Questioning the very definition of science? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help

Questioning the very definition of science? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help

The national discourse these days might have you questioning the very definition of the word “science.”

That being said, it is important to understand the process of science and how it is fluid through time, ever-changing with the discovery of new information that potentially alters our consensus of what is known. 

At Headwaters Science Institute, we’re aiming to bring greater understanding to the conversation around what science is and how it affects the course of our lives. 

So, what is science?

To create a foundational understanding, science is the process of observation and experimentation to uncover insights about the natural world. When you Google “science” there are two definitions, 1. science is a systematic process of observation and experimentation, and 2. A body of knowledge pertaining to a subject. It is important to acknowledge that science is not either/or one of these definitions.

Generally, however, people typically associate the term science with this second definition.

Biology, for example, is defined as the body of knowledge about living organisms. But biology is really the process of generating these insights about living organisms and their vital processes. This is then communicated as a body of knowledge. It’s the combination of both definitions.

Science is not a collection of “facts”

Much of society has been taught that there is “science” and the “scientific method,” but in reality, they are intertwined. I fell victim to this when attending public school growing up. Our teachers taught science in a way that disconnected the process in which the body of knowledge is generated from reading the conclusions of the process, i.e. the textbook.

To me, it gave the perception that science is just a collection of facts that I can read in a textbook and then move on. But in reality, science is ever-changing, full of constant debate over what has been discovered in the past and exploring the fringes of what we currently understand about the natural world.

If you are in high school reading a biology textbook, the information you are reading is not the extent of what we know today and may not reflect the most up-to-date scientific consensus. Scientists are constantly developing new methodologies, challenging previous findings, and questioning authority to progress the field as a whole.

This can at times mean declaring studies to be invalid or insignificant. This isn’t always because the experimentation was done poorly or results being irreproducible, but because as time progresses, new methods can supply a more informed conclusion to determine a study invalid. 

Science is a life-long journey of learning

A perfect example of this, is the Biological Species Concept.

Simply put, it determines a species to be a group of organisms that are able to interbreed and produce viable offspring. This concept is still taught in schools across the country, but it is not supported anymore by contemporary biologists. In fact, this is still a widely debated topic as defining what a species is impacts how we conduct the field of taxonomy and study evolution.

Science is a life-long journey of learning, observation, and experimentation to close the gap of what is known and unknown about the world around us. It helps us make informed decisions, which are driven by data rather than our behavior or biases. Hopefully, as you continue to follow Headwaters Science Institute, you will obtain a new understanding, perspective, and appreciation of science.

Daniel Dudek

Daniel Dudek


Introducing the new ‘Lunch With A Scientist’ episode library

Introducing the new ‘Lunch With A Scientist’ episode library

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A shark scientist, hurricane researcher, and archaeologist walk into a bar… No, this isn’t the plot of the latest Samuel L. Jackson movie; it’s several of our latest “Lunch With A Scientist” episodes!

Looking for a way to bring real-world science to your classroom? “Lunch With A Scientist” is our biweekly YouTube series that brings discussions with professional scientists right onto your device or into your classroom. The aim is to provide an inside glimpse into the minds of STEM professionals and bring awareness to students about the possibilities of careers in science. 

Now, we’ve made it easier to find what you’re looking for with the new “Lunch With A Scientist” library at The new site allows you to easily navigate through our 60-plus episodes with a simple search tool or by a filterable topic grid. 

Want to show your class an episode on careers in life and environmental sciences? That will give you 33 episodes to choose from. What about pursuits in health, medicine, and genetics? That will give you talks with 16 professionals in that field.  

This searchable database was brought to you as a direct result of donations from our generous supporters, and we very much want to keep this valuable resource free to our community. With that in mind, we’re announcing three sponsorship opportunities for future “Lunch With A Scientist” episodes, part of our digital resource library that receives thousands of views each month. 

Here are the three sponsorship levels and what you will receive with each one: 

  • Bronze ($250): We’ll link your business or organization in the video description and mention it in the introduction. 
  • Silver ($500): In addition to a link in the video description and mention, we’ll include your logo in the thumbnail image. 
  • Gold ($1,000): We’ll read an advertisement script that you provide or we write, in addition to your logo and link. 

We’d also like to remind you that “Lunch With A Scientist” is a valuable tool for teachers. 

We can arrange a video meeting with a scientist from a field that matches your curriculum and have your students submit questions they’ll answer after the presentation. 

Teachers can begin a research project unit with a Lunch With A Scientist talk, which is a great way to introduce students to the field and show them what kind of research is possible. After watching the talk, you can move into a full-length Headwaters Research Program or lead one of your own.

You can also use the talks as a standalone activity; each talk includes a student investigation activity and a list of associated NGSS-aligned resources. You can use a talk as a one-time exercise to fill a class block or use it for 2-3 classes by incorporating the resources.

Download our program proposal for more information, or schedule a meeting with us to discuss. If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode, email Program Director Jenn Cotton at

My up-close-and-personal tour of NASA a testament to hands-on science learning

My up-close-and-personal tour of NASA a testament to hands-on science learning

Growing up along the Space Coast of Florida has allowed me to watch many historic launches, visit Space Camp, and explore the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. All of these experiences furthered my passion for science.

Those experiences never stop when you dedicated your life to science.

For me, it continued when I was given the incredible opportunity recently to take an up-close-and-personal tour of the NASA Corrosion Engineering Laboratories with one of our Lunch With A Scientist featured presenters, Dr. Eliza Montgomery.

This tour brought me face to face with the Artemis 1 rocket, due to launch this month from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The Artemis 1 rocket is the first integrated test of NASA’s deep-space exploration system. The Artemis program will launch in a series that will enable humans to return to the Moon and eventually Mars. 

Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the moon (me pictured below next to his space suit). His famous quote, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, was heard around the world.

The Artemis Missions are the next leap mankind will take. 

“Very few times in someone’s life is there a giant leap where you get where you want to go immediately, its baby steps. Keeping your eye on the prize will get you there. No one’s path out there is necessarily straight” 

Dr. Eliza Montgomery

It’s this type of hands-on learning that makes science such an intriguing and important pursuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to have these types of experiences throughout my journey into science education, and I feel very blessed to be able to bring real-life scientific experiences to the students of Headwaters. 

The need for future scientists is constantly growing. We need young minds to step up and become the next generation of innovators. Your path starts with you. Headwaters Science Institute can help you take this first step. We offer many opportunities for students to get involved in research. Registration is open for our Summer Research Experience. Follow your passion for science and find the steps you need to take your giant leap. 

Jennifer Cotton

Jennifer Cotton

Program Director

Fill The Winter Break With This Fun – And Free – Scientific Challenge

Fill The Winter Break With This Fun – And Free – Scientific Challenge

Ever wonder about the birds that call your backyard home? Looking for an activity that’s fun, free and easy to fill some downtime over the winter break?

Headwaters Science Institute has you covered with our new Winter Break Backyard Bird Challenge! Over the last week of the year, from Dec. 27-31, we’ve created a challenge to keep students outside and engaged scientifically over winter break. This challenge will guide students through the scientific research process, all while using data gathered in their own backyard.

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water

To take part in our Winter Backyard Bird Challenge, you will need to have a bird feeder nearby where students can observe avian visitors. We recommend having your bird feeder set up at least five days before the start of the challenge, so that birds have time to locate the feeder and get used to its presence.

Over the course of the challenge, students will record what birds they observe at their feeder. Students can then submit their data to Headwaters, and will use the data they and their peers collect to answer the research question they developed at the beginning of the challenge. Click here to register for the challenge. 

To get a head start on our Winter Break Backyard Bird Challenge, please review our Bird Feeder video to learn more about why it’s important to study birds and instructions on how to make a DIY bird feeder. Then, review our Pre-lesson Activity for a short reading assignment that will help your student get ready for our challenge. 

This post will serve as the home for this challenge, and we will post updates and links in this space to guide students throughout the process. The schedule of events for the Winter Backyard Bird Challenge is as follows:

Day 1: Monday, December 27 

Learn how to ask scientific questions and design your research project. Click here for your guide.


Day 2: Tuesday, December 28 

*LIVE Session* 3PM EST/12PM PST 

Community Interaction & Data Collection. Watch the replay here


Day 3 Wednesday, December 29: 

“Lunch with a Scientist” with Mark Stanback: Biology Professor at Davidson University. View the talk here. Find the activity worksheet here


Day 4 Thursday, December 30: 

*LIVE Session* 3PM EST/12PM PST: Mark Stanback Q and A 


Day 5 Friday, December 31: 

*LIVE Session* 3PM EST/12PM PST: Bird feeder results and drawing conclusions. 


We are so excited for your student to be joining us on this research adventure. Stay tuned in the coming days for more information about the Headwaters Winter Break Backyard Bird Challenge. Happy bird watching!

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water
Science Mentor Jasmine Speaks to the Value of Hands-on Learning

Science Mentor Jasmine Speaks to the Value of Hands-on Learning

If you had told the teenage me that I could earn a living by catching, counting, and measuring fishes and invertebrates, I most certainly would not have believed you – yet I found myself trying to convince middle and high school students just that. A career in research performing observational and experimental studies in the field was unknown to me until my third year as an undergraduate student. This revelation sent me down an exhausting, but exhilarating and rewarding, path of studying aquatic ecology. In this new chapter, my office was a river decorated with cattail and willow, regularly visited by heron, beaver, and osprey. I could not be happier, and I wanted to spread this information with young students. 

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water

I was eager to work with Headwaters Science Institute as a mentor because I wanted to share with students the vast possibilities that exist in the field of scientific research. I hoped they would find wonder in natural environments that would instill curiosity and excitement. This anticipation was met as I helped students complete their projects in an incredibly short period of time – one week for 6th and 7th grade students from Sacramento Country Day and two weeks for 12th grade students at College Preparatory School.

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water

From study design to data collection and analysis, the level of collaboration and teamwork that occurred within groups at College Preparatory School was amazing. The students were impressive both virtually in the classroom and in-person in the field. As I helped a group of students collect aquatic invertebrates from a stream and sort them by taxonomic group, I drew parallels between the research they were performing as high school seniors and the research I conducted as a graduate student. This program is so valuable because it exposes students to experiences that cannot be taught through lectures and allows them an opportunity to learn by engaging with nature and their classmates.

Jasmine Williamshen

Jasmine Williamshen

Science Mentor