Serene Lakes Science Camp 2019 Recap

Over the past two weeks a lot of fun and science has been going on at the Serene Lakes Science Camp. 

While many of the campers have previously spent lots of time in and around Serene Lakes, one goal of this camp was to open their eyes to the incredible nature all around us. This involved making observations up close and from a bird’s eye view.  

The focus of Session 1 was terrestrial (land) insects around Serene Lakes. During this week campers zoomed in to learn about the millions of insects living around us. This wasn’t just limited to mosquitos, we also found butterflies, ants, beetles, lacewings, stoneflies, ladybugs, cicadas, and more. Campers came up with their own questions about the habitat preferences, role in the food chain, and color patterns of these insects. On a hike up towards Rowton Peak we looked at how flowers and insects are interdependent on one another and the sheer number of ants that can live in a downed log. 

During Session 2, the focus of the camp zoomed way out to encompass the Serene Lakes ecosystem as a whole. We investigated water quality, how some insects can be used to assess the health of the waterway, and how this affects the fish. Campers asked and answered their own questions about water temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, soil types, and making water filters to remove pollutants. On Tuesday, we explored down Serena Creek comparing a smaller, faster waterway to the larger and warmer lakes above. 

Finding time for fun: In between all this science, campers had a great time splashing around the beach, going on scavenger hunts, and playing camp games like werewolf, park ranger, and everybody’s it. At the end of each session, campers gathered around in a group to share with each other their science questions and what they learned by doing experiments to test them. 

See all the fun we had for yourself in the Camp Photo album!

Serene Lakes Science Camp 2020

Several of you asked us about our plans for the camp in 2020. Our current plan is to follow the same schedule as this year, Monday – Wednesday the week before and after Serene Lakes Days. Over the next couple months, Headwaters will be working with the SLPOA Board of Directors to finalize these details and will share the camp information with you in late October.

Interested in more science?

Headwaters runs science programs with 6th – 12th grade classes all over Northern California where students get to learn science through conducting their own original scientific research. If your child’s school might be a good fit for this let us know and our planning team can take it from there. Also check out our Girls Only Summer Science Camp that happens the week before Session 1. This camp is open to rising 7th-12th grade students and is staffed entirely by female scientists. This 5 day overnight camp creates a supportive and inspiring environment for girls to realize their potential as amazing scientists. 

Honoring the girls and women of science

“A woman engineer who worked on the moon landing spoke this week of how she was once told the control room was no place for women.” –BBC News

We know that females in the sciences have fought long and hard to get where they are, and we have personally seen a huge growth in this area. With the success of our Girls Summer Science Camp July 14-19, we’ve got women in science on our minds, and are so proud of the hard work done by the young ladies at camp. Below you can read more about the science camp, and about an awesome article honoring the women in science!

Our Girls Summer Science Camp

We were joined by a wonderful group of young ladies at Webber Lake and Lacey Meadow this July. Executive Director Megan Seifert and Program Coordinator Ashley Pierce led this camp. They taught the girls our Student Driven Research methods, encouraging them to explore the natural environment and come up with their own questions, design research, and answer those questions. The campers had the rare opportunity to access this area through a partnership with the Truckee Donner Land Trust. We are very grateful for their support and for access to these beautiful protected lands.

Many of the campers chose to study the habits and behaviors of the Canada Geese around Webber Lake. They were intrigued by the geese’s behavior habits and their daily patterns. As they concluded their research, they then worked hard on computerized data analysis and collating their findings into presentable research.

To celebrate the end of camp, the Land Trust held a hike through Lacey Meadow lead by their docents, allowing parents, supporters, and the public a rare chance to see the area. Our campers were on hand to help answer questions and assist in leading the hikes.

The evening following our camp, the girls joined their parents and the public at our Celebrate Science Tahoe event at our Headquarters in Soda Springs, where they finally got a long needed shower! Then they quickly turned their attention to presentations and answering questions. The girls presented with confidence and ease, and we are so proud of them!

Women Pioneers In Science

Check out this great article titled Women in science: Smashing glass ceilings and glass walls published by the BBC. You can learn all about five amazing female leaders in science:

-The Pioneer: Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell
-The research leader: Dr. Nicola Beer
-The trailblazer: Gladys Ngetich
-The one pushing boundaries: Dr Megan Wheeler
-The rising star: Elina Aino Johanna Pörsti

Truckee High Students Study River Ecology

This past week, June 10-13, students from the River Ecology course at Truckee High school took their science class outside to investigate some of their local waterways. Just a few minutes walk from their school lie Donner Creek and Cold Stream. During their work with Headwaters, these students were challenged to assess the health of these two waterways using the different techniques they learned throughout the semester.

Check out what students have to say about their projects:

The importance of studying a topic like this, especially in waterways local to the students’ hometown, is to help them understand the ecology of the natural world around them. These students learned that the health of a waterway can be observed by what’s in it, evidenced by the slide from one group presentation shown here.

Not only did these students come up with some great research projects, they also gained important science skills. The percentage of students that responded as confident in their ability to apply the scientific method increased by 46% between pre and post program surveys. Furthermore, the percentage of students very concerned with protecting the plants, animals and natural resources in these two waterways increased by 28%.

Thank you to the Martis Camp Community Foundation, Truckee Tahoe Airport Foundation, Truckee Rotary, and other community partners that made this program possible.

River Ecology Digital Toolkit

On June 10, 2019, Kirby Reed and his students from Truckee High School will join us for a program around their local streams. We have an ongoing partnership with Mr. Reed and are grateful for his help and support, as well as the opportunity to investigate one of the most stunning features of the Sierra with his students: our waterways. This article features resources we have used in the Truckee High School River Ecology Program.

What are aquatic macroinvertebrates?

Stonefly larva are indicators of healthy streams

One of the most interesting facets of studying river ecology is looking at aquatic life. Meet your new friends: aquatic macroinvertebrates! According to an article by the EPA, “aquatic macro invertebrates” refers to small water-dwelling animals or aquatic insects in their larval stages. This includes dragonfly and stonefly larvae, snails, worms, and beetles. They lack a backbone, are visible without the aid of a microscope, and are found in and around water bodies during some period of their lives. Benthic macroinvertebrates are often found attached to rocks, vegetation, logs and sticks or burrowed into the bottom sand and sediments.

These “indicators” can teach us about the health of a waterway, providing clues about its biological condition. Generally, waterbodies in healthy biological condition support a wide variety and high number of macroinvertebrates, including many that are intolerant of pollution. Samples yielding only pollution–tolerant species or very little diversity or abundance may indicate a less healthy waterbody, says the EPA.

Macroinvertebrates respond to human disturbance in fairly predictable ways. In fact, because they cannot escape pollution, macroinvertebrates have the capacity to integrate the effects of the stressors to which they are exposed, in combination and over time. Biological condition is the most comprehensive indicator of waterbody health. When the biology of a waterbody is healthy, the chemical and physical components of the waterbody are also typically in good condition.

The full article can be found at:

Perform your own macroinvertebrate study:

Our full manual for this activity includes more information on aquatic macroinvertebrates, a guide to our suggested research methods, and an identification key. You can access the manual here.

Surveying macroinvertebrate health in waterways activity:

Methods: Many different types of questions beyond “how healthy is this waterway?” can be answered through a macroinvertebrate survey. Students could add measurements of water quality, habitat parameters, or compare benthic macroinvertebrate populations between different locations. Below is a basic methodology you can adapt to fit your specific research question.

  1. To conduct survey in flowing water, agitate the streambed upstream of a catching net for 60 seconds. (If there is no flowing water rake the vegetation along the riverbank upwards in a circular motion for 60 seconds to collect insects.) Be sure to agitate the streambed for the same amount of time every sample.
  2. Turn the contents of the net inside out into a sorting tub half full of water. You may need to let the water settle for a few minutes before sorting.
  3. Using an eyedropper, put similar looking macroinvertebrates into the same section of an ice cube tray.
  4. Once you have fished out as many macroinvertebrates as possible, use the ID chart in our manual to identify the order of each type. If there are more than 25 of one type of in the sorting tub, you can estimate the total number.
  5. Some groups will focus on the number of macroinvertebrates found from certain pollution tolerance groups, while others create a weighted macroinvertebrate score using the following formula:

Group 1 – Very Intolerant of Pollution number of organisms x 4 =
Group 2 – Moderately Intolerant of Pollution number of organisms x 3 =
Group 3 – Fairly Tolerant of Pollution number of organisms x 2 =
Group 4 – Very Tolerant of Pollution number of organisms x 1 =

Weighted macroinvertebrate score is the sum of each group: ___________

Cal Middle School May ’19 Program Recap

Students from California Middle School found a lot more snow than they were expecting this weekend at the Clair Tappaan Lodge on Donner Summit. During this science trip, they spent 3 days designing and completing their own original scientific research projects. They came up with a wonderfully creative spread of research questions such as: What are the sound muffling properties of snow? Do we find more invertebrates where there are fewer birds?

In total students collected over 1,000 data points to test their hypotheses. Over the course of the trip students spent over 13 hours of their time dedicated to science alone, which is the equivalent to 2 weeks of science class.

Between all this hard work, students were able to sneak in some group bonding time sledding, building an igloo, and playing games around the lodge. Beyond creating some impressive sled runs and research projects, students also practiced valuable science skills. Between pre- and  post-program surveys 100% of students reported overcoming a challenge with their projects and the percentage of students who responded as “Very Confident” in their ability to apply the scientific method increased by 30%.

Student Research Highlights

One of the two groups of students studying invertebrates found that invertebrates were highest near water sources and in tree stumps. In addition to overcoming their fear of spiders, this group concluded that insects were more common near water because of the role water plays in many insects’ reproductive life cycles. They also hypothesized that more invertebrates were found in stumps because most of these insects were decomposers and that the stumps may have offered invertebrates shelter from the cold weather.

Some students used speakers and audio recording equipment to measure how different depths of snow could muffle sound. They found that 50 cm of snow could almost completely muffle the loudest sound a human could make.

Three students surveyed snow depth around the lodge to learn about factors that affect snow depth in the spring. They collected data in areas that had been impacted by humans as well as in undisturbed places. They found that places humans had walked had average snowpack that was of 30% less than nearby undisturbed areas. These students thought that this was because people walking on snow caused to become dirtier, and therefore darker, which led to that area melting faster.

Understanding the mechanics of snow melt in the Sierra is especially for the hydrologists who manage California’s many reservoirs in order to prevent flooding and supply drinking water throughout dry summer months. For more information about the importance of water in the Sierra, check out a previous blog post with information on the water cycle.

Headwaters would like to thank the Sierra Club for partnering with us to offer lodging at the Clair Tappaan Lodge.