Overnight Programs

Headwaters overnight programs…

…are a great way to challenge your students in the sciences while immersing them in an incredible natural setting. These overnight experiences are based out of the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge on Donner Summit, in which students are immersed in environmental experiences. Our programs teach students science skills through conducting original research of their own design. In addition, all our programs are designed to meet NGSS SEP’s and content, and NGSS DCI’s in a fun and engaging way.

Overview

Students in our overnight programs create original research projects inspired by exploring our field site. The Donner Summit field site offers opportunities to study sub-alpine wetlands, old growth forests, snowfall and snowpack, and the unique water chemistry that comes with being located at the top of a watershed.

Full and partially online options

Any information you see here about our in-person programs can be adapted to suit the changing needs of students learning online. 

Fully online program:

Students are guided through program topic and research methods through online lessons over digital platforms and through recorded videos. Students then select a field site near home to design a research project around. 

Partial-online program:

Students are guided through program topic and research methods through online lessons over digital platforms and through recorded videos. In accordance with guidelines, students then gather in groups of <10 at a field site guided by a Headwaters instructor. All hybrid programs strictly observe safety precautions and proper social distancing regulations. 

 

Schedule

Friday:

  • Check in 9-10:00am
  • Students are introduced to the field site
  • Begin designing research question
  • Begin data collection
  • Q & A with a local scientist in the evening

Saturday:

  • Continue data collection
  • Begin analyzing data and building presentations
  • Students review each other’s projects in the evening
  • Evening camp fire with s’mores

Sunday:

  • Wrap up research presentations
  • Students present to each other
  • Optional free time at the field site
  • Program concludes by 3:30pm

Parent Night

We encourage you to host the optional capstone for this project at your school: a parent night where students can present their research. This evening is essential in bridging the gap between student learning and parent involvement.

The Parent Night Structure:
The parent night typically takes place at your school in the evening of the final day of your program. Students and parents gather in a school classroom or auditorium for about 2 hours. Following a short introduction by you and a Headwaters instructor, the students present individually to their parents kiosk-style, as they mingle around the room, like a science fair. 

We can help you create question cards to hand out to the parents, so they have some ideas of what to ask the students about their projects as they watch the presentations.

Customizing Programs

Additional program options at Clair Tappaan Lodge
We have lots of additional options to customize your overnight trip. We can also add on experiences to customized programs at other locations. Items with an extra cost are noted. 

History Hike
Just 2 miles from the Clair Tappaan Lodge is the historic Donner Pass. During this 2-4 hour hike students will visit 1,500-year-old Native American petroglyphs, walk the routes attempted by the Donner Party, and go through tunnels that were part of the original transcontinental railroad. 

Peak Hike
The Donner Summit area is surrounded by several scenic peaks. Based on your group’s ability, we can select an appropriately challenging and rewarding mountain top.

Restoration Project – Fall and late spring only
Students can help restore the area around the Van Norden area with a river cleanup. 

Cross Country Ski Lesson – $10 per student, January – March
Students will be given a cross country ski lesson on the trails surrounding the lodge. 

Downhill Skiing at Sugar Bowl – $55 per person
Sugarbowl can provide students with rentals, a lesson, and a lift ticket for this discounted group price. The resort is 0.7 miles from the lodge and can provide limited bus services to groups at the lodge. 

Donner Lake Kayaking – $20 per person, May – September
A short drive from the lodge lies Donner Lake. Students can spend time kayaking on the lake. This can also be used as a time to collect data for water projects.  

Tahoe Trip Option 1
Tahoe City is a 35-minute drive from the lodge. Here students can visit the Lake Tahoe Dam and learn about the area’s unique water history. The dam is within short walking distance of Commons Beach with picturesque views of the lake. The gatekeepers museum is open Fridays and Saturdays with an admission cost of $5 per person. For $45 per person, we can take kayaks out on the lake.  

Tahoe Trip Option 2
Incline Village is a 40-minute drive from the lodge. Here students can visit the UC Davis Environmental Research Center. We can schedule a tour between 1 pm and 5 pm on Tuesday- Friday. The cost is a $5 donation per person. We can make time to stop at a beach for some lake time or schedule a kayaking trip for about $45 per person.

 

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Program Topics

Middle School Programs

Middle school is a great time to expose your students to the scientific process through conducting original scientific research. We offer overnight and at school programs for middle schools. All programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as well as several NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts. Below is a list of recommended topics by subject area.

Life Science

NGSS corresponding content: MS.Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems and/or MS.Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

  • Populations and Resources: 
    • How does the abundance of biotic and abiotic resources affect the plant, insect, and bird populations? 
    • How do organisms compete for limited resources and use ecological niches to survive?
    • What factors affect insect biodiversity and population size?

 

  • Ecosystems and Human Impacts: 
    • How do the biotic and abiotic (water quality, substrate, and hydrology) components of an ecosystem affect ecosystem services (habitat, water filtration, and erosion prevention)?
    • How have human-driven abiotic (development) and biotic (invasive species) changes shaped habitats in urban areas?
    • How can we use riparian bioassessments to monitor and design solutions that promote ecosystem health?

Weather

NGSS corresponding content: MS Weather and Climate and/or MS Earth’s Systems

  • Differential heating and circulation patterns: ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes and ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
    • Uneven heating of earth surfaces – How do different surfaces absorb heat differently causing changes to local air temperature? 
    • Ocean Current Circulation – What factors cause ocean currents to move and what impact does this have on global weather patterns? 
    • Air circulation patterns – How do differences in atmospheric pressure affect local weather?

Earth Science

NGSS corresponding content: Earth’s Systems

  • Erosion and Sedimentation:
    •  What factors affect rates of erosion and sedimentation around the field site?

 

High School Programs

All of our programs challenge high school students to apply fundamental science skills to real-world scenarios through the process of scientific research. These programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as well as several NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts.

High school Biology

Headwaters’ programs are a great way to challenge your biology or A.P. bio students. Whether it is at our Donner Summit Field Site or a location closer to your school, our instructors can help you find an engaging natural system for students to conduct original research projects around. All of our programs challenge students to apply fundamental science skills to real-world scenarios through the process of scientific research. All programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as well as several NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts. Below is a list of recommended topics by subject area.

NGSS Corresponding Content: HS. Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems and HS.Natural Selection and Evolution 

  • Ecosystem dynamics
    • How can we quantify habitat value and measure the effect this has on population size and biodiversity? (for plant, insect, and bird populations)
    • Why is it that wetlands are biodiversity hotspots and provide key ecosystem services?
    • How does riparian morphology affect water quality and the organisms living around the riparian corridor?
    • How does forest structure and composition affect susceptibility to parasites such as parasitic Dwarf Mistletoe in Sierra conifers?
    • How can changes to an ecosystem cause shifts in the natural selection pressures on plants and insects?
    • Seasonally dependent – What factors affect the timing of plant development and how could climate change affect these systems?
    • Recommended only for overnight programs – What factors affect nutrient cycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels in soil?

NGSS Corresponding Content: Human Sustainability 

  • Human impacts
    • How do human development and invasive species affect biodiversity and habitat quality in urban areas?
    • How does human activity affect turbidity and salinity in waterways? What impact does this nonpoint-source pollution have on the ecosystem?

High School Environmental Science

Headwaters’ programs are a great way to challenge your environmental science or A.P.E.S. students in the sciences. Whether it is at our Donner Summit Field Site or a location closer to your school, our instructors can help you find an engaging natural system for students to conduct original research projects in. Wetlands are our most common and popular field sites. All of our programs challenge students to apply fundamental science skills to real-world scenarios through the process of scientific research. All programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS teaching framework, all Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) and several Cross Cutting Concepts, as well as almost all of the A.P.E.S. Science Practices. Below is a list of recommended topics by subject area.

NGSS Corresponding Content: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystem

APES Corresponding Content: Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems, Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

  • Biodiversity and Bioassessment
    • What biotic and abiotic factors affect the plant, insect, and bird biodiversity around the field site?
    • How can benthic macroinvertebrate and riparian bioassessments be used to monitor and design solutions to promote healthy waterways?

NGSS Corresponding Content: Matter and Energy in Ecosystems

APES Corresponding Content: Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems, Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution. 

  • Environmental Chemistry 
    • What factors drive changes in total dissolved solids, pH, nitrogen and phosphorus species in the waterways and wetlands?
    • Recommended only for overnight programs – What factors affect nutrient cycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels in soil?

NGSS Corresponding Content: Human Sustainability and/or Earth and Human Activity

APES Corresponding Content: Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity, Unit 9: Global Change

  • Human Impacts 
    • How does human activity affect water quality in waterways? What impact does this nonpoint-source pollution have on the ecosystem?
    • How have human-driven abiotic (development) and biotic (invasive species) changes shaped habitats in urban areas?

NGSS Corresponding Content: Earth and Human Activity

APES Corresponding Content: Unit 5: Land and Water Use, Unit 9: Global Change

  • Snow Science
    • Snow and Water Availability – How does the structure (temperature, crystal shape, and density) of the Sierra snowpack affect water availability in the state?
    • Snow Melt Mechanics – How do albedo, aspect, and forest density affect rates of snowmelt?
    • How does human activity affect snowmelt rates and runoff water quality in the Sierra?

High School Chemistry

Headwaters’ at school or overnight programs are a great way to challenge your A.P. chemistry students. Our chemistry programs give students the opportunity to investigate how concepts they have learned in the lab function in a natural environment. All of our programs challenge students to apply fundamental science skills to real-world scenarios through the process of scientific research. All programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as well as several NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts. Below is a list of recommended topics by subject area.

  • Water Chemistry – What factors drive changes in total dissolved solids, pH, hardness, and nitrogen species in the waterways and wetlands?
  • Aquatic Nutrient Cycling – How do human, plant, and animal activities impact phosphate and different nitrogen species concentrations in waterways?
  • Soil nutrient cycling – Recommended only for overnight programs – What factors affect nutrient cycling and availability of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels in soil?
  • Rates of reactions – PS1.B: Chemical Reactions – How does temperature and/or anaerobic conditions affect rates of reactions in natural systems?

High School Physics

Headwaters’ overnight programs are a great way to challenge your students in the sciences while immersing them in an incredible natural setting. Based out of the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge on Donner Summit, this program is designed to teach students fundamental science skills through conducting original research they will design. Students will specifically learn about the mechanics of the natural world which impact snowfall, snowpack, and resulting watersheds, and study and analyze these concepts using advanced physics techniques, methods, and equations. All programs give students experience using all of the fundamental science skills laid out in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as well as several NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts. Below is a list of recommended topics by subject area.

NGSS Corresponding Content: Energy and/or Forces and Interactions

  • Physics of Sledding – What factors affect coefficients of friction in sledding systems? How do potential and kinetic energy change along a modified sled run?
  • Insulation and Specific Heat – How does density affect insulative properties and specific heat of snow?

Meet Your Instructors

Our programs are taught by professional scientists and graduate students. Click here to meet our team.