SECRETS (4th and 5th grade)

Survival • Ecosystems • Cycles • Relationships • Energy • Time=Change • Stewardship

A student at Colonel Wright Elementary in The Dalles, OR learns about skull adaptations.

The SECRETS program is a nine-week long ecology curriculum that includes seven classroom lessons, a Community Day, and day-long field trip. Students learn about the environment outside their front door while learning science concepts that apply to any ecosystem found on earth. The SECRETS of Our Forest Home program uses the forest ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest as the foundation for teaching basic science concepts. The SECRETS of Our Shrub-Steppe Home program focuses on the shrub-steppe ecosystem found in eastern Oregon and Washington.

The curriculum teaches science concepts prescribed by Oregon and Washington academic standards, using the forest or shrub-steppe ecosystems to illustrate these concepts.

Teams of two SECRETS instructors, with the help of two volunteers, lead the lessons. This ensures a small student to teacher ratio for hands‐on learning that engages all students. Nancy Ihde, a fifth‐grade teacher at May Street Elementary in Hood River, Oregon remarked, ʺSECRETS helps me as a teacher. When students are excited about science, it carries over to their time with just me and other areas of the curriculum.”

Students on a SECRETS field trip at the Dalles Mountain Ranch, WA

We know of no other environmental education program that offers such extensive support to classroom teachers in the Columbia River Gorge, and we feel this level of support is essential in order for students’ grasp of environmental science to become deep, durable, and applicable in their lives.

Teachers credit the SECRETS program for increasing student achievement in science and other academic areas. Steve Chance, a fifth‐grade teacher at Colonel Wright Elementary in The Dalles, Oregon commented, “It is my strong feeling that credit for a large share of my student’s success on the Oregon State Science Test must go to the SECRETS program. I am convinced that there is no way I could have provided as much quality instruction over the same time period.” To strengthen science teaching, the Ecology Institute holds professional training workshops for educators interested in teaching the SECRETS program or learning other techniques to build science into their curricula.

We are always looking for volunteers to help us in the classroom or on field trips. Please contact the SECRETS coordinator at info(at)gorgeecology(dot)org for more information.

Program Delivery

We offer three sessions of SECRETS throughout the year: fall, winter, and spring.

Fall SECRETS programs run from mid-September to Thanksgiving break, with field trips scheduled at the end of September and the beginning of October.

Winter SECRETS programs run from mid-January to early March, with field trips scheduled in May and June.

Spring SECRETS programs run from mid-March to early May, with field trips scheduled in May and June.


We charge a fee of $1,000 per class to deliver the SECRETS program. Actual program costs reach up to $2,250 per class, but we work to subsidize the remainder of the costs. Where program costs are a barrier to participation due to current school budgets, schools have found ways to pay for SECRETS through PTOs, fundraising events, and grants.

Next Generation Science Standards

Our lessons are designed to meet and reinforce national academic standards.

Fifth Grade NGSS our program meets

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

Fifth Grade NGSS our program reinforces

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

5-ESS2-2. Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water of Earth.

5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Fourth Grade NGSS our program meets

4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Fourth Grade NGSS our program reinforces

4-ESS1-1. Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in landscape over time.

4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

4-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.