Experiential Learning

middle school student takes photo of frida kahlo painting with ipad at the portland art museum
catlin gabel middle school doctor day student in surgical scrubs practicing suturing with parent volunteer adivsing
middle school science teacher jesse lowes speaks to students outside in hyla woods during a field trip

Hands-on learning is a key component of the Middle School program at Catlin Gabel in every grade and area of study, with the goal of building critical thinking skills, effective communication, and community connections.

Within each grade there are unique academic opportunities and class trips that support specific teaching and learning goals. The destination might not be the same each year, but these experiences often become a much-remembered highlight for students.

Trips and Activities in 6th Grade

  • Discovery Days: Class building activities at the start of the year with an emphasis on community and empathy.
  • Portland Art Museum: A class trip where students examine and critique a current exhibit.
  • Class Trip to the Oregon Coast: Students focus on building community while also incorporating academic studies, such as the study of tides, moons, and planets. Activities also focus on Outdoor Education principles like stewardship, expedition behavior, and leadership.

Trips and Activities in 7th Grade

  • Hyla Woods: A collaboration between English and Science classes that brings students to a local forest to engage in field study and writing. 
  • Mt. St. Helens: A week-long class trip to study the effects of the eruption on the landscape and the ongoing recovery.

Trips and Activities in 8th Grade

  • Oregon Museum and Center for Holocaust and the Oregon Holocaust Memorial: Visits are taken during the shared coursework on the Holocaust between English and Social Studies. 
  • Doctor Day: Hospital personnel bring surgical equipment and materials so students can get hands-on practice using various medical and surgical techniques.
  • Capstone Project: All eighth graders complete a capstone.
  • Global Trip: Students can typically choose from three options. 


Breakaway is a three-day, cross-graded learning experience that involves students and teachers “breaking away” from the more conventional aspects of daily school life. This is an experiential program tradition in the Middle School at Catlin Gabel School.

The goal is for students and teachers to learn something new together. Courses are created with students’ interests in mind. In addition to learning new content, students work on developing a variety of skills such as physical skills, collaborative skills, cross-cultural skills, and communication skills.