Met Sac Trip Reflections

“I have to go on a field trip with my school to Headwaters Science Institute,” I thought, when I first heard about the trip. However, soon after pulling up to meet Meg and Spencer, I found that it was actually a privilege to be with them. They are very knowledgeable people and know how to share their abundance of knowledge with us in an easy-to- understand way. They were extremely fun to spend time with and had just the right mix of funny jokes and professionalism.


Only a few of us in our class had ever done anything like this out in the field before. To start with we were lost and had no idea at all what to do. We worked in groups and learned about taking different types of samples and how to do certain tests. My favorite part was trying to find the macroinvertebrate in the water and try to identify them.

Being from Sacramento, where it never snows, we all had fun with our free time having snowball fights and bonding with each other. In the lodge they had multiple rooms with couches that were nice to hang out in. They also had a ping pong table which was a lot of fun to challenge friends on.


One evening, our group went on a night hike and it was amazing to experience the area in a new light. You could see the silhouettes of other people but not the details of their faces. With not being able to see the fine details you would have to listen more to your surroundings to know if someone was over in the dark of the shadow. On the hike we stopped to look at the stars, which were a lot more visible in the sky compared to back home in Sacramento.

We also went on a hike to see the petroglyphs, rock on rock art. On the way we went through some old train tunnels and learned some history. When we go to the petroglyphs some of the creative students made up stories about what all the different symbols meant, which were very engaging.


By the end when we all finished presenting on our various projects all of us were a little sad. We had all had so much fun working together and finishing our projects meant going back home. Most of us wanted to stay and were ready to do another project and stay a few more days. By the end of our time with Headwaters, the teachers that came with us were already talking about the next time we were going to come back and all the interesting things we would do.

-Ryan Kizer, Met Sac rising senior

Making Not So Great Questions Work

This blog post offers a bit of reflection from our spring programs. Here Spencer shares his experience in dealing with a group of students who were excited about answering a less than stellar research question.

The struggle of what to do with students who are excited about a not so scientific topic is something I have discussed with numerous teachers. Below is an account of how I dealt this often frustrating problem.


Looking for male pollen cones

While building research projects with a group of 6th graders this past spring, I got to work with what could have been called a bad question. These students were tasked with creating research projects about the spring growth and phenology in pine trees. The students had a 2-hour session in class to design their projects, a 6-hour field day to collect data, and another 2-hour classroom session to analyze their data and present their findings. The first session was going quite smoothly until a group of students became interested in the question, “Can you tell the difference between a girl tree and a boy tree?” To be fair these students were in the middle of a unit on human reproduction and did not know that pine trees have both male and female reproductive organs. Try as I might to tempt them towards a question with more scientific potential, this question was where their interest lay and quenching this upwelling of curiosity would probably disengage them from this learning experience.



Male and Female Pine Cones Diagram from

Flash-forward to the field day, many of the trees in the field site had yet to fully produce the male pollen cones and while the female cones had developed they were located high up in the crown of the tree. As the students were starting to struggle with how to answer their research question, I asked them a few simple questions that helped turn their project around. It started with, “What can you observe here that relates to your research question?” After some thought a student answered, “Well, there are lots of male and female pollen cones from last year on the ground.” To which I challenged them further, “Is there a way you can adjust your research question to include what you can observe here?” Almost immediately someone asked, “Are there more male or female cones on the ground?” After a short deliberation on methodology, the group set out collecting data on what turned out to be a pretty neat project. You can read more about the groups findings at the end of the article.

unspecified-1The main point here is that instead of teaching with a heavy hand and forcing the students to abandon a seemly dead-end question by challenging them to be creative in the face of adversity and reframing their own questions, these students stayed engaged through the learning process and ultimately came up a really interesting research project. Through this, and other experiences teaching, I am convinced that any question, regardless of scientific caliber, can be turned into valuable educational experience.


Their Results: The group found 50% more male cones than female cones, which was contrary to their hypothesis that the female cones would be more numerous since they are larger and easier to find. While smaller pine trees often produce a higher percentage of female cones and larger pine trees produce more male pollen cones, the group surveyed a wide range in size of trees and should have found close to the same numbers of each. One of the reasons the group hypothesized that they found more of last years’ male cones than female cones was that the female cones were eaten. Remember there are far more resources allocated to, and thus nutrients in, an egg than a sperm. The group also examined the cones they found for evidence of consumption. They found that 30% of female cones were at least partially eaten and did not find a single male pollen cone with evidence of herbivory.


On Wonder in the Science Classroom

When was the last time you felt wonder? Was it a sense of joyous discovery, a previously unopened door, a new understanding or a palpable sense of possibility? Wonder, as a positive emotion, is hard to find the modern world. While the Internet provides gripping images and videos on demand, our physical world is more often experienced from behind a camera or phone than in first person.

Wonder as a response to science is generally experienced outside the classroom. Whether it’s through the Discovery Channel, written media or a science themed podcast, the feeling is transient or escapist in nature as we dip a toe into something crafted for our busy lives.

So where is the wonder in the science classroom?

agiordano_2016_scienceclass-1-2As science educators, we must have found wonder in the fundamentals of our content. We were driven to study science, to present it and to develop future scientists. Yet when faced with the curriculum I was taught in school, it appears to be a minor miracle that I ever was captured by it.


Faced with scientific histories, one-time use equations and predetermined labs, a science student of my generation was left to discover on the margins of these content expectations. These limitations are shifting now. Science teaching standards have moved away from broad and shallow content towards deeper understandings. The Next Generation Science Standards lean heavily upon fundamental connections between scientific fields and desire to imbue students with a sense of process, inquiry, discovery and fundamental understanding.

I first came across the idea of wonder as inspired by science when I was writing a curriculum for a “current events in science” class aimed at 8th graders at Sugar Bowl Academy. The module I was building is on de-extinction, or using modern genetic methods to bring recently extinct species back to life.

I stumbled across George Monbiot’s TED talk on Rewilding. A popular science author, he speaks about the absence of wonder in our modern world, and how repopulating ecologically “missing” species and fascinating megafauna could lead to a surge in natural wonder.

The large part of Mr. Monbiot’s talk seem ecologically relevant (even amazing), such as the trophic cascade and the landscape level effects that resulted from the repopulation of the Yellowstone wolves. Even the idea of engineering and reintroducing extinct megafauna like Pleistocene elephants, hippos and top-tier predators, while considerably difficult and controversial, is fascinating.

It seems so easy to capture the wonder of our students with ideas like these. A concept like de-extinction can serve as a platform to discuss Darwin’s observations, human impact, fossil record, the history of life, coevolution and myriad other topics. Complex and worthy topics lend themselves to the support of crosscutting concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, structure and function and systems. They also support practices that are broadly accepted as crucial like scientific literacy, skepticism and the interdependence of scientific principals.agiordano_2016_scienceclass-2

Worthy concepts can unlock student’s sense of wonder by stimulating their curiosity about cutting edge science. De-extinction is just one of the possibilities for doing so. Students are enthralled by real ideas, from the very large: the size and age of the universe, the existence of the multiverse, the connection between mass and energy, life on other planets and Mass extinctions, to the very small: the nature and unity of matter, the discovery of sub-sub-atomic particles, the Serial Endosymbiotic Theory and homeobox genes to name a few. These difficult and sometimes esoteric concepts are gateways to curiosity and wonder. Still, most of these ideas are ones that students can only explore theoretically, without getting their hands dirty.


The NGSS have us covered here too. By placing inquiry at the core of the science and engineering practices, the NGSS challenges us to put discovery at the core of our teaching. Inquiry labs allow students to design, to explore process, and to fail. Labs without predetermined answers might not seem on the surface like a gateway to wonder. However, when empowered to engage in the science process, rather than to follow instructions, students flex the true skills of scientists. They observe, hypothesize and problem solve. They predict and react to failure.

Students who prove or disprove their own hypotheses are actually discovering. When we allow them to develop their own questions within a system, they have not only modeled science, they have done science. Each of these tactics is risky. It’s time consuming to develop and implement open-ended inquiries. It’s risky for students to follow their own procedure and choose experimental variables to manipulate. It’s nerve-wracking to discuss scientific concepts at the edge of our own understanding. But in each of these cases, that’s where the real learning happens. These edges in student’s proximal development are not unlike the edges of scientific knowledge. And it’s here on the edge where wonder can kick in.

Donner Trail Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Project

IMG_3831Mrs. Reed’s K-1 class at Donner Trail Elementary in Kingvale, California has been working with Headwaters and a couple of other non-profits this spring to raise Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in their classroom. Lahontan Cutthroat trout are native to only a few rivers and lakes in Western Nevada and the Lake Tahoe region of California and are classified as “Threatened” under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The trout eggs were provided by the Trout in the Classroom project and SWEP (Sierra Watershed Education Partners). The students received 150 trout eggs on April 19th and have watched the eggs develop into Alevin (first stage after the eggs hatch, they can’t yet swim) and now into Fry (they have started swimming). When all of the trout reach the Fry stage they will be released into the nearby Donner Creek at Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee, California.

DSC_0045Students were interested in a number of complex questions about the trout, realizing that they are able to learn about Lahontan trout in general by studying this small sample within their classroom.

Here are the questions the kids came up with and some of their hypotheses:

How many will survive? So far 12 fish or eggs have died and roughly 138 fish will be released next week. It is a good thing that trout lay so many eggs (hundreds at a time). If 12 people babies died, it would be a lot. People only have one baby at a time, but they also have a much higher survival rate than fish. Fish have a lot of babies, but not all of them survive.

DSC_0023Will they all hatch and develop at the same time? They began hatching two days after they arrived and the last eggs hatched on the sixth day after they arrived in the classroom. They did not all develop on at the same time. The first fish moved from the Alevin stage (meaning they got fins and mouths) on day 13. On day 14 a few more were swimming. By day 16 there were about 10 fish that had moved to the Fry stage. The rest of the fish still remain in the rocks and continue to develop. We learned that they develop pretty slowly and that each fish is a little different. Even though their eggs were laid on the same day and we have been raising them all in the same place, they don’t all hatch together.

Why are the trout important? The trout are important because they have allowed us to learn about trout. We could never see trout eggs in the wild because they are so tiny and they live on the bottom of the river, where it would be difficult and dangerous for kids to go. These trout are especially important because DSC_0014they only live in some rivers and lakes near us. They are Threatened, meaning that there aren’t that many of them left in the wild. We are hoping to help the trout by raising them in our class. We think more of them hatched and turn into fry than if they were in the wild. We hope they can swim well enough for them to survive once we release them.

 We learned that the trout need to be raised in very cold water like the lakes and rivers that they live in the wild. We also found out that they need to have lots of oxygen in their water. The trout need to live in the dark because the light can hurt them. In the wild they live on the bottom of the rivers and lakes where it is dark. They need to have clean water to survive. Our teacher has to change out their water every few days. It is hard work raising trout, but we have learned a lot and done a good job because so many survived!

Make sure you check out their amazing class video! To see more photos go here. Click to see the class on Science Friday #takeasample. To hear them on the air listen here, they are about 13minutes in.

Green Fields Research Reflections


Green Fields student collects snow to test for human-derived pollutants

Over the course of the week that I spent in the Sierras with Headwaters Science Institute, I was challenged to explore my own surroundings, make conjectures based upon observations of the natural world and assimilate a self-guided study while working with my peers.  This is not to say, however, that we did not also have ample direction and guidance from our patient and knowledgeable Headwater Science Institute directors, the experience was just so different from what one normally receives in a classroom because of the fact that it was largely up to us to run our work.  

On our first day of the trip, we hiked a ways into the alluring, snow-bound forest around our lodge with snowshoes on to begin exploring our surroundings and gathering information with which to build our research projects on.  We looked at many different things; layers of crust in the snow, moss formations on the surrounding trees, depth of snow in varying areas, the difference between pine and fir trees.  After we explored for a while, we returned to the lodge and began brainstorming ideas for possible research projects.  Working in teams of 3-5, along with the help of the Headwater Science Institute directors, we were able to settle on a question which each group member had adequate interest in.  This part of the experience was especially intriguing for me because as a student, I rarely have the chance to truly create a project based around something that I observe in my world and am interested in.  


Scientific research meets winter wonderland

My group and I decided to research human’s effect on snow, specifically looking for pollutants levels in the snow taken from different areas with varying amounts of human contact.  As you can imagine, the following days were a flurry of trekking to surrounding areas, digging through many feet of snow, taking many samples, melting countless cups of snow, measuring and recording.  All of the Headwater Science Institute directors were impressively knowledgeable on basically any science related question that we asked them, and helped to motivate us during times of low energy for our research.  During the following week that I spent in the Sierras, I learned more about good leadership and learning to work well with others than I could have ever learned in a classroom.  By the end of the week, every group had done large amounts of research along with an equal amount of data gathering and analysis.  

While my own group’s results were somewhat inconclusive, it has opened the door to further possible research and evaluation, and given me confidence in my classmates and my own strong ability to conduct and direct a self-made research project.  The multitude of positive memories of that came from my week-long stay with Headwaters Science Institute will stay with me for many years to come, and I cannot thank Spencer, Mary-Ellen, and Meg enough for giving me the opportunity to explore the world I live in to a greater extent than I could in any other setting.

-Lucy Edelen, Green Fields School, Tucson, AZ     

Changing the Status Quo in Science Education

At Headwaters Science Institute, we are very focused on science education innovation. We believe deeply that the way science has always been taught can be improved upon. Sometimes it feels like our biggest challenge is getting education stakeholders (pretty much everyone in our society falls into this category in some way or another) to recognize that science education, as it currently exists, is far from optimal. Once someone accepts that premise, it’s relatively easy to get them to consider how our Student Driven Science concept is actually far better for students’ than the status quo. It’s just our human tendency to embrace what we are already familiar with, regardless of its efficacy, that is such a big barrier to change.


So anytime we see examples of educators or policy makers recognizing the lost opportunities represented by traditional science education, let alone providing an innovative way of improving kids’ learning opportunities in the field, we’re pretty excited. Recently, this NPR piece about a science education innovator from the University of Colorado caught our attention. The article profiles Stephen Pollock, a physics professor at CU Bolder, and some of his epiphanies about the state of science education. The one that jumped out to us the most was Pollock’s opinion that, “Lectures don’t really work. They leave most people without a solid grasp of even basic concepts.”

While it’s not hard these days to find educators who agree with Pollock’s sentiments about lecture-based teaching, the degree to which he was willing to invest in substantively different teaching models really struck us. Rather than look for solutions that were incrementally better than the traditional methods, Pollock decided to do something totally different that radically changed the course of his academic career. Instead of continuing his research in nuclear physics (which would have been heartily supported by his department and his university), he decided to focus on how students learn physics and on developing ways to teach it better (which nearly cost him the chance to become a tenured professor—talk about resistance to change!).

Here is where Pollock’s innovations diverge somewhat from HSI’s. Instead of focusing on protocols for teaching science to high school students, he devoted attention to training undergraduates he calls “Learning Assistants” to become innovative science teachers.

The article also highlights the need for highly qualified secondary school science teachers. A broader outcome of Pollock’s work has been creating a group of college graduate science majors who are more likely to go on to become science teachers. We’re excited by the prospects of having more science teachers out there with a deep understanding of the subject they are going to teach and the willingness to try creative strategies for helping their students learn the most they can in the science classroom.


We believe that the day will soon come when Pollock’s contribution to science education—Learning Assistants—meet our ideas for improving science education—Student Driven Science—in classrooms around the country. And the article has good news about that prospect too!

According to Valerie Otero, of CU Boulder’s School of Education, who studies Learning Assistants as they become classroom teachers, “’It[the LA concept]’s spreading like wildfire.’” “The LA program is now being copied at 88 universities around the country,” and already there are an estimated 3000 LA’s working in classrooms around the nation, teaching tens of thousands of students.

HSI salutes Steven Pollock and his legions of Learning Assistants for believing in a new vision for science education and for doing something concrete to bring their vision to fruition.

Terrarium Pollution Experiments

You may have read in our previous posts about the 5th and 6th grade students at Hebron Station School we worked with last year. Those 6th grade students had their research on bird feeding behavior published in the scientific publication BirdSleuth. On a recent trip back to Maine, I was excited to learn that those 5th graders, now in 6th grade, had used the same Headwaters teaching framework to conduct another great set of research projects. This time students used seedlings in terrariums as a way to study the effect of pollution on plants. The Headwaters team was very happy to hear that the teaching methods we have spent the last 2 years developing, have legs of their own and are helping students without any direct support from us.


Here are the terrariums in action.

Using the very same Student Driven Research Protocol from in their first program, students developed their own pollution incident related experiments. As part of a unit on climate change, students conducted these pollution experiments among other activities to meet the NGSS MS-ESS2 standards. Students also met the CommonCore standard RST.6-8.9. From rubbing alcohol, to cayenne pepper, and simulating a nuclear winter, they came up with a number of unique projects, for which they had to develop methods for themselves. Below is some of the students work.


This student measured the growth rate of oat and rye grass seedlings as they were “polluted” with rubbing alcohol. 


Here is a great hypothesis section from one of these projects. Students used different pollutants based on their own interests.


This student grew their seedlings in the dark to simulate a nuclear winter. While the plants kept growing, the student noticed, and recorded, how the plants changed color while in the dark.

The biggest reason I was excited to learn about these projects was that the teacher we worked with last year was able to use this framework in her own teaching without any support from Headwaters. As an organization, we talk a lot about offering more than a stand alone experience and sharing our educational tools with teachers through our programs. This is another great example showing that when you give a teacher better tools to educate with, you help every student they teach down the road.




Why Teacher Trainings are Important

Teaching can be really scary. For new teachers or those without exceptionally strong backgrounds in their subject, it can be even more daunting. Teachers in these situations are usually relieved when one of their students gets an answer right—so much so that they potentially miss out on one of the biggest learning opportunities for their students: discussing what makes a given answer right or wrong.

I know from experience that it is all too easy to settle for students getting the right answer. When I first taught human physiology labs in graduate school I was in way over my head. I had very little background in physiology and suddenly I was expected to give a 20-minute lecture, run a lab, make and grade quizzes, and grade lab reports each week. I wasn’t very confident with the material, so when a student raised their hand to answer or ask a question I could only say if they were right or wrong, I couldn’t really go into depth or engage them in a discussion. I didn’t want students to know that I didn’t have a deeper understanding of the subject, so I really focused on what was right instead of explaining why when students were confused. Students who were great at memorizing the material did great, but I couldn’t help the ones who were struggling. Moreover, at the time I didn’t realize that I was being ineffective. I thought I was teaching my students the things they were supposed to learn.

Looking back now I realize how much better I could have been if I was willing to expose my limitations to the students and if I was willing to find a deeper understanding of the material with them. However, I would never have thought of this at the time because all of my teachers always seemed to know everything. Plus, as far as the university was concerned, I was only expected to relay information directly from the book and help my students get the right answers, and I was doing just that. So what was the problem?

At some point near the end of that semester I started to worry that the students were not going to make very good nurses (most of them were taking the class as part of their nursing major) if they couldn’t really understand how the different aspects of physiology connect. I decided that I had better get a better understanding of the material so that I could push my students to dig deeper.

Before I taught, I could have used more training both in content and in how to teach by getting students to problem solve more. However, these failings of my first semester as a TA helped me evaluate myself and work to address some of my problems. I really grew as a teacher because of this process and it ended up being a good thing for me, but I’m not sure that many teachers get the same opportunity.

In retrospect, this early experience as a teacher helped lay the groundwork for the ideas that became Headwater Science Institute. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered how important it is to give students the chance to dig deeper in the content, to ask their own questions, and try to use experiments to find answers to their own questions. At HSI we strive to offer students in our programs opportunities to question and evaluate their own ideas and answers. Likewise, our teacher training workshops are designed to show teachers the power of meeting students at the edge of their understanding. Our processes help teachers guide their students to deep learning, not simply prompt them for the right answer.

And that can make all the difference in how effective a teacher is in helping her students learn and understand.

*The idea for this post was inspired by the story of a math teacher on an NPR Ed blog.


Headwaters Science Institute Director working with Katy Yan of the Bentley School.

Why Failure is Crucial in the Science Classroom

Failure, or fear of failure, is a hot topic in many circles these days, and has now risen to the top of the discussion in science and math education. It’s a versatile term and a buzzword we use when talking about developing tenacity in students. It’s a touch point for educators hoping to integrate inquiry and problem solving skills into classroom education, and it’s an overarching narrative in presenting an authentic scientific method. The idea is that failure is a thing to be celebrated. The challenge is multifaceted; failure means different things in all contexts, and the nuance is important, especially in education.


During the December 11th Science Friday segment titled “Why Science Needs Failure to Succeed,” author and neuroscientist Stuart Firestein talks about failure in science in a way that appealed greatly to me as a educator with a science background. Failure is a word that is clearly used differently by scientists and those not actively pursuing science, in much the same regard as the words “theory” and “truth.” In science, theories are widely tested explanations for a series of phenomena; indeed, they are as close as we ever get to truth. Of course, in common speech, theories are ideas or hunches, what a scientist would call a hypothesis. The scientific idea of truth is not fixed in place. Truth is open to revision as facts emerge or further study is completed. However, our truth is the best explanation that unifies countless observations and experiments; it is only upon provision of further evidence that we accept a shift in this truth.

The same nuance resides within the word failure. There are many different types of failure, but colloquially we accept the definition to be, that which does not succeed. However in science, we are asking questions about the natural world and testing hypotheses. True scientific study resides on the edge of knowledge. The answers to our questions are unknown, otherwise why would we take the time to study them? If an outcome differs from our expectation, the experiment may have failed to meet the expectation, but some answer or better yet, a further question, will emerge. This is the essence of scientific practice, but not generally the practice of science education.

AGiordano_2015_HSI_LR-2Until very recently the aim of science education was to build a foundation of historical knowledge and skills, so that one may know where to begin asking questions. The actual habits of mind that lead to scientific discovery were laid aside, even condescended to by cookbook labs and ever-deepening content expectations. The inertia present in the curriculum and educational patterns carved a deep path: absorb the content, read the procedure, mimic the skills, find the answer. If your answer isn’t correct, do an error analysis and see how much you failed by. Look back to the scientific method present in so many classrooms: question, hypothesize, experiment, record, analyze, share results! Teachers and scientists alike recognize that the real higher order thinking on this linear timeline exists only in the questioning and hypothesis steps, the very steps we do for students before they even begin.

In reality, the entire process needs to be broken down, as in the world we are allowed to engage the method in myriad ways. We also revise, revisit, restart, and yes, fail along the way. These failures hone our thinking and lead to revised procedures and conclusions, more precise thinking and ultimately, for some, a true “eureka!” moment. As Firestein points out in the podcast, in the absence of these moments the “arch of discovery” will never lead the eureka moment. The arch is scientific process and progress, complex and complicated. Classically we teach Lamarck as a stepping stone for Darwinian evolution, phlogiston as a stepping stone to understanding combustion, and caloric as a stepping stone to understanding thermodynamics and kinetic theory. These big ideas can be presented less as wrong, or “failed” thought, and more as building blocks to our current understanding.

So how do we coach comfort in this dynamic process? Begin at the beginning. Simple phrases like “Make a fantastic mistake today,” used often, even posted above the board go along way towards shifting students’ mindsets. Coupled with praise and context, errors that reflect inquisitiveness and creativity can be vehicles for student growth. Science education specialist Helen Snodgrass (YES Prep North Forest in Houston, Texas) is also featured in the Science Friday podcast on failure, and she gives us great tools for getting started. Posted on her wall, on the first day of AP Biology class is the phrase: “In this class, failure is not an option. It’s a requirement.” Coupled with a thoughtful lesson on serendipity in science (listen to the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast, episode 9, for lots of great examples of serendipitous discoveries), this launches the class into the process of redefining failure for science. She provides further strategies and justifications for learning through struggle, developing grit, and authentic learning practices in her essay in the Washington Post: “Teacher: In my class failure is not an option. It is a requirement.

DSC_6088 (Ambrose Tuscano's conflicted copy 2014-08-12)

In the big picture, our understanding of superseded theories, and serendipitous discoveries provide a base for presenting the idea of failure as a positive part of the scientific process in our classrooms. Perhaps graduate students’ struggles to achieve science in countless labs around the world by learning how to revise experiments gives a model for day-to-day lessons.

Ultimately incentivizing open-ended inquiries, creativity, and discovery activity is hard work, and can be risky. It takes time to develop the scientific habits of the mind that our students require to be scientifically literate citizens, if not scientists, in their future. This risk is worth it. When we hold up a mirror to ourselves, focused on the curiosity, drive and enthusiasm that carried us to the sciences and science education, we want to see our students reflected in it. In order to achieve this wonderful feeling, we need engagement tools, like student driven learning (see HSI blog 6/1/2015), like authentic inquiry explorations, like argumentative discourse, and above all, we need to coach them on the meaning and value of failure in science.

-This post was written by Headwaters Science Institute board member Andy Giordano. Andy is the Dean of Students and a science teacher at the Sugar Bowl Academy where he has worked for 10 years. His focus in the classroom is to continually push core understandings in science by drawing together the big ideas in science. He asks students to develop the ability to make observations, ask scientific questions, formulate hypotheses, design experiments and create a scientific argument. His goal is not only to improve students’ scientific mind, but also to build confidence and independence. He has extensive experience training adults in student support programs and outdoor education. His experience as an educator, residential life specialist, scientist and outdoorsman makes him a great member of the HSI Advisory Committee.  Andy is a member of the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Nation Science Teachers Association.

Quarry Lane Student Reflections

Headwaters’ fall program with the Quarry Lane School from Dublin was a really fun, educational program. But we got a surprise gift recently from many of the students who participated in the program: written reflections on their trip. Below we highlight some of the common threads running through their comments, which really illustrate the benefits of Headwaters science programs.DSC_0034

Educational Freedom

Many of the participants, like Devin Banister, appreciated the chance to do “real life field research.” Another Quarry Lane student wrote, “I like how we could choose what topic we wanted to research. Also, I like how we get to do field research and can get our own data for a research plan that we created.” At HSI, we believe that this crucial component of asking students what interests them, rather than assuming we, as educators, already know, is a unique and powerful benefit of our educational programs.

Being Outside

Many students, like Justin Chan, wrote about their joy in spending big DSC_0132parts of their days working outdoors: “I really liked the hiking and adventure every day.” For Sarina Randhawa the environment brought students together: “I really liked the hikes that we went on, and the new friends that I made!” Malina Gill added, “I especially liked hiking in nature.”

Hands-on Learning

As Ananya Velpuri notes (and Malina Gill echoes), “Headwaters teaches you things that could never be taught in a classroom.” Adit Shah adds, “The experience was definitely a memorable one, as we learnt how to accurately collect and analyze data.” Like many students who have experienced a Headwaters Science Institute program, Devin Bannister, “enjoyed getting education outside of a classroom.”


Many of the Quarry Lane group found themselves having lots of fun, even those who, like Andrew Park, expected the program to be “a lot more like a school.” By the end of the week, Andrew came to the conclusion that, “it was really fun!” This conclusion was shared by many students, like Malina Gill (“Overall, it was super fun and I cannot wait to come back.”), Sarina Randhawa (“Headwaters was very fun.”), Justin Chan (“I really enjoyed the Headwaters trip. It was very fun and productive at the same time.”), Ameenah Eldeeb (“My experience at Headwaters Science Institute was something I will not ever forget.”), Ananya Velpuri (“Over all, the Headwaters experience was exciting and educational, not to mention fun.”), and Chase Koth (“My trip with Headwaters was amazing.”).