Our outdoor science programs are designed around empowering students to design and implement their own independent research projects.

Our field site at Donner Summit offers diverse ecosystems for student engagement. Students investigate questions of their own design and build experiments in our natural laboratory. Potential topics include wetland wildlife, fire ecology, host-parasite relationships, environmental chemistry, forest succession, geology, and the impact of human history on local ecology. We also offer snow science programs in winter.

Optional recreational add-ons: we are happy to mix in outdoor recreational adventures such as skiing, kayaking, swimming, and hiking.

Customize a location

HSI programs are mobile! There are lots of great places to go. We can use conference centers around the country, stay in cabins at a field site, or go camping. Do you already have a trip idea, but need science content? We will go with you and help tailor the research environment for your students.

Consult with us about experiential research weeks at any location that suits your program goals. These experiential programs prepare students for upper level science classes and look great on college applications. In addition to conducting academically rigorous projects, students will have plenty of time for adventure and exploration in the surrounding mountains and lakes.

ā€œThe spirit of experiential education is alive through Headwaters Science Institute programs. Students learn science by doing science, in amazing environments. The inspiration students have to chase down their own questions and to learn rigorous methods is a testament to the value of experiential ed.ā€

-Andy Giordano, Sugar Bowl Academy Dean, and Head of Experiential Education

Program Costs

Sample Schedule

The schedule is completely customizable based on timing (we can compact into 3 days, stretch it into more days, or utilize weekend days), location, program goals, and academic interests. 

Day 1

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Check in: 10:00 am at the Clair Tappaan Lodge. Students arrive at Clair Tappaan Lodge to check in and learn the layout of the lodge

Program introduction: 10:30 am, followed by departure to Van Norden Meadow. In the field students gain hands on experience conducting wetland monitoring, working with amphibians and insects in the meadow. Students are introduced the HSI question asking protocol during these introductory studies. We have lunch in the field and return to the lodge between 3 and 4 to give the students some time to relax, shower, and prepare for dinner. The lodge has plenty of great activities for the students including: ping-pong, volleyball, soccer balls, a library, piano, and lots of board games.

Dinner: 6pm

Evening Program: 7:30-9 pm, an environmental film and exercises in developing experiments. Quiet time starts at 10 pm.

Day 2

Breakfast: 8 am

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Daily Program: 9:00 am, Students head out to survey onsite old growth stands, collect phonological data, and learn about forest fire cycles. The group will eat lunch in the field and then hike to a lake after lunch where students will have the option to swim. Before returning to the lodge for dinner, students do a brain storming session to come up with their research questions. We will break into small research teams (3-8 students) based on the question(s) they would like to answer. The research groups will start coming up with methods for the projects they will implement over the next few days. We return to the lodge between 3 and 4 to give students some down time and prepare for dinner.

Dinner: 6 pm

Evening Program: 7:30-9 pm Engineering challenge or research project planning

Day 3

Breakfast: 8 am

Daily Program: At 9:00 am students will split into research teams based on project interests and head into the field to collect data. After lunch, teams assemble their preliminary data and make adjustments to their methods. The afternoon provides opportunities for outdoor recreation: paddle boarding and kayaking on Donner Lake with a little bit of water science, or a multitude of awe-inspiring hikes on Donner Summit.

Dinner: 6 pm

Evening Program: 7:30-9:00 pm, groups focus on analyzing and presenting their data.

Day 4

Breakfast: 8 am

Daily Program: At 9:00 am research teams will start collecting and analyzing the last of the field data. Teams integrate relevant scientific research and data into their presentations with support from HSI staff. Research presentations are honed and finalized.

Dinner: 6 pm

Evening Program: 7:30-9:00 pm, Campfire with skits and s’mores

Day 5

Breakfast: 8 am

Daily Program: Our last day starts with a morning peak hike for vistas and personal reflection, or a hike to learn about the human history of the area.

Final Presentations: At 11:30 am research teams return to the lodge to present their projects to the rest of the group. Parents are welcome to come early and watch the team presentations.

Departure: between 1:00 and 2:00 pm

More information about Donner Summit programs

Check out and share our flyer: Experiential Ed Flyer

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