Discoveries at the Edge of the Pacific


In 2019-2020, Oregon Sea Grant and the authors of the children's book Ellie’s Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific led an educator professional development series focused on scientific observation, nature journaling, stewardship actions, and other hands-on coastal science experiences for students. Following a summer educator workshop held at Beverly Beach State Park on August 8, 2019, participants continued their discussions at three online Community of Practice sessions held throughout the school year. See below to learn more about the teachers' discussions and their students' adventures!

Man uses a jewlers loupe to observe his thumb

Teachers gather around a table covered with feathers

woman sketches the horizon at the beach

Educator Professional Development

Ellie's Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific
Level: Grade 4-6

From OSU Press -- In this sequel to Ellie’s Log and Ricky’s Atlas, Ellie and Ricky travel to the Oregon coast from their home in the Cascade Mountains to help with a one-day beach cleanup. Hoping to find a prized Japanese glass float, they instead find more important natural treasures and evidence of an ocean that needs its own global-scale cleanup.

Ellie and Ricky are amazed by their discoveries at the edge of the world’s largest ocean. Together, they realize the power of volunteering and grapple with the challenges of ocean conservation. In her journal, Ellie records her observations of their adventures in her own words and pictures.

With charming pen-and-ink drawings and a compelling story, Ellie's Strand makes coastal science exciting for upper elementary school students and is a treasured companion for young beach explorers everywhere.

More about Ellie's Strand from OSU Press

Classroom sets (30) of Ellie's Strand books are available to Oregon Coast STEM Hub educators for checkout from the STEM Hub resource trailers located along the Oregon Coast. In addition, digital copies are also available to educators in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. To request access to a digital copy that you can use with your students. please fill out this form.

Discoveries at the Edge of the Pacific
August 8, 2019 at Beverly Beach State Park in Newport, OR
Workshop flyer * 18 participants * Photos

Welcome and Introductions
Why Journals?
Start your own journal
Activity: Observe and record
Ellie's Strand book overview
Resources: Materials and NGSS alignment
Activity: The Beach At Your Feet
Activity: Make it Big
Activity: What's on the Horizon?
Activity: Sand Observation
Field Trip Recommendations

Edge of the Pacific - Community of Practice web sessions

Following the summer workshop, educators were invited to attend Community of Practice Sessions held during the school year. Along with authors Peg Herring and Judy Li, participants took part in guided group discussions, discovered teaching resources, and heard from educators who are incorporating nature journaling and coastal stewardship activities with students.

These web sessions were open to all educators regardless of whether they attended the summer in-person workshop.

  • Target Audience: Upper elementary and middle school educators
  • Cost: free
  • How: Each Community of Practice Session uses the simple and free online platform Zoom. All you need is an internet-connected computer with a microphone and webcam

November 7, 2019: "Take the Drastic Plastic Challenge"

February 6, 2020: "Get Involved: Student Stewardship"

April 30, 2020: "A Year of Journaling"

For this project, author Peg Herring created two videos for teachers:

  • Ricky and Ellie's Drastic Plastic Challenge - Four minute video shared on Nov 7, 2019
  • The Value of Nature Journaling - Six minute video shared on Feb 6, 2020

Student Experiences: A Year of Activities in Oregon Classrooms

Below, educators describe the activities they implemented after they attended the summer workshop.

McDermott Class Activities 2019-20

Reports from 4th grade teacher Penny McDermott of Sam Case School in Newport:

  • Students kept field journals to record observations of plants, animals, and weather.
  • Students regularly visited local outdoor places to observe nature, collect data, and read.
  • In groups, students collected observational data to answer their scientific inquiry questions.
  • Ms. McDermott wrote and received a $1,950 Diack Ecology Education Grant to support the purchase of student field guides, backpacks, binoculars, and other equipment for her school.
  • Ms. McDermott borrowed Ellie's Strand books, water quality testing kits, marine debris curriculum, and many more materials from the Oregon Coast STEM Hub resource trailer.
  • Regular walks down to Jefferies Creek (0.3 mi) to monitor water quality
  • Walk along Big Creek to Agate Beach (2.0 mi) to study the watershed and beach
  • Afterschool hike to the public library via Big Creek and Agate Beach (4.0 mi)
  • How does plant abundance change between the fall, winter, and spring months? 
  • Does shade affect aquatic invertebrate or amphibian diversity?
  • Are there more insects in a beach, wetland, or forested habitat?  
  • If you floated down a river, where would you end up? 
  • Where do fallen leaves go?
  • Why do leaves change color?
  • Where do bugs go in the winter? 
  • Why are there certain times that birds lay eggs?

- list from P. McDermott

In the August 8 educator workshop, we made connections between the book and modeled activities to the seven Crosscutting Concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Ms. McDermott summarizes examples here:

  • Chapters 1 and 2 of Ellie’s Strand explore Patterns by looking at expectations or hypothesis versus experience or actual evidence and noting discoveries in tidepools. 
  • Cause and Effect is explored in Chapter 3 by comparing birds while in Chapter 4 by looking at natural versus human-made debris found on the beach, and in Chapter 5 by considering the origin of beach flotsam. 
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity are explored with timelines, maps drawn to scale, and an asset for connecting measurable data to students’ work.
  • Systems and System Models are present in Chapter 3 with an exploration of food webs.
  • Energy and Matter are discussed in chapters 5 and 6 with emphasis on flows, cycles, and conservation with ocean processes and ocean dynamics. 
  • Chapters 3 and 4 support Structure and Function in nature by looking at shore bird survival and whale anatomy. There is a dialogue between the youngsters and adults about comparing the murres with the oystercatchers.  Initially, the children notice that the birds are similar in color yet are encouraged to take a closer look and then they are able to note the shape of bills and wings and position of legs and how each is equipped to handle survival in their unique ways. 
  • Stability and Change are explored in Chapters 7 and 8 with complexity of oceans and predictability of whale migration.

- list from P. McDermott

Shonkwiler Class Activities 2019-20

Reports from 5th grade teacher Laurie Shonkwiler of Bridger Elementary in Portland:

  • To begin student nature journaling activities, Ms. Shonkwiler took the students to Mt. Tabor Park where they focused on fall trees.
  • Students started food composting and milk carton recycling programs for their school, planted a garden to provide greens for the cafeteria and introduced the school to "plogging" (picking up trash on the school ground while running around).
  • The class collected and turned their single-use plastics into an art project. They made pledges to reduce their personal use of single-use plastics, and every Friday they held a "Zero Waste Lunch".
  • To raise money for a planned spring field trip to the beach (and to support their zero-waste lunch packing efforts), students have been making and selling beeswax food wraps.

Students made regular visits to the Bridger School Garden and recorded their observations

The class planned to visit South Beach State Park in Newport on May 14 for a day of nature journaling, collecting plastic, and sorting and tracking types of marine debris.

Students record nature observations in their journals.

Community Partners Involved in this Project

Ellie's Strand authors Peg Herring and Judy Li

Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State Parks, OSU Press, Surfrider, CoastWatch, SOLVE, Lincoln County School District


This project was supported by a 2019 Oregon Sea Grant Program Development award.