Student-Driven Research Programs

Headwaters Science Institute prides itself in providing authentic, inquiry-driven research experiences for your students. Our NGSS-aligned offerings drive curiosity through the process of science.


Our programs provide an inquiry-based approach to understanding the process of science. We customize programs that vary in length from one class to one week. We conduct programs in your classroom, the field, virtually, or overnight field-based research trips. You can learn more about our offerings and subjects through the tabs below. 

General Program Information

Our Student Driven Research (SDR) framework is a step-by-step process that allows students to conduct their own research. Students are guided and inspired to ask scientific questions about the world around them. They are supported by professional scientists as they investigate and collect data. This powerful experience provides students with an unforgettable connection to science and the natural environment. 

We customize programs to fit your academic and scheduling needs. We facilitate customizable programs in a variety of locations: 

  • On campus
  • In the field
  • Virtually
  • Overnight field-based research trips

We provide small group instruction with a student-to-instructor ratio of ~12:1. Each of our programs include professional development and lesson plans for teachers.

These programs are certified accomplished by STEMworks at WestEd, among the top in the nation’s STEM programs.

Program Goals

  • Students conduct an content targeted independent scientific research project
  • Students gain exposure to professional scientists as research project mentors 
  • Students gain experience in writing scientific questions, hypotheses building, research methods, and techniques while improving their ability to apply the scientific method
  • Students learn how to analyze data and present their findings
  • All programs meet all 8 SEP’s, several CCC’s, and are aligned to NGSS.

About Student-Driven Research

Through our programs, students experience firsthand the basic scientific method that informs and guides cutting edge research in every branch of science.

We start by teaching students how to ask questions – a skill that many students have trouble developing. They use what they have learned from background materials in class and an introduction to the field site to think of questions they are interested in learning the answers to. We then build upon this base knowledge and support students in developing their own research projects and implement them through design, data collection, analysis and presenting their findings.

The powerful experience of asking and answering their own questions will give students an unforgettable connection to science and the natural environment.

Program Outcomes

Between pre and post-program student surveys:

  • 90% of the students agree that after participation they have learned something they would not have in the traditional science classroom
  • After participation, 87% of students report being familiar with scientific research.
  • 93% of students are confident in their ability to apply the scientific method.


Program Topics

We teach programs based on NGSS standards, and on content typically covered in science classrooms for grades 6-12. The following is a list of our most commonly taught subject areas. There are many specific types of study which can be covered within these broad topics, and we can tailor the program focus to your specific needs. 

  • Middle School
    • Life Sciences: Ecology, Animal Behavior, 
    • Earth and Space Science: Weather, Climate, Geology and Erosion, 
    • Human Impacts: Fire, Environment 
  • High School
    • Biology
    • Environmental Science
    • Chemistry
    • Physics

Learn which programs are right for you:

We can help you navigate our offerings, from short online learning lessons to full research programs at your school, to overnight programs, and more. Set up a free meeting with us to discuss what programs would be best for your class. You can also stay up to date on our newest programs by signing up for our newsletter. 

What kind of research is possible?

Students in our programs can design and conduct research around almost any topic. Past students have created posters, digital presentations, given science talks, and even published papers. Check out some great samples below:


2020 Summer Research Experience student presentations:

2020 Summer Research Experience student presentations pt 2:

Headwaters Student Research Journal (click to access)

Staffing and Emergency Policies:

Headwaters Science Institute is committed to maintaining the highest safety and security standards for our programs.  When your children are in our care, you can trust that they are safe.

  • All employees and contractors are background checked before they start working with us. We use a national-level background check program called National Crime Search ( that searches all states and county records for any criminal records, sex & violent offenders, and includes a terrorist search.
  • Our staff members are all first-aid and CPR certified. Some are Wilderness First Responder certified as well.
  • We have a safety plan for every field site we use and know where the nearest fire station is located. We are never more than a few minutes walk to the nearest road.
  • In the unlikely event of an emergency, we always work in areas that are easily served by 911. Our field site on Donner Summit is less than 2 miles from the nearest fire station with full-time EMT services and the hospital is a short 10-minute ride away.