Napa Valley Learning Academy later this fall.  We are still planning on having Garfield Elementary coming on September 18, but we will be monitoring the air quality and the fire to make sure it is safe for everyone.

Here is a picture of a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter flying over campus yesterday on the way to drop water or foam on the fire.  Did you know that the Skycrane can carry more than 2,650 gallons of water of foam?  It can fill its tanks while hovering (by using the hose you can see hanging) in less than one minute!

With no students on site yet we have been busy getting our new staff ready for the year with lot…

Sierra Outdoor School - Fire update

Hello!  I have been meaning to get a post up on the blog to welcome the new staff.  However, I think that this morning it will be more important that I get some information out about our current status involving the
Rim Fire that is burning less than 10 miles away. Sierra Outdoor School is not currently under any evacuation advisement, and the fire crews are working hard to keep the fire from crossing Highway 108.  We are closed this week, and had to reschedule Knightsen for later in October.  We will be making a decision on Friday about Pinewood's visit next week. We will be closely monitoring the fire as well as the air quality; the smoke has been thick in the mornings, and we need to make sure that it is healthy for our staff and visitors to be here.
Here is this morning's information about the fire.

Incident TypeWildfireCauseUnder InvestigationDate of OriginSaturday August 17th, 2013 approx. 03:15 PMLocationGroveland Range District, Stanislaus NFIncident CommanderWilkins/law…

Earth Pledge Journaling

Glenmoor arrived this afternoon to Sierra Outdoor School and jumped right into their first class of the afternoon. The three groups did: High Ropes (A), Raptors & Conservation (B), and Wilderness Skills (C). Here's a picture of Group B working on their Earth Pledge at the end of Raptors & Conservation. They wrote down several ideas about ways they could positively affect the environment. They were tasked to take that pledge home, read it with their parent or guardian, and then sign it all together so that we can help keep each other accountable for our positive eco-actions! Tonight, Glenmoor has Mountain Madness and Night Hikes. It'll be a great night!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

We hope that everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend and enjoyed the extra day. We're looking forward to this week at Sierra Outdoor School with two schools coming up for the Gold Rush Program and two for the Elementary Program. We're excited to have our very first fourth-graders coming up from Clovis Unified School District for our Gold Rush Program. We'll see you soon, Century! Check back for some more pictures today of Century doing their Gold Rush rotation and of Grimmer Elementary enjoying their first afternoon classes.

Here's a quote to get those gears turning on a Tuesday morning:

"Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education."  - David Polis, Environmentalist and Outdoor Educator

Campfire Skits and Updates

We've had quite the busy week at Sierra Outdoor School. At the start of the week, we worked with Whitehead, Freeman, and Mission Ave. On Wednesday, we said goodbye to those wonderful students and said hello to three new groups! On Wednesday, we welcomed LeConte, Seacrest, and Brandeis Hillel to SOS. Yesterday, half of LeConte challenged themselves and cheered on others at our climbing wall, while the other half studied Pond Life. Brandeis Hillel did High Ropes and Team Challenge, and Seacrest had a great time with our Gold Program.

We'll have some pictures up later of our new groups, so make sure to check back. But before that, take a look at this video. The second graders of Mission Avenue did an amazing job at the campfire, thoroughly entertaining us with their well-prepared skits. Here's one called "Is It Time Yet?" If you're interested in seeing more skits, you can either post a comment or email the blog at and I can post/sen…

Mother Earth is Rocking

During Yountville's Earth & Beyond class today, they had fun singing a spin off of Queen's "We Will Rock You," entitled "Mother Earth is Rocking."

Take a look at Yountville's fifth graders singing! If you're following along with the lyrics (posted below), they're on the third verse.

Here are the lyrics:

Chorus: Mother Earth is Rocking               Mother Earth is Rocking
Magma rises in the crust, Turns to a rock called igneous. Cools down slow, cools down fast. To crystallize or look like glass. -----Chorus----- Sedimentary rock, the layered look. Time and force is what it took. To make a rock from sediment. Water squeezed out to make mineral cement. -----Chorus-----
Even rocks may feel pain, When heat and pressure make ‘em change their name. Limestone to marble, shale to slate. Metamorphic rocks have come a long way. -----Chorus-----
Water, soil, air and rock. Gotta keep recycling what we’ve got. Sun’s gonna be ‘round long enough. Let’s wo…

Evening Programs

Last night, the schools had some very fun, entertaining, and educational evening programs. Mount Madonna enjoyed a Hillbilly Hop and Night Hike. Foster City had a great night with Owl Pellets and Campfire. Here's a picture of the kids dissecting an owl pellet. They were really getting into it! 

And finally, Verdi Elementary enjoyed a hilarious Campfire and then headed out onto their Night Hikes! In this picture, you can see the students really getting into the Furniture Store skit. Be sure to ask them about that! 

We've had such a fun week with all of our schools this week, and it's not over yet. We've got Wilderness Skills with Foster City this morning, and a few Team Initiatives with Verdi as well. After that, we are saying adieu to all of our new friends. Have a great weekend everyone!

Photo Update

We're having a great time with the two schools that are currently here: Mount Madonna School from Watsonville, CA and Verdi Elementary School from Verdi, NV. Here's a couple pictures from each school's day. Enjoy!

Verdi had a great time during Earth & Beyond this afternoon. Check them out in their matching shirts... looking good Verdi!

Right behind them, you can see the "Walk of the Planets" they did. The girl right in front is holding Pluto. How many planets can you see behind them?

Here's a couple shots of Mount Madonna during Mountain Madness. It truly was a madhouse in there! They had an amazing time, full of hilarious relay races, including the Firefighter Relay! The students really went all out with the fire jacket, fire pants, and fire helmet. The kids in line are earning some serious respect points with their cheering and dance points with their sweet moves. Make sure to ask your student about the Shoe Relay when they get home... I'm sure they…

Teamwork All Around

Happy Monday! We had fifth graders from Mark Twain Elementary School come up from Angels Camp today for a field trip. They worked on team building initiatives and enjoyed a day in the forest. Here's a picture of half of the students at the Spider Web, one of the low elements we use for Team Challenge class. Everyone is in excellent position for spotting the student as he goes through the rope spider web. 

We're also working on several improvements to our site, including a new teaching spot right behind the dormitories. Several staff members were hard at work all day today preparing the site and the logs. Check back later to see more pictures of the progress.

Thank you to Anonymous for answering the question I posed in Moon Musings! You are indeed correct, the moon was waning gibbous. Great job.

Birding Basics

One of the wonderful features of Sierra Outdoor School is our on-campus bird blind. The bird blind, or bird hide, is a shelter used to observe wildlife at close quarters. These structures enable bird watchers, ornithologists, and other observers to get a closer look at the natural world and its interactions while not disturbing the wildlife. We can take our students to the bird blind to give them a greater understanding of concepts such as: biodiversity during Raptors & Conservation or interactions between producers and consumers during Silent Mile.

Here is an outside view of our bird blind:

Here's a view from inside the bird blind, looking out at the bird feeders. Can you spot all three of them? 

While I was at the bird blind taking these pictures, a Stellar's Jay landed on bird feeder 3.

It's exciting to see the spring season birds, like the American Robin and Black-headed Grosbeak, out and about. If you're interested about learning more about birding, you can ch…

Moon Musings

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you all had a great weekend full of beautiful weather. We have a busy week ahead of us, with several Gold Rush programs and one Science program. Clovis Elementary will be joining us on Wednesday for a three day science program. Lincoln Elementary, San Jose Christian, Green Valley, and Vista Grande will be coming throughout the week for the Gold Rush program. We're looking forward to a great week!

For a quick Monday Challenge, I saw the moon peeking through the trees over our Upper Education building this morning. Who can guess the phase of the moon today? Post your guess in the comments! I'll post the answer on Friday, so check back.

Baywood, Revisited

We have a few more pictures of Baywood Elementary's time here at Sierra Outdoor School. Brian, one of the wonderful chaperones, took several pictures while his son was at SOS. He was kind enough to email some of them to us for use on this blog! Parents and teachers, we know you take amazing pictures of your students while you're here. We'd love to see some of those if possible! Email any pictures to and we can get them up on the blog. Also, feel free to email with any other questions or comments.

Without further ado, here are some of the fantastic pictures Brian took while Baywood was enjoying the Gold Rush Program!

Spring is Blooming at Sierra Outdoor School!

The first California Poppies bloomed this week in one of our native plant gardens.  This poppy is accompanied by a beautiful Bush Lupine in the foreground of this picture.

Soon, our native plan gardens will have new signs to help the students learn about the plants and their different uses.  Here is a picture of a sample sign, but soon we will have them printed on aluminum to weather the seasons.

Welcome, Fourth Graders!

Today, Sierra Outdoor School had the pleasure of welcoming two schools to our campus. Our Lady of Lorretto is on site for the Gold Rush Program, and they enjoyed a beautiful day in Columbia State Park today on their way up the hill. Corte Madera, a school which has been coming to SOS for 36 years, has switched over to our Elementary Science Program. They will be taking our Raptors & Conservation and Silent Mile classes, and adventuring tomorrow down to Columbia and Moaning Cavern. More pictures on the way! Check back tomorrow. I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. We're looking forward to a week of sunshine and beautiful weather up here on the hill.

Baywood at Columbia

Baywood had a great Gold Rush experience here at Sierra Outdoor School! On Monday, they enjoyed a full rotation of classes at SOS, including: Rocker/Long Tom Mining Techniques, Miwok Life, Gold Panning, and Life of a Miner. During Life of a Miner, the students all wrote letters home as if they were out in California for the gold rush. Each teacher brought those home, and they should be a great read! Then, on Tuesday, Baywood left the hill and headed to Columbia State Park on their way home. They enjoyed a Historical Tour, a Bucket Brigade (learning how to put out fires with nothing but a line of helpers and cotton canvas buckets), a tour of the Columbia Cemetery, and an unforgettable experience at the Schoolhouse (ask your student about it!). Here are a few pictures of the students at Columbia: