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Deep Portage Learning Center Day Classes

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ANIMAL SIGNS is a good choice for a wildlife lesson in any season. Deep Portage is located on 6,307 acres of the transitional forest in central Minnesota. Our biome has white-tail deer, bobcats, snowshoe hare, fisher, otter, beaver, bald eagles, goshawks, and many other fascinating animals. This class focuses on 8 basic clues that animals leave behind in their habitat. Students have the opportunity to investigate the out doors looking for various animal signs. Students learn tracking skills, animal identification, and animal life histories.

ARCHERY is one of the most popular life skill offerings. This activity is best suited for 6th grade and older. We use compound and recurve bows on the Deep Portage archery range. Students receive solid instruction on equipment selection, equipment use, and safety requirements. We concentrate on introducing the sport to beginners while helping refine archery skills in those students with more background.

BASS POND A-Z Takes students out on our trail around Bass pond on a short hike. This class introduces the concepts of natural and unnatural, and finding objects in nature that start with each letter of the alphabet. This is a great class for kindergarten and first grade.

BASS POND IN WINTER opens up a window of understanding of life underneath the ice on lakes and ponds. The closed system of a frozen pond offers us the opportunity to practice Scientific Method. Students formulate hypotheses on ice depth and water temperature. We auger holes and collect measurements to prove or disprove our educated guesses on what is happening in the pond.

BIRDS This class introduces students to the basic morphology of birds and what makes them unique. Depending on the season, students may go on a birding hike or watch a slide show.

BUNNY AND WOLF Is an introductory class to the concept of predator and prey relationships. Students learn how camouflage is a defensive adaptation of prey. This class includes a game of hide-and-seek where students test out the effectiveness of certain forms of camouflage.

BOG HIKE A visit to the Deep Portage bog is a hike not soon forgotten. Our tamarack bog contains pitcher plants, cranberries, bog laurel, leatherleaf, and sphagnum moss. This fascinating ecosystem introduces concepts such as photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, and plant adaptation to severe environmental conditions. Bogs are tied to many cultural stories and these details are interwoven with a naturalist lead hike over the glacial landscape. Our bog has a wooden boardwalk over the moss which enables us to explore the plants up close while keeping our shoes dry and the impact on the system to a minimum.

CAMOUFLAGE CRITTERS Is a class that introduces the concepts of predator-prey relationships. Students learn about camouflage as a means of defensive adaptation by coloring a snowshoe hare cutout that matches a selected background. After hiding their snowshoe hares, the students become ‘lynxes’ and try to find one another’s snowshoe hares. Students then discuss what was successful or unsuccessful about their camouflage. This class is best suited for younger students (1-4 grades) during any season.


CANOEING The land of 10,000 lakes is filled with opportunities to explore by canoe. Deep Portage students use Old Town Discovery and Alumacraft Featherlight canoes to practice their paddling skills. Each student is outfitted with a paddle and a lifejacket. We teach basic techniques and safety while floating on Bass Pond. If winds are low and students are ready, we can portage to Big Deep Lake and continue with the paddling adventure.

CHARLIE TO BASE is the follow-up activity to landform 3. Students have learned how to use a compass, read a topographic map, and measure distance with paces. It is time to put it all together in a challenging land navigation exercise. Students are divided into groups and given 2 compasses, a map, and a two-way radio. The students begin at a landform point and navigate their way through the forest using all their acquired skills. This is a great teambuilding opportunity. Everyone shares in a great sense of accomplishment when they orienteer successfully.

CHATAUQUA is a creative class where students learn how to make a dreamcatcher, a corn necklace, or other projects to take home. This lesson centers around storytelling and the creation of a project. This is a nice choice if you are spending 4 or 5 days at Deep Portage or if you are coming in the winter. In cold weather it is nice to have one indoor oriented class for a warm-up session.

CHEMICALS IN THE SKY Explores one of today’s most important environmental concerns… water quality and specifically, acid rain. Students learn or review the water cycle, experiment with the pH scale, and learn about the biological affects that wter pollution can have on animal and plant populations. This class is a nice choice if you are coming in a transitional season where it may be too cool to dip into Bass Pond, but not cold enough for ice depths to be thick enough to walk on.

CLIMBING Is a class that introduces students to the basic technical skills of climbing as well as team skills such as respect, communication and trust. The class takes place in our 34 foot state-of-the-art climbing wall with the availability of 10 challenging routes to climb. The focus of this class is on self-awareness, teamwork, setting goals, and challenging themselves. This class is great for all ages.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING is a favorite with students of all ages. We have 40 pairs of skis. Our boot sizes range from 32cm to 48cm. With adequate snow we have a nicely groomed beginning loop for skiers of all abilities. Our staff combines instruction and encouragement to create a fun winter experience. This activity is best for 5th grade and older.

CRUISING AND FOREST MANAGEMENT TREK This is an advanced forestry lesson for students 8th grade and older. The Deep Portage land is a demonstration forest for Cass County and students are taken to different management plots. Techniques for forest management are introduced to students while they get hands-on experience with the tools that foresters use.

DEADLY LINKS Is a class that examines food chains and the interdependence of certain species. Students role play as hawks, shrews, and grasshoppers in a game that shows how contaminants, such as pesticides, travel through a food chain and the effect they have on organisms at different levels. This class is best suited for younger students (K-4).

DRESS A BEAVER Teaches students about the basic beaver morphology, behavior, habitat and life cycles. Together they will “dress” their classmates as a beaver to increase their knowledge of the adaptations beavers have that allow them to live in their habitat.


FALLEN LOG is a class which focuses on some of the most unglamorous components of an ecosystem… the decomposers! Students explore the microcommunities in downed logs. The concepts of nutrient cycling and renewal frame this active lesson. This class encourages us to get down and dirty while looking for decomposers. This is a great lesson for younger students (k-5) during spring or fall.

FISH PRINTING (Gyotaku) is a Japanese art form. Recording fish size with ink and paper was a way that the Japanese collected information on fish populations. Western artists see the beauty in this practical art and have expanded the boundaries to include all types of printing subjects. We learn about fish structure and adaptive physical features while printing with paint on paper. If schools would like to bring T-shirts to print on, the students can make a souvenir that is definitely unique.

FROGS & POLLIWOGS This class focuses on the unique physical adaptations that frogs have and their specialized life cycles that allow them to live in a wide range of habitats. Students will experience all aspects of the life of a frog.

HOOKS & LADDERS This class is a Life Cycle simulation. Students go through the hatching, growth, migration and obstacles that occur during the life of a salmon.

HUNTER-GATHERER This class gives students a hands-on glimpse of human history. They can visit a recreated hunter-gatherer dwelling and practice some of the skills essential to that lifestyle, such as friction fires, bows and arrows and edible plants. Along the way they uncover some of the pros and cons of this way of life. This class is offered in the Spring and Fall seasons.

ICE FISHING season typically begins in January at Deep Portage. Bass Pond is a great place to learn the finer points to this winter activity. Students learn about lake turnover and what is happening underneath the ice. Where are the fish? What are the most effective techniques when fishing for panfish or pike? This is a great way to motivate students to experience “water” in the winter season.

INTERPRETIVE CENTER This class gives students a chance to explore our interpretive center. Various activities such as scavenger, hunts, word puzzles or quizzes bring students to different animal mounts to help them learn about Minnesota wildlife and ecology. This class may also include a visit to our Deep Portage bookstore.

LANDFORM 3 is a compass orienteering class. The students learn how to use a compass, read a topographic map, and measure distance with paces. These are skills that they will have for a lifetime. If they hunt, hike, or enjoy wild areas, it is important that everyone know how to orient themselves with a map and compass. Our land navigation course was developed by Harley Kaiser a retired Ranger, and is one of the best in the state.

MICROTREK HUNT Takes students on a wildlife treasure hunt! Students are given a list of things to find that show that wildlife exists everywhere. By studying microhabitats, they will be able to create a big picture of how humans and wildlife share environments and that wildlife is all around us even if we cannot see it. This class is a fun way to introduce awareness of our surroundings.


NATURE DRAWING & JOURNALING This class comes from the literary tradition of Annie Dillard, Sigrid Olsen, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. Students learn drawing and writing techniques which help them create a journal. Students hike to a place of solitude where they are given the freedom to think, create, interpret, and record their visit to Deep Portage. These journals are a great way for students to share their trip with parents and friends. This lesson emphasizes haiku, acrostic, free verse, and cinquain forms of poetry with contour and gesture drawing techniques.

OH DEER! Is a class that explores the importance of a good habitat, the essential components of a habitat, and the idea of “limiting factors” in a game that allows students to act as deer searching for their basic needs food, water and shelter. Students will learn how all things in nature are interrelated and how their environment affects populations of organisms.

PIONEER OLYMPICS is a cultural history lesson where students step back in time. Voyageur stories and Native American skills are practiced during a variety of events: tomahawk toss, flint & Steel firestarting, match-split, cross-cut saw, Atlatl, and rabbit sticks. This is a favorite class for students and teachers.

PAPERMAKING What was paper first made of? Which continent developed papermaking processes? How is paper made today? These questions and many more are answered during the papermaking lesson. Students learn about the papermaking process and actually make their own sheets of paper to take home. The pulp material used can be mushrooms, pine needles, or cotton linter. Recycling paper products and landfill issues are cornerstones to this hands-on lesson. The cultural tie that Minnesota has with the papermaking industry is also highlighted.

QUICK FROZEN CRITTERS Introduces predator-prey relationships and focuses on the behavioral adaptations prey use to survive. In this class, students play a version of freeze-tag, where some students are predators and others are prey. Students need to arrive at an area of safety without being tagged by the predator. If the prey freezes in place, as real prey does to avoid detection, they won’t be tagged. This class is great for K-4 students.

QUIN-ZHEE BUILDING & SNOW/ICE UNIT Snow is an amazing insulator. Many native cultures have known this for centuries and have built warm homes to live in. In the Quin-zhee lesson students make their own qhin-zhee mounds and dig them out. While they are waiting for the snow to set, the group conducts a series of snow and ice experiments where they discover first hand the amazing properties of frozen water. This activity keeps everyone warm and occupied even on the coldest of days.

SEARCH FOR THE BIG NINE Deep Portage is located on a terminal glacial moraine in the transitional forest of Central Minnesota. Our forest is dominated by paper birch, big-tooth aspen, quaking aspen, white pine, red pine, and red oak. This lesson teaches students to use a dichotomous key while learning the finer points of tree identification. This hike is conducted in every season and highlights seasonal changes. Topics may include leaf color, bark/buds, new growth, and succession. This is our most popular forestry class. The skills used can be tailored to any age group.

SILVA SCHOOLYARD AND COMPASS TRIANGULATION This is a beginning compass lesson that is great for the beginner. How a compass works and the parts that you need to know are thoroughly explained. As you practice using a compass on the Silva course, you gain confidence in setting and shooting a bearing. This is an appropriate course for 3rd and 4th graders that have never used a compass. This is a low pressure environment where everyone succeeds. Silva Schoolyard is a math class Deep Portage style.

SNOWSHOEING Deep Portage has over 60 pairs of snowshoes. We have examples of Yukon, Ojibwe, Green Mountain, and Beaver Tail style snowshoes. The two most common kinds that students will use are Beaver Tails and Ojibwe. Our bindings are an easy cross lace system that can accommodate many kinds of boots. The bigger and heavier the boot the better. Students learn snowshoe history and technique.


SQUIRRELING AWAY FOR WINTER Brings students to understand the reality of a harsh Minnesota winter and the adaptations that animals need to survive it. While participating in a role-playing activity, students will experience the adaptations of the squirrel in a winter survival situation. This activity reinforces concepts of competition on a particular species population.

SURVIVAL This unit focuses on safety while enjoying the outdoors. If students are interested in camping, backpacking, canoe camping , or any other type of recreational exploration, it is important for them to have some basic survival skills. We teach firebuilding, shelter building, hypothermia awareness, and other safety skills. For many students this is the first time they are allowed build a fire on their own. The importance of this class always comes home when the news reports come in telling of a group getting stranded overnight at a State park or a snowmobile breaking down out in the forest.

T.E.A.M. COURSE Together Everyone Accomplishes More. Over the years the needs of students and teachers seem to change. One request that we often receive is that of working on teambuilding and cooperation skills with students. Our T.E.A.M. course is designed to challenge students in positive and productive ways. Every element requires the whole group working together. It’s not always easy, but when progress is made, everyone feels good. Many teachers want to come back to Deep Portage, and bring peers to experience the events. This is a great addition to a schedule in fall or spring.

THICKET Is a class that teaches students what predators and prey need to be successful. One student is a predator, the others prey. The prey hides in a ‘thicket’ so that they can still see the predator. The predator must stay in place, but can look for prey by standing on tiptoe, squatting, or turning around. After several rounds, students are able to identify what made predators and prey successful, and discuss how this is seen in various animals.

TRIALS OF LIFE Is a large-group activity that simulates the predator-prey interactions of an ecosystem. Each learning team represents a particular species within the ecosystem, which falls into a top predator or prey level. Each species needs to acquire the appropriate amount of food, water, and shelter that they need to survive by the end of the game. Their quest is complicated by the fact that the predators may hunt them. In this class, students learn the basic habitat requirements that animals need to survive within an ecosystem in a fun, hands-on way.

UNDER THE OVERSTORY This is a forestry lesson that teaches us about forest succession and plant community diversity. Students visit a red pine stand, an aspen stand, and a mixed deciduous forest. Comparisons of flora and environmental factors are collected and discussed. Why is the forest floor cool and bare under the pine trees while the aspen forest is shrubby and warm? This is a fantastic lesson for early fall or late spring.

WATER CANARIES This Project Wild Aquatics class is favorite for many schools. Deep Portage has a variety of aquatic ecosystems to explore: bog, pond, lake, stream, vernal pond. Students collect macroinvertebrates from a system and learn to identify several insects. Macroinvertebrate indices are used by the EPA and private environmental consultants to assess water quality. Macroinvertebrates are easy to identify, develop entirely in water, and generally don’t roam. These features make them ideal environmental indicators.

WEE WATER WIGGLIES Is a simplified version of “water canaries” for younger students. This class is an introduction to Aquatic environments and the organisms that live within them. Students will explore the pond or lake collecting macroinvertebrates and studying water quality. This class focuses on biodiversity and how we can assess the health of an ecosystem by observing what lives within it.

WOLF STATION The wolf station was developed by Carlyn Berg in Bovey, Minnesota. This learning kit contains wolf pelts, skulls, teeth, pictures, and many other incredible learning tools. The students work in pairs and travel from station to station. Each station covers a different topic related to wolves. This is an inside activity that proves to be most successful in the winter season when a warm up class is much appreciated.



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