4th Grade Overnight Experience

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4th Grade Overnight Experience

Experience: CSI’s (Cooper Sonoran Investigators)!csi

Length of Cooper Visit: 24 hours

Length of Walk: 75 mins

Max Students: 2 classes

Fee: $10/student (adult volunteers are free)

Experience Goal: Students discover the adaptations that plants and animals have for survival in our dry Sonoran Desert by following clues and finding adaptation evidence!


Below is a detailed description of what your day will be like. Please read all the way to the bottom to be prepared for your trip. And as always, if you have any questions please feel free to Contact Us.


Table of Contents:

Click on links below to go to that section.



Sample Schedule of Events*:




Arrival/Unloading/Bathroom Break


Orientation at Large Ramada


CSI Activity




Staff Led Wrap-up Activity

Adult Volunteers Leading Activity Centers Prep


Activity Center Rotations


Set up Cabins

Food Prep/Dinner and Clean up


Teacher decided activities



Rise and Shine






Cooper Staff Inspection


Depart (Have all supplies up at parking lot to meet bus or in cars ready to go)


* = times are approximate


Description of Events:



When you arrive there should be a Cooper Staff Member to greet you. All cars should park at the parking lot by the entrance. Cars with kitchen supplies, anything heavy, or handicap vehicles can come into the camp. Please have the cars unloading park back up at the parking lot when done. All other supplies (i.e. sleeping bags, clothes) will be carried down by the students. We do this to give them a sense of leaving the world that they know and entering the Sonoran Desert. All food supplies will be placed in the Kitchen. All sleeping supplies will be stowed into one cabin until later in the day when the students can set up their cabins. Make sure that students take hats, water bottles, and sunscreen out of bags; they will need these right away.



After all supplies are unloaded and the bathroom break is done we will all meet at the Large Ramada across from the Amphitheater. Here the group is welcomed orientated to the layout of the site, reminded of the rules and cleanup procedures, and provided with an introduction to their education experiences planed. Any materials students are taking on the walk (water, hat, binoculars, cameras, etc.) should be brought to the orientation. There is no time to go back to cars or the cabin for forgotten items. Water bottles are mandatory. Please be sure before you leave that EVERY student has a water bottle. We also have reusable water bottles for sale. We strongly recommend reusable water bottles as they are much more environmentally friendly than disposable.


CSI Activity: spines

If there are two classes they will be split up and going on two separate walks where students will become CSIs by finding adaptations in the desert. The activity will take about 75 mins. It is important that the teachers are there for the walk to help with any behavioral issues and to participate in the learning experience so that any lesson extensions can be designed for back at school.



Lunch is typically 30 mins. You may eat lunch under the Large Ramada or at the Amphitheater. You are welcome to use the kitchen facilities and the outdoor cooking grills (however since you are spending the night we suggest any barbequing be done for dinner due to program time constraints). If you wish to use the grill, put a few parents in charge of the fire-building and cooking so all is ready after the walk. To reduce the amount of waste at the site, we have receptacles for recycling and composting appropriate materials (we will give a talk right before lunch on how we throw things away at the Cooper Center). After lunch, students must clean up all eating areas. Sticky spills are to be hosed and scrubbed.


Wrap-up Activity:

After lunch, a Cooper Staff Member will lead a wrap-up activity that allows students to apply they’re new knowledge about plant adaptations in the desert and creativity to create they’re very own desert plant.


Activity Centers:

These activities are not taught by the Cooper Center staff. They are led by the adult volunteers (parents, grandparents, school staff, etc.) who come on the field trip. It is recommended that you as the teacher coordinate the activities, moving between groups to ensure that things are going smoothly and that activity leaders have everything they need. You are also in charge of keeping track of time and deciding the length of each center. Please read through Activity Center Selection and Preparation. Activity Centers need to be selected prior to your visit and communicated to the Cooper Center’s Staff so we can prepare your supplies. This will also give the adult volunteer teaching the Centers the time to prepare with a lesson plan.

At the Cooper Center, while the wrap-up activity is going on with the students, the Adults you have selected to lead Activity Centers will meet with another Cooper Staff Member to get all their supplies. Make sure the adults know that you have selected them to teach afternoon activities prior to coming to Cooper. The adult volunteers leading an Activity Center will be shown the rotation and where their Center is located. They will then be given 10-15 minutes to review and set up their center before the students are ready to begin. There is a bell that one of the teachers will be ringing when it’s time for the next rotation to begin (30-45 mins/rotation). Once the wrap-up activity is done and adult volunteers are ready, students will be split up into their Center Groups (6-10) and distributed to their first Activity Center. It is also a good idea to provide a snack at all of the Activity Centers half way through the rotations. After Activity Centers are done, all kits are to be put back into the workroom.


Set-Up Cabins:

When centers are completed, students can start moving into their cabins. There are 6 sleeping cabins and they are named: Jojoba, Nopal, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ocotillo, and Cholla. Description of the cabins can be found here. There is enough room for 10 students and 2 adults per cabin. We suggest having 2 adults per cabin because there needs to be an adult in the cabin at all times and if in the middle of the night someone needs to use the bathroom you don’t want to have to wake up everyone. We also suggest that the teachers don’t stay in the cabin with the students so that you can be available for any issues during the night. Students need to make sure they have warm enough gear (i.e. sleeping bags); the cabins are not heated or cooled. No food is to be in the cabins; water is permitted.


Food Preparation and Dinner:

All groups are responsible for their meals and snacks. TUSD Food Services is available to help you and your students with the planning and preparation of you meals; they also provide catering upon request. Involving students in the planning of the meals and the cooking can be an integral part of your experience, or you may wish it to be simple and quick. One of the after activity center could be a food-preparation lesson – with each group doing part of the meal. Or you can just have the adult volunteers be in charge of the meal preparation.

The Cooper Center has reusable plastic dishes, bowls, cups, silverware, for use during your field trip. We have enough for two full classes and parent volunteers. We request that you use these items instead of purchasing paper products and plastic utensils. Thank you for your help in our efforts to reduce our use of energy and materials at the Cooper Center. If you want to use the grill, you must provide that charcoal. After use, the ashes from the grill go into the fire ring. Do not put the ashes in the trash.


Evening Activities:

The Cooper Center Staff departs between 4:00 and 5:00pm. The evening program is left up to the discretion of the teacher. Popular activities are:

  • Dark Skies Ranger presented by NOAO (must request prior to visit)dsr
  • Student-prepared skits
  • Campfire songs
  • Night hikes
  • Additional Programs (i.e. story teller, stargazer)

Campfires are encouraged but please be aware that there is to be no gathering of wood at the site for fire or marshmallow sticks. Throw away marshmallow roasting sticks after use. They cannot be reused. It takes a few days for the coals to cool down. Leave burned wood in the fire pit. Caution: Do not cook over pressed logs. There may be toxic material in these logs.



After an exciting day, students may need to be calmed down for bedtime. One suggestion is to begin reading a story to the class prior to the trip. Give copies of the story to the adults supervising the cabins so they may continue the story before bedtime. There is to be no scary or ghost story telling at any time. Many have not spent a night away from home before and may become frightened by night noises. In addition, we want the students to develop a positive feeling about the out-of-doors and not be fearful of it. If your students are very young and and/or have not had experience spending the night away from home, encourage parents to send along familiar teddy bears, blankets, and pajamas rather than purchasing new items.

Often there are parental concerns. Some parents are reluctant to have their child spend the night “out in the desert.” If a parent will not permit a child to spend the night, ask the parent to allow the child to come out for the day and then pick their child up in the evening. If you are unable to satisfy the parents concerns you may have them Contact Us to help; we can even arrange a visit to the Center.


Next Morning Clean up:cleanup

You and your students are responsible for sweeping, cleaning, picking up trash, taking out the trash and recycling, etc in the sleeping cabins, kitchen, bathrooms ramadas, classroom and the grounds. It is an important lesson to have all students pitch-in with chores. Assign duties to everyone. A Cooper Staff Member will come around and inspect all of these locations to make sure everything is cleaned. Students will be asked to re-do any chores not done properly or completely. Click on the link to see the Cleanup Checklist in both English and Spanish.


Other Things to Know…


Teacher Orientations:

If you have never had a field trip to the Cooper Center, you must attend an informational Day and Overnight Orientation (see link for available orientations), which is held several times each year to acquaint you with the program and facility.


Teacher Responsibilities:

All supervision of students is your responsibility, with the help of field trip volunteers and Cooper Center staff.  A visit to the Cooper Center is a school event. All rules and policies in effect during the school day are in effect during the entire duration of the field trip, including transportation time. Parents and others who sign in as volunteers are covered under workman’s compensation by TUSD. Student injuries are not covered except by personal insurance or other policies as they would at school. Teachers are on duty and at work during the duration of the stay. Work related injuries that occur at the site are dealt with in a similar fashion. Permission forms in English and Spanish can be found at these links. Bring the Permission Forms with you. The completed form will be helpful should an emergency occur.

We want every student in your class to be a part of the Cooper experience. That being said, behavior problems can spoil a trip for everyone. Work out a procedure for sending an uncooperative student back to the center with an adult or in extreme cases back to school or home. The permission for will help with contacting parents. Let students know the type of behavior that will cause them to be sent away from the center.



You must schedule and provide funding for your own transportation. This may be parent vehicles, a private bus, or a school bus. Transportation logistics can be found at this link. In some cases, the Cooper Center can assist with funding for buses. Click here for the Fundraising Checklist to help raise funds and please contact the Cooper Center staff for more information.


Adult Volunteers:

It is important that you meet with your adult volunteers a week or more before the trip and impress upon them how important they are to the success of the Cooper center experience. Sadly, each year a few groups must shorten or cancel their trip because adult volunteers back out at the last minute. Adult volunteers need to be properly informed, prepared, and involved in the experience, given specific roles to accomplish etc.  We recommend at least one adult per 10 students for day programs and one adult per 6 students for overnight experiences.  A week or more prior to your trip, meet with your adult volunteers and inform them of:

  • Background information about the Cooper facility and program
  • Plans for getting to Cooper from school and for cleaning Cooper and returning to school
  • Your schedule of activities & their involvement
  • Cooper Center Rules
  • Rules and expectations you have for your students, and your methods of discipline
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol is not permitted on TUSD property.
  • Long pants and closed toed shoes are required.
  • Stereos (car or portable), headsets, and other electronic devices should not be brought or used. The natural sounds of the desert are to be enjoyed.
  • Turn off cell phones during all educational activities or during volunteer-led activity centers.
  • Pets are not allowed.
  • Please, no shade umbrellas or walking sticks (except if medically necessary) during the experiences in the desert. They interfere with our observations and distract the students.
  • No younger children. Crying babies distract from lessons, paths are not suitable for strollers, and the terrain and desert plants are a hazard to toddlers. The parents also cannot adequately supervise the students if they must tend to a young child.
  • Pass out Activity Center Lessons that you decided and assign volunteers to teach them. Do not rely on students to take plans home to parents without follow-up from you. If possible assign two adults to lead activity centers in case one cancels at the last minute.
  • Assign assertive, responsible parents to the sleeping cabins and insist they be with the students any time the students are in the cabins.


Groups and Name Tags:

Since you are choosing an overnight experience you will want to have several different groupings done prior to coming out to the Cooper Center. Name tags are not only a very helpful tool for the Cooper Staff and your Adult Volunteers to interact with your students, but are also amazing organizer tools. You can use colors, stickers, etc to help make the different groups you need for quick transition times (calling off names takes much longer and sometimes it’s harder to get everyone’s attention). Stick on name tags do not last long. Tags hung around the neck work well. The name should be on both sides and the print should be large enough to read from a distance. When making groups take into consideration your classroom dynamics and students strengths and weaknesses. The groups you will need to make for your trip are:

  • CSI Groups (6 or 8 groups) – Need to have an even number of groups for this activity. Three students per group is ideal. The Cooper Staff Member can make these groups very easily but if you want to make them please feel free.
  • Activity Center Group (6-10) – the size of these groups will depend on the size of your group and how many Activity Centers you’ve selected. You can either do this within your 2 classes or mix the two classes.
  • Cabin Groups (10 max of girls and boys) – Use the cabin names (Jojoba, Nopal, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ocotillo, and Cholla) to help organize it; not only is it more fun, but if you just assign numbers to the cabin then you’ll have to decided which cabin is #1, #2 and so on. You can either do this within your 2 classes or mix the two classes.


Student Expectations:

The students should be well aware of what to expect during their visit. This includes background information about the facility, the purpose of this visit, the schedule of activities, the rules, your expectations of their behavior, cleanup procedures, what to bring, and the type of clothing to wear. Emphasize that Cooper Center is an educational center and the activities are an extension of the school curriculum.

Explain the cleanup procedures and the importance of these chores. Cooper Center has no maintenance or custodial personnel. It is kept clean and tidy by those who use it. Be sure that students understand that everyone participates in cleanup. Responsible outdoor persons always leave the site better than they found it. Yesterday's group cleaned up for you and those who follow you will appreciate your work.

The students should be aware that we will be walking. The trails are approximately one mile long and we take time to stop and make discoveries along the way. You may wish to condition and prepare your students for the trail by taking them on walks around the neighborhood. Here they can practice observations skills while exercising leg muscles.

Proper trail etiquette makes for a happier walk for everyone. Though the Cooper Center staff briefly discusses trail etiquette at the beginning of the walk, it would be helpful if this could be part of the trip in preparation back at school. We suggest a "practice walk" in the room or on the playground where the rules of trail etiquette can be reviewed.

Trail etiquette rules include:hike

  • The Cooper Center leader is first in line.
  • The students stay behind the leader.
  • There are no arguments among the students as to who is ahead of whom along the way.
  • While walking, separate from one another so that no one steps on another person's heels.
  • Though we will be talking about our observations along the way, there should not be any excessive noise.
  • We stay ON the trail. Students are only off trail when given specific instructions by a leader to do so.
  • There should be no complaining about the walk. It is not difficult or far. Whining diminishes the experience for everyone.

We will all have a better experience if everyone practices good manners as we explore our desert trails.


Students with Physical Disabilities:

The Cooper Center is happy to accommodate students with physical disabilities, preferably with advanced notice.  Cooper’s primary activity locations are in desert areas that are not necessarily handicap accessible.  These locations can be changed when necessary.  Please contact the Cooper Center’s staff at least a week before your field trip to create a plan of action. Also Jojoba and Nopal cabins, the classroom, the kitchen, the bathroom are all wheelchair accessible.


Dos and Don’ts:

The Dos:

  • Bring cameras to capture the experience!
  • Use reusables as a part of your environmental lessons to discourage the use of throwaway items such as plastic bags and bottled water containers.
  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Let small behavioral things go.
  • Call or email us with any questions or concerns at any time. We are here to help!

The Don’ts:

  • Please don’t give checklists or other written work to be done during the staff led activities in the desert. These distract from the experience.
  • Please don’t make your own trails, especially behind the cabins. We are trying to re-vegetate and it is dangerous.
  • Please don’t complain about the weather. If you or your volunteers are overheard from the students complaining about the “long, hot, cold, wet or tiring walk” many of the students are going to pick up on that attitude and make the walk less enjoyable for everyone.


Options and Choices for your Trip:

Please realize that your trip can be flexible if there is something else you may want to do while at the Cooper Center. Above is merely a description of what is typically done. Please Contact Us if you have other ideas and want to organize your trip differently.


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