Discovering Local History in a Science Unit: Using OHS’s Digital History Resources

May 17, 2022

By Lisa Colombo

Students at the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science in Portland, Oregon, recently completed a unit of study that integrated science and history using resources published by the Oregon Historical Society. This detail of a poster on Mary Anna Cooke Thompson, known as Portland’s first woman physician, was created by Piper Wilkins. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science is a K–8 public charter school in Southwest Portland where place-based education is the heart of every unit. Place-based education encourages students to use the community where they live as a way to practice skills, make connections with local experts, and understand how problems are solved, both in the natural and social spheres. While many units of study lend themselves easily to local connections, others are less obvious. In a recent project at the Cottonwood School, students integrated local history into a science unit by using digital history resources published by the Oregon Historical Society (OHS). By using resources published on The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon History Project, students made connections to medical professionals linked to Oregon to share the information they learned with future students.

Sixth graders at the Cottonwood School start the year focusing on science by investigating the human body through a simulation of medical school. Using the Jigsaw Method, a collaborative learning strategy where students are dependent on each other to succeed, students choose one body system to research, and with the help of medical professionals, they become “experts” in the specialty. Each student creates a 3D model, draws a labeled diagram, creates a teaching presentation, and passes a board examination to prove mastery. Students teach each other and demonstrate their understanding by taking a sixth-grade version of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Once they “graduate” from medical school, they open clinics and receive patients, played by seventh and eighth graders, to diagnose ailments and determine treatment plans. These plans are presented to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals during a grand rounds presentation, who give the student doctors feedback on their accuracy and thoroughness.

Poster about Alan Hart by Vesta Walker. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.
Vesta Walker wrote this about the project: “Alan Hart was the first transgender person in the medical field in Oregon. He had a lot of bravery and courage to find himself, and it is inspiring to know that you never need to be ashamed of being yourself.”

While many science, reading, writing, and math standards are embedded in the unit, I was looking for a way to also integrate local connections that would deepen the unit’s link to Oregon and help develop the students’ research and notetaking skills in preparation for the following local history unit, Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs: The Black History of Portland, Oregon. When I first searched The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon History Project to see if there were some medical professionals with links to Oregon, I was hoping to find a few but discovered over twenty individuals. Some of them were recognizable, but others were not well known to me — Ing “Doc” Hay, Alan Hart, DeNorval Unthank, Mary Thompson, and Bethenia Owens-Adair to name a few. As I read through the biographies, I was struck by how detailed and easy to read the entries were — perfect for burgeoning historians!

After reviewing a list of individuals’ names with brief summaries, I worked with the students to design mini biography posters to encourage the next year’s students to get excited about the Cottonwood School’s medical school. We brainstormed what would make an informative poster and together created the rubric of crucial elements that included a timeline of important events, a map of where in Oregon they were from, a portrait, the person’s birth date, and date of death. Knowing these posters were going to be used year after year gave the students motivation to create their best work.

Poster of DeNorval Unthank by Eben Johanson. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.
The students learned about Oregon’s past during their research projects. Eben Johanson describes that work: “I had no idea who DeNorval Unthank was when I chose his name. But after making this poster, I see his name all over Portland. It feels cool to notice it now.”

For many of my students, this project was their first introduction to The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon History Project, and it prompted a discussion about the importance of using reliable sources for information. Spending about forty-five minutes a day, the students produced a range of engaging and informative posters in about a week and were empowered by these research tools, which enabled them to conduct independent research. Later in the year, while visiting OHS’s permanent exhibition, Experience Oregon, students found mentions of people they studied such as DeNorval Unthank and Bethenia Owens-Adair, which was exciting.

As sixth grader Vaughn Blake said about the process: “It was very challenging to put the writing in my own words. If The Oregon Encyclopedia was not there, I would have had no idea how to start.” The Oregon Encyclopedia and the Oregon History Project are resources that are accessible to students and can deepen nearly any unit of study, even science!

The slideshow below features a selection of the students’ work. 

Mary Anna Cook Thompson poster by Piper Wilkins. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

“I chose Mary Anna Cook Thompson because I am interested in women’s rights. No one told her what to do, she decided on her own what was right. I am inspired by her integrity and perseverance.”

— Piper Wilkins.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Bernard Daly poster by Blaine Watkins-Countryman. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

“Dr. Bernard Daly never stopped wanting to help people in need. This is very important to me because no matter what, he put other people before himself.”

— Blaine Wilkins-Countryman.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Bethenia Owens-Adair poster by Kellen Lindwall. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

“I chose Bethenia Owens-Adair because she was the first woman doctor in Oregon. There is only one first of something and it is a big accomplishment. It was interesting to read about her life. She went to a lot of schools!”

— Kellen Lindwall.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Adalbert Bettman by Oliver Ashley. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Oliver Ashley created a poster of Adalbert G. Bettman, who was one of the first physicians in the West to specialize in reconstructive plastic surgery.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Augustus M. Tanaka by Ethan Swanson. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Ethan Swanson designed this poster about Augustus M. Tanaka, a Japanese American who served in the U.S. military during World War and practiced medicine for thirty-five years in Ontario, Oregon.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Benjamin Tanaka by Sokhonna Heit. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Sokhonna Heit created this poster about Benjamin Tanaka, who was a prominent Japanese physician in Portland during the early twentieth century before he was imprisoned in a federal detention center during World War II. Following the war, he established a successful practice in Ontario, Oregon, where his son Augustus also practiced.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Pai Shamkain (Charley Shaplish) by Lisa Colombo. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Teacher Lisa Colombo created this poster of Pai Shamkain as an example for students. Shamkain, also known as Charley Shaplish and Dr. Whirlwind, was a Cayuse Indian doctor and spiritual leader during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Esther Pohl Lovejoy by Victor Schullhoff. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Victor Schullhoff created this poster about Esther Pohl Lovejoy. She was a physician in Portland, Oregon, who was also a leader in public health reform, suffrage, and politics during the early twentieth century.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Harry Lane by Lazarus Garcia. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Harry Lane supported women’s rights and helped poor people. He never stopped helping and it inspires me to be better and help people in need.”

— Lazarus Garcia.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Ing Hay by Kai Bravo. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Ing Hay could do things that other people didn’t know how to do. He could heal people with herbs.”

— Kai Bravo.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster about James C. Hawthorne by Ava Wyant. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

“I found that making the poster was kind of hard. I found it interesting he switched political parties when he moved to Portland. I want to learn more about James Hawthorne.”

— Ava Wyant.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of Mae Harrington Whitney Cardwell by Sahalie Oudinot. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

“It was a challenge for me to determine what information to put on the [Mae Harrington Whitney Cardwell] poster. I decided to share the basic facts in a timeline as it is easy to read. The Oregon Encyclopedia was my only source because it was so easy to use. I would have been lost without it.”

— Sahalie Oudinot.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster about Marie Equi by Camille Vollman. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

I think the thing that made Marie Equi so amazing was she didn’t follow the crowd or the rules.”

— Camille Vollman.
Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Poster of William Rumley by Vaughn Blake. Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Vaughn Blake created this poster about William Rumley, who was born into slavery and cared for his sick neighbors in Curry County when the local doctor was too busy.

Image courtesy of Lisa Colombo.

Categories: Guest PostsAudience(s): Educators and Students

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