Academic Offerings

Cal-Wood Lesson Descriptions

At Cal-Wood, no two school programs are ever alike. Our educational programs are customized to meet trip goals and objectives, as well as each school’s unique student body. Teachers and administrators select topics, activities, and themed programs that best connect to what students are learning or are about to learn in the classroom. We creatively design interactive and experiential lessons which are specific to the features of our natural landscape. For details, see the descriptions below or contact our Curriculum Manager:

View a video clip of our Environmental Education Program

All Cal-Wood school programs include hiking, field observation, team building, nature awareness activities, conservation themes and plenty of teachable moments. In addition to these components, teachers select academic lessons for each trip. Each lesson includes one or more hands-on activities. 

A list of Cal-Wood’s academic offerings: 

Descriptions can be found below this list.

Animal Adaptations
Eco Art
Ecology Favorites (Instructor’s choice)
Fire Ecology
Forestry (formerly tree measurements)
Gold Rush
Map & Compass (formerly Orienteering w/ Compass)
Mica Mine (long hike)
Mine Exploration
Mountain Building
Mountain Weather
Natural Resources (Nonrenewable and renewable resources)
Pond Study
Predator vs Prey
Research Projects
Rocks and Minerals
Service Project (depending on season)
Survival Skills
Tree Science
Watersheds & Floods

Winter Programs:

Winter Ecology
Winter Survival Skills

Evening Programs:

Night Hike
The Beast
Town Hall Meeting
Egg Drop

Cal-Wood lesson descriptions (in order alphabetically):

Animal Adaptations: What is an adaptation? Through interactive activities students learn the meaning of the word and how adaptations help animals at Cal-Wood survive. Students experience first-hand the benefits of being well adapted to one’s environment while continually exploring the land for signs or remains of animals. If they are lucky, there’s always that chance they will see or hear wildlife as well!

Archery: Students have a chance to learn how to safely aim and fire and arrow from a bow. At our own archery course with targets, groups will learn and practice aiming and shooting from recurve and compound bows. This lesson can provide a new outdoor experience for many and history and physics lessons can be incorporated.

Biomimicry: (Bio=life, mimicry=imitate). Nature has a system in place. We can learn from these time tested patterns and strategies and implement them in our own lives.This inquiry-based topic focuses on sensory activities where students get up close and personal with nature to see how nature does it. Students discuss the topic of biomimicry and aim to answer the question: “what can we learn from nature? ”Students observe organism characteristics through sketching, and hypothesize the function of these traits. Students will also learn about parts of trees and compare them to the human body through a game “Me As a Tree.”

Eco Art: From summiting a mountain and painting a watercolor landscape to lessons in quick nature sketches, art can be woven into any Cal-Wood program. Students will also learn about one of our favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy, and create their own Goldsworthy inspired sculptures using natural forest materials.

Ecology Favorites: Cal-Wood instructors pick an ecology topic that they are passionate about and help students explore general ecology concepts such as interconnections, habitats, animal populations, diversity, and food chains. Possible activities may include environmental education favorites like Oh, Deer!, Jays and Juncos, and Web of Life .

Fire Ecology: Students review fire essentials and create miniature forests out of matchsticks to observe fire behavior on a landscape. Students also explore how fire shapes local ecosystems by seeing real burned areas of forest and discussing plant and animal adaptations to these events. They learn about Cal-Wood’s own fire mitigation plan and may have the opportunity to participate in thinning small trees with hand saws.

Forestry: By learning about trees and forests students see what the career of forestry is all about. As student foresters they will learn to identify trees, take a variety of measurements, record data, and compare findings before creating a management plan for the forest. Forestry tools will be used to measure tree height, diameter and age. Students come up with a mitigation plan to reduce disease and wildfire to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Gold Rush: Students play an exciting interactive game where they take on the role of a  miner in the late 1800’s in Colorado. Throughout the game they must make decisions on mining sites, transportation methods, and mining techniques in order to make a profit in a risky market. At the end, students will calculate if they have struck it rich, or lost it all!

Homestead: The Cruthers family homestead house and schoolroom sets the stage for students to experience life on a homestead in the year 1901. Students explore the cabin and outbuildings, handle artifacts, use a crosscut saw, and pose as students in a strict one room schoolhouse, all while learning how the Homestead Act changed Colorado and the West. This homestead experience pairs well with a natural resource lesson as students imagine this simple lifestyle and can think about basic human needs and the resources available to the Cruthers in 1901.

Landforms: Students hike to vistas on Cal-Wood property overlooking Forest Service land and Rocky Mountain National Park where they can view and identify many different landforms. Using natural materials, students construct miniature landscapes in small groups and discuss how these landforms are created on a larger scale. Adding water and snow to the landscapes will demonstrate the key processes of weathering, erosion and deposition.

Maps and Compasses: Students learn how to read a map and use a compass then get hands-on experience and practice using these tools around our 1,200 acre property! While navigating through Cal-Wood with their learning groups students will gain independence, confidence and leadership skills. This lesson ties in well with landforms as they use topographic lines and identify different landforms they see on the map.

Mica Mine (long hike): Students depart on a full day, four and a half mile hike to the abandoned mica mine of Ellery Cruthers, located at the Eastern edge of our property. Local mining history and the long term impacts of mining are discussed along the way. Mica mine exploration ties well to a lesson on rocks and minerals and Earth’s geological processes, as well as natural resource use.

Mine Exploration: By exploring abandoned mines, panning for gold in the stream, and listening to the stories of boomtowns like Jamestown, students develop an understanding of the struggle and excitement experienced by the many “greenhorns” who rushed west during the late 1800’s. Mine exploration is an excellent hands-on experience that can easily lead to a lesson on natural resources and rocks and minerals.

Mountain Building: Students climb mountains and talus slopes to spot peaks, meadows, cliffs, and valleys and discover how plate tectonics, glaciers, erosion, and deposition have carved these landforms into the Earth’s surface. While looking across to the Rocky Mountains and other ranges students learn about the geologic events that created these peaks.

Mountain Weather: Students use weather instruments to record temperature, wind speed, wind direction and analyze cloud formations. Students will measure the weather in different locations at Cal-Wood and get first hand experience of the ever changing weather in the mountains. Fronts, the water cycle, Chinook winds, and the rain shadow effect are also discussed.

Natural Resources (Nonrenewable and renewable resources): At Cal-Wood there are many great places to talk about renewable and nonrenewable resources. From our beautiful forests to the old abandoned mines and homestead house, students get interactive lessons and first hand experience in an area with history of resource extraction.  

Orienteering: After an introductory lesson covering landforms, topographic lines, and map reading, small expedition parties are sent onto our 20 acre orienteering course with only a map to guide them to the 8 hidden locations. Older and more experienced groups may graduate to Cal-Wood’s new advanced orienteering course for an added challenge.

Pond Study: Using the scientific method, students observe and explore abiotic and biotic aspects of a pond ecosystem. Students collect samples, identify macroinvertebrates and pool their findings to complete a water quality analysis experiment. Each student gets a fun outdoor laboratory experience where they can see one way scientists determine the health of a freshwater ecosystem.

Predator vs Prey: This is an exciting game of animal survival that is played by the entire school group on the last day. Acting as an animal in Cal-Wood’s food chain, students look for shelter, water and food as they learn the difficulties of survival with concepts of biomagnification, predator/prey relationships and human impacts in a food web.

Research Projects: From analyzing soil samples and surveying for invasive plant species, to monitoring bird boxes and collecting data for our tree database, there are always opportunities for students to participate directly in the research that goes on here at Cal-Wood. Research projects are chosen based on students’ ages, background knowledge, and the seasonal work being done on site. Data analysis and collection, and the scientific method are emphasized in the majority of these projects.

Rocks and Minerals: Students get to observe, handle and smash rocks to identify common minerals and classify igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock while exploring rocky outcrops and talus slopes. Experiential lessons on the rock cycle and layers of the Earth compliment students’ newfound understanding of our Earth’s unique crust.

Service Project (depending on season): Students can give back to Cal-Wood with a hands-on service project. This is a rewarding opportunity for students to get their hands dirty and assist with the management of Cal-Wood’s 1200 acre property. Depending on the season, projects may include tree thinning for fire prevention, slash pile consolidation, tree planting (for erosion prevention or natural snow fence construction), invasive plant removal, and trail maintenance. Service projects pair well will lessons on fire ecology, tree science, forestry as well as expose students to career opportunities in forest and land management.

Survival Skills: Students learn basic survival skills participating in an activity called STRANDED, where they must choose which items will help them survive if they were stranded in the wilderness. In addition students learn to make either mini or life-sized shelters, build fires, and navigate Cal-Wood’s 1,200 acres using a map and compass.

Teambuilding: A wide variety of games, activities, and adventures provide powerful opportunities for students to develop deeper trust and appreciation of one another, step outside of their comfort zones, hone critical communication and planning skills, and work together through tricky tasks towards success in a supportive environment. Students reflect on how they can carry their experiences, collaborative skills, and friendships back home and in school!

Tree Science: Students play a blindfolded game of “Meet a Tree” where they use their senses to note physical characteristics of trees and identify species with dichotomous keys. They compare parts of a tree (roots, leaves, branches,  bark, xylem, phloem) and how they function to parts of a human body. They also discuss photosynthesis, tree adaptation, and the roles of trees in a habitat.

Watersheds & Floods: Students build watershed models out of natural materials to visualize what defines a watershed and predict how water flows across the Earth’s surface. Students hike along freshwater streams and ponds, learn about local watersheds, and do hands-on activities that emphasize human impacts on waterways. This lesson pairs well with our Pond Study program where the students look at living organisms to determine habitat health.

Winter Programs:

The majority of our programs are available year-round; however, if you are visiting during the snowy months you may wish to enjoy some of our winter specific programs.

Winter Ecology: “How do animals survive the cold and snow?” is the central question in this Cal-Wood program, which features students taking a closer look at winter adaptations, locating animal homes and tracks, and testing their own winter shelters.

Winter Survival Skills: During winter our regular survival skills course is supplemented with instruction on building snow shelters (quinzee), outdoor cooking, fire building, and hypothermia prevention. Snowshoeing may also be requested as part of this program if snowpack permits.

Evening Programs:

Night Hike: A flashlight-free hike through the forest gives students the opportunity to experience the outdoors at night and learn about how their own eyes are adapted to evening exploration. Night hikes can also focus on animal adaptations or astronomy and may include solo hikes. Stargazing is included when weather permits.

Campfire: A concoction of silly songs, exciting stories, skits, and marshmallows awaits students at a Cal-Wood campfire. Upon request campfire programs can focus on Native American legends and feature cabin groups creating and directing their own creation myth skits.

Town Hall Meeting (Indoor option): Whether battling it out over the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado, or debating the construction of a dam on a local river, town hall meetings allow students to take on the roles of various community shareholders and pitch ideas to skeptical classmates. Students get a chance to practice teamwork and presentation skills as they discuss relevant environmental topics during this indoor program.

The Beast (Indoor option): In this indoor teambuilding activity, students work in small groups to construct a mock replica of THE BEAST. This night program focuses on practicing clear communication to accomplish a common goal. Members of the team are given roles (viewer, messenger, buyer, builder) and are positioned in stations throughout the lodge. They must pass accurate information down the chain from start to finish in order to create THE BEAST.

Egg Drop (Indoor option): In small groups students “buy” natural materials to construct a contraption to protect one egg. The egg protectors will be tested from different heights and groups will get opportunities to improve their designs before the biggest drop (off the back deck) happens. Students will work together to buy materials and make decisions that will (hopefully!) keep their egg safe.

Themed Programs:

Given adequate advanced notice, we would love to work with you to customize your Cal-Wood program to meet your needs. We can design an in-depth themed program which focuses on the many facets and complexities of a single subject area. These themed programs focus on one subject like water. For example, during a water program students will do a pond study, learn about mountain weather, build landforms to observe erosion caused by water, and participate in water conservation during the water challenge. All topics integrating water.

If you have ideas for a themed program or would like to talk more about customizing your Cal-Wood program, please contact our Curriculum Manager:

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