University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences
3rd graders sweep net for insects.5th graders taking a soil core sample.5th graders recording data from an insect pit trap.

K-12 Programs

Field trips to Cedar Creek

Student groups visiting Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve engage in a variety of activities ranging from tours of various ecosystems and research studies to investigations exploring core ecological concepts. More than passive observers, students are encouraged to actively “do science” and ultimately grasp core ecology ideas.

Programs are generally full-day (4 hours) and include a combination of tours and field investigations. The standard fee is $150 for a "classroom" of approximately 30 students and a teacher/adult chaperone. This fee covers the cost of a trained naturalist to guide and teach your group throughout the day. Half-day (2 hour) programs are available at a reduced rate by request. If this cost is prohibitive for your school, please get in touch with Caitlin - we are happy to work with you to subisidize the cost of your visit. Click here for a sample schedule.

Scheduling a date for your group

When you call or email the Education and Outreach Coordinator to schedule your group's visit, please be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Desired date of your visit

  • Your school or organization

  • Age of students

  • Number of students

  • Number of chaperones (we require at least one chaperone per group of 30 students)

  • Arrival and departure time from Cedar Creek

  • Will your bus be staying on site or will it leave and return to pick you up?  (Some tours and investigations occur a short drive from the campus and the bus is required to transport students to these locations)

  • The tours and investigations you would like to do (please find descriptions of each under the links below) or the topics you'd like us to cover (we can recommend the best tours and investigations for your group).


Billing and Cancellation Policies

The current program fee is $300 for a "classroom" of up to ~30 students and a teacher on a full-day (4 hour) field trip. Half-day (2 - 2.5 hours, morning OR afternoon) programs are also available for $210 for a "classroom" of up to ~30 students. Your fee provides your group with a dedicated naturalist for the day who will guide you around the property and lead your group's activities. If you choose to divide up into multiple smaller groups with additional naturalists, your fee will increase accordingly. Subsides and scholarships are available on a case-by-case visit to defray field trip costs. Contact Caitlin for more details.

Beginning in fall 2017, we will invoice all scheduled schools at the start of the field trip season (by September 15 for fall field trips and by April 15 for spring field trips). Because of this shift to billing before programs take place, we have a new cancellation and refund policy. To receive a refund, you must cancel your program with 30 days advanced notice. If you cancel more than 30 days out, you will be refunded the cost of your programs less a $25 administrative fee. If you need to change dates with less than 30 days notice, we will do our best to reschedule your group but can not guarantee availability. Refunds will not be issued for no-shows regardless of cause. If your group is running late, PLEASE call Caitlin at 612-301-2602 or Megan at 612-301-2622 as soon as possible. We will do our best to adjust your group's schedule if you are delayed but can not guarantee our ability to accommodate you if you arrive more than 30 minutes after your planned start time.

Programs are held rain or shine. If there is rain in the forecast, make sure your students are prepared to be outside in it! In the rare case of severe or extreme weather conditions, we reserve the right to cancel programs for your safety. A staff member will contact you by phone the day before your program to discuss the situation and will work with you to reschedule. You will not be charged a cancellation fee under these circumstances. If we do not contact you, please assume that your program will take place as scheduled!


Your Field Trip to CCESR

The core of CCESR is research and no visit is complete without experiencing the world-renowned study sites. Walking around a working large-scale ecology experiment gives students a unique, tangible, inside look into the scientific process. We also encourage each group that visits to explore one of our unique nature trails, and to take part in an age-appropriate field investigation led by one of our trained naturalists! 

Research experiment tour options:   

Exploring a functioning large-scale ecology experiment is a unique experience students don't have at other sites. It gives them an inspiring inside look at the scientific process. (Bus is required to access the research areas from the main campus)

Big Biodiversity Experiment – 45 mins

BioCON Experiment – 30 mins

Forests and Biodiversity Experiment - 30 mins

Prescribed Burning and Savanna Restoration Experiment – 1 hour

Nature Trail options:

Cedar Bog Lake trail is a unique experience in that hikers walk through representations of all three biomes present in Minnesota before emerging at the shores of Cedar Bog Lake. Deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie and boreal coniferous forest, as well as swamps and a lake – they all contribute to make this a “Walk Across Minnesota!” Plus, learn about the natural and research history of CCESR on your way to the heart of the reserve.
Distance:  1 mile round trip
Time: 1-2 hours

(CURRENTLY BEING REPAIRED - UNAVAILABLE) Beckman Bog allows observation of typical bog plants such as pitcher plants, black spruce and tamarack trees, as well as the spongy nature of a floating sphagnum mat via a wooden boardwalk trail. Learn about the unique bog ecosystem and see some crazy plants!
Distance:  ¼ mile round trip
Time:   1 hour

Fish Lake Nature Trail, with interpretive natural history signage, traverses several ecosystems including deciduous forest, savanna, marsh, lake and prairie. This 3 mile long out-and-back trail is open 365 days a year for unguided public exploration. This is a wonderful place to learn about and observe bird life, as it is home (in the spring and summer) to the highest density of red-headed woodpeckers in the Upper Midwest!
Distance:  3 miles round trip
Time:  Can be tailored to the goals of the hike

Field Investigations

Field investigations at CCESR are designed for students in grades K-12 and college undergraduates. Developed to meet current grade-level-appropriate Minnesota State Science Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards in ecology, all investigations contain a field component involving data collection, analysis of student data and discussion leading to discovery of core ecology concepts. New topics are being added in 2017, so check back often for up to date options!

Current options include:
Ecosystem Comparison
Grades 4-16
Time:  1-1.5 hours
Available:  April - November
Students collect simple data on the abiotic and biotic factors in three ecosystems to investigate a basic ecological concept: how do the physical elements of an ecosystem influence the distribution of its living organisms? Depending on grade level, low-tech and high-tech tools are used for data collection and analysis of data can be simple or more advanced.

Preserving the Oak Savanna (bus is required to access the savannas)
Grades 7-16
Time:  1.5 hours
Available: late May - October
Students use a line transect or quadrat sampling to investigate the effects of prescribed burning regimes on savanna plant populations.

Trees and Transects – Exploring the Science Process
Grades 7-16
Time:  1.5 hours
Available:  April - November
Students work through the science process, from question generation to data analysis, using ecology data collected along a transect leading through a prairie, forest and marsh. 

Water Quality Investigation - Not All Lakes Are Created Equal
Grades 5-16
Time:  1.5 hours
Available:  May - November
Students measure temperature, pH, dissolved nutrients and turbidity from three different water sources to figure out what makes bogs and lakes different. They learn how to tell quantify water quality and investigate the relationship between the water quality, local plants and whether a lake looks "clean" or not. 

Macroinvertebrates and Water Quality
Grades 5-16
Time:  1.5 hours
Available:  May - mid-October
Students learn about the tiny creatures living in our lakes and rivers and investigate what these macroinvertebrates can tell us about water quality and ecosystem health. Using hand lenses and scopes, students identify and classify macroinvertebrates from three water sources at Cedar Creek ESR and identify which lake is the cleanest from the macros they find.

Sort like a Scientist - The Importance and Power of Classification
Grades K-8
Time:  1 hour
Available:  April - November
Students observe and/or collect a variety of items from around Cedar Creek ESR and use their observational skills to sort them and come up with a basic classification scheme or dichotomous key. They then test out their key with a handful of surprise items or a visit to a novel area. Older groups can refine existing keys or create their own key, and learn why and how to identify specific groups of plants like trees or grasses in our experimental plots.

COMING SOON: Phenology (K-16), Weather and Climate (K-8), Prairie Ecology (K-8), Animal Adaptations (K-8), Animal Movement and Radio Telemetry (7-16), Winter Biology (5-16), Soil Biology (5-16), Climate Change (7-16) and more! Have a suggestion for a topic that your school would like to see? Tell Caitlin ( ) and we'll add it to our list of future programs!

Homeschool Groups

For information on our current homeschool offerings, see our listing on the Homeschool Adventures page or contact Caitlin ( ) to customize your group's program. In the future, we hope to offer monthly or bimonthly homeschool field trip days but we aren't quite there yet! Thank you for your patience as we expand this section of our programming.

Teacher planning guide

Suggestions for preparing your students for a day at Cedar Creek ESR!

What to wear

  • Long pants (light colors are best - so you can see ticks) suggested year-round

  • Shirts with sleeves (long or short)
  • Sneakers or hiking boots (no flip-flops, please)
  • Knee-high white socks to tuck pant legs into (optional)
  • Sun hat
  • Other weather-appropriate clothes, as needed

What to bring

  • Bag lunch (if staying through lunch - no food is available onsite)
  • Pencil
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Water bottle

Introductory Video

A quick introduction to what you and your students can expect from a day at Cedar Creek ESR! How to dress, what you'll do, what you'll see - it's all here in just under two minutes.

Schedule a class or field trip

Caitlin Barale Potter

612-301-2602 |