As our fall programs begin to wrap up we wanted to share one special program with you. Students and teachers at the SWOPE Middle School of Reno, NV are using bird feeder systems to create projects around bird adaptation and natural selection. While we love using bird feeders as an experimental system, the special component of this program is the teachers’ leadership. One of the big goals Headwaters has is to go beyond strong student learning experiences and support teachers being able to lead these research projects on their own. This fall marks the third year Headwaters has worked with these SWOPE science teachers. During this years’ program, teachers were able to lead large parts of the program without Headwaters even being in the room. Our instructors come in primarily to give feedback and support on when a lower student-teacher ratio is needed. 

Let’s talk a closer look at the really neat projects these SWOPE students and teachers are conducting.

The goal of this program is that students investigate how adaptations and genetic traits can increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing. To do this their teachers hung up bird feeders all around their school and helped students ask their own original science questions about how birds find enough to eat and avoid getting eaten during the harsh Reno winters. The student research questions ranged from “Do birds preferentially eat different types of foods on different days?” to “How does the location of the bird feeder, in open or tree areas, affect rates of visitation?” and “Will the ratio of birds observed at the feeder to birds near the school but not at the feeder change through the months of November and December?”

Once students had come up with their own original scientific questions with their teachers, Headwaters instructors helped them design and test their experiments. Over the rest of November and December, students and their teachers will be collecting data on to test their research questions. In mid-December, Headwaters instructors will come back to help with data analysis and discussion of the groups’ scientific findings.

We are excited to return to these classes in December and will share the results of the student experiments with you then. Between then and now we wanted to thank the many partners that have made this 3-year program series possible. Your support has allowed us to provide great learning opportunities to over 900 students and more importantly given a set of Washoe County science teachers a toolbox of teaching strategies to continue using when Headwaters moves on to working with the next school in need. Thank you to Silver Sage Center for Family Medicine, the Teichert Foundation, and the many community members who supported this program through the Headwaters Dinner for Two Anywhere in the World Raffle for making this program possible!

To learn more about making your own bird feeder, check out an older blog post here!

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