Field Notes from Truckee

Field Notes from Truckee

This year, we received $5,000 from the Truckee Tahoe Airport District that we put towards a six-week after-school program with the Truckee Elementary School. This was a twice-weekly program that focused on grades 3rd through 5th. The program had a bird theme where students were introduced to new bird-related knowledge, games, and science activities each session. Each session was independent so that students could join without feeling left behind while those who attended multiple sessions could continue to ask questions about birds and expand their knowledge.

Students explored bird adaptations, migration patterns, behaviors, anatomy, and more. One activity we did every day was monitoring bird feeders to see what species were in the area and observing how that changed throughout the semester as our own citizen science project! However, our most popular activity was our owl pellet examination, where the students could see what the owls were consuming and reconstruct their skeletons.

Through completing science activities focused on birds and the local environment, students were able to connect to the ecosystem that they live in and make connections that they likely would not have without this program. Observed student outcomes included excitement about science and the use of critical thinking skills. The program was well-received by the students, as we saw almost all 25 students return for multiple weeks! 

Field Notes from East Bay Area Programs

Field Notes from East Bay Area Programs

This school year, Headwaters was thrilled to partner with East Bay Area schools for a number of school programs, field days, and even a program at the Claire Tappaan Lodge thanks to grant funding from the Lesher Foundation, Sandia National Labs, and the Joseph and Mercedes McMicking Foundation.

As we strive to expand access to hands-on science programming and foster curiosity through science, grant funding is extremely important to help us keep programming at low or no costs to schools and students!

Lighthouse Charter

We had a fantastic time working with 11th and 12th-grade students from Lighthouse Community Charter School! Thirty-five students arrived at Clair Tappaan Lodge to a dusting of snow on the group, an exciting sight for many students who had never seen snow before! Right away, they got to work coming up with research questions inspired by the forest around the lodge. Groups were interested in insect biodiversity, water quality, tree size and age, and the effects of snow on the ecosystem.

One student reflected on their outdoor experience: “I had a wonderful time! It was beautiful because of all the nature. I had a lot of bonding time with people and learned a lot about trees. This was one of my best experiences and I just loved it.”

Projects focused on the forest environment around Clair Tappaan Lodge. Students collected data ranging from plant and insect biodiversity, tree age and size, water quality in a seasonal stream, and much more. We even found some unexpected animals, including a salamander!

At the end of our program, students were able to explore their data even more through Google Sheets. Students created data visualizations and performed statistical tests to determine if their results were statistically significant. Students compiled their results, explored their creativity in putting together a presentation, and presented their findings to their classmates.

LPS Oakland

On Thursday, February 15, Headwaters hosted LPS Oakland for a field day at Redwood Regional Park. The students had the opportunity to collect data on different research questions, such as plant species diversity, the water temperature of the creek, and the correlation between the size of a log on the ground and the number of animals underneath it. For most of the students, it was their first time at the park, so we also spent some time exploring and enjoying the outdoors. After the field day, many expressed their desire to return to the area and explore more!

We were impressed by the hard work the students exhibited while planning out their projects and working through the scientific process. They were challenged to design a testable research question and develop a scientific method for collecting data. They applied what they learned in the classroom to the field to collect data at Redwood Regional Park in East Bay Despite the steep terrain students remained positive and collected high-quality data. Projects focused mainly on human impacts and water quality of the lake; students collected data ranging from plant diversity to pH and dissolved oxygen measurements.

Upon returning to the classroom, students were able to dive deeper into their data. Students created data visualizations and worked to determine if they saw any correlations with the variables they tested.

LPS Richmond

Headwaters staff took a group of students from the Richmond area to the Miller Knox Regional Shoreline. The students were split into multiple groups and divided between Headwaters staff to collect data. Half of the groups spent the morning collecting samples from the lagoon to study the impact different water quality tests have on aquatic biodiversity. The other half spent the morning participating in citizen science and collected hundreds of images of local organisms. We uploaded observations to the citizen science database iNaturalist to be used by anyone. After a nice lunch break, the groups switched so everyone could participate in both activities! The day ended with a rock-skipping competition and a walk back to school!

We were so excited to be able to host this group and help get them engaged with hands-on science experiments in their local area.

Making Waves

Before we met at the field site, students worked in groups to come up with testable questions that they could collect data on. The questions the students developed were thoughtful and engaging and included how the biodiversity of plants may be different closer to and further from redwood trees or the number of flower species that live closer to the hiking trail.

Our field day, thankfully, turned out gorgeous and proved perfect for data collection. Students learned to use quadrats, d-nets, and how to measure the height of a tree, even when it was over a hundred feet tall.

Upon returning to the classroom, students were able to explore their data even more and used google sheets to graph their data. Students will use all their knowledge gained and data as part of their final class project in which they will develop a field guide. We look forward to seeing their final products!

Field Notes from Bay Area Afterschool Programs

Field Notes from Bay Area Afterschool Programs

This spring, Headwaters has been excited to partner with Richmond schools to provide an afterschool program for students at three different schools! We are serving around 150 students each week in after school programs, with students ranging in grade level from TK-6 grade.

This semester we are focused on all things birds and a special emphasis is put on Bay Area Birds. Students are learning about the adaptations some birds have and why, their life cycle, and habitats. They put up bird feeders and are asking questions about what we could change about the feeders that may change the number or type of birds we see.

One particular student who is more shy about speaking up has requested to put up a trap camera to see what is coming around when we aren’t there and she is excited to start that process this week.

Allowing students to set the parameters and rules in this way gives them ownership over their questions and their experience with science. Students rarely get to choose what they do, but we offer them those choices when we can to show them, they can be scientists!

Students have enjoyed learning about and identifying their local birds. At one school, they are thrilled to see the main culprit that is eating their birdseed is wild turkeys!

This program provides students with more access to ecological science than what they may get in the classroom. We are encouraging them to be inquisitive and curious about the immediate world around them. Students are learning that sometimes our questions and hypotheses are unanswerable but that the process is important.

Katie Cannon

Katie Cannon

Bay Area Program Manager

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Summer Research Experience

For eight weeks this summer, 26 students participated in the Headwaters Summer Research Experience, going through the scientific process. With topics ranging from electric vehicles to ant behavior, these students worked hard all summer long to create some fascinating, complex topics! Students pursued topics they were passionate about for one reason or another

I wanted to be able to study something I am passionate about, which is dance

My family has been impacted by Lyme Disease and that really drives this research

Students worked closely with Headwaters through class and office hours and were guided by professional science mentors who bring expertise and experience to working with students.

It was wonderful to provide high school students with the opportunity to create, design, conduct, and write up a scientific research project. Students were equipped with knowledge regarding research questions given their environment and accessible materials. With creativity and patience, students examined databases, water sources, air quality, and many other topics throughout their local areas. Throughout the data collection process students traveled within their home areas to measure plant density, survey college students, and study microbiological growth in petri dishes. These students ran the gambit for topics, creating captivating and significant data that was later analyzed through Data Classroom.

As the course came to an end, students finished writing their manuscripts and worked on presentations that they gave to their peers, mentors, Headwaters staff, parents, and friends. Our presentation nights were all lively and students did a fantastic job presenting virtually and fielding questions from the audience. Students worked hard to ensure their science communication skills were as effective as their data collection and research question development skills.

At least 12 of these students are going to pursue publishing their research project with the Journal of Emerging Investigators!

One student works on mapping domestic cats to understand exercise impacts. 
As part of a microbiology project, this student meticulously creates her different replicates. 
One student is doing research on the impact of tannins on plants.
Searching for microplastics, this student was able to borrow a microscope from a local school.  

Digital Data Science Camp

The digital data camp was held for the first time in August. Over the course of two weeks, students learned several objectives pertaining to data science and how it impacts their daily lives. From the beginning, students learned what data science is, what career opportunities there may be, and how it impacts their everyday lives. We discussed forms of artificial intelligence that they may interact with on a daily basis including Siri, Alexa, or other voice command AI bots. Students were surprised to learn that data scientists can be found in almost every field from medical science to non-profit organizations! After identifying fields they might be interested in the future, we discussed how data science will play a role in that industry as well. Students shared how they were surprised to know that there were so many different opportunities in the world of data science, no matter their passions.

Students learned to code, walking through this new tool to flex their data visualization muscles, and create graphs and graphics showing different realities from their datasets. Students took the reins in the second week as they identified topics to explore and present.

Students chose topics from fintech to automated driving and began searching for open-source databases to pull CSV (comma-separated values) tables. While working on individual student projects students learned about their specific topic, and how data science impacts that industry. Identifying safe, reliable, complete, open-source databases proved difficult, but students persevered. They worked hard to identify proper questions, databases, and analyses that provided insightful data visualizations for their mini-presentations. This was another fantastic group of students who were dedicated to learning and capped off a wonderful program with a great presentation night!

Watch all of the students’ presentations!

Sign Up the Spring Research Experience

We’re excited to have a new cohort of students pursuing research topics in the spring and you can be one of them!

Courtney Kudera

Courtney Kudera

Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager

Courtney is the Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager. A recent graduate from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she is excited to share her passion for science and data knowledge with Headwaters. Originally from Wyoming, she is excited to make an impact in science education at Headwaters. In her free time, she can be found trail running, painting, doing yoga, or reading.

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

I’m ecstatic to share the success of our recent program held in a community close to my heart. As a proud McKeesport High School alumnus and native of Grandview, McKeesport, I was honored to give back to the students of the community with a Headwaters experience. I believe in the enriching science experiences that we are able to provide through Headwaters programs, which is why I reached out to Marla Hayes, one of my former biology teachers, about bringing this opportunity to McKeesport!

For me, science isn’t just about reading information from a textbook. It’s the process of assessing information and empowering oneself with a data-driven approach to tackle the world around us. I always had a knack for memorizing information, which allowed me to excel in school, but learning how to apply the scientific method to everyday life was a game-changer.

The students at McKeesport were able to learn about the subject matter and develop critical thinking skills in the course of the program. Teachers are faced with the large task of engaging students in science. This can be overwhelming, especially with a lack of resources or support. Luckily, Headwaters is here to help and I was excited to facilitate this program that pairs classroom materials with a field experience that brings science to life for the McKeesport students. We take students’ natural curiosity and we explore the scientific process in new ways and that makes science approachable. Science not only prepares these students for research, but it prepares them for the real world.

It’s always rewarding to guide students through the process of science, nurture their curiosity, and promote critical thinking. And being able to bring a Headwaters program to my hometown made it even more special! These McKeesport students were all smiles, enthusiasm, and engagement and some of them will join the next generation of problem solvers and future innovators! 

Students really enjoyed the program and also expressed that they grew more confident in science!

  • 100.00% of students reported being more familiar with scientific research.
  • 81.25% of students reported an increase in confidence when analyzing a given set of data.
  • 93.75% agreed that they learned something they would not have in a traditional classroom
  • 86.67% reported enjoying science more after participating in the program.
  • 86.67% reported having a satisfying experience in our program.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, Nature’s Way Markets, and the Tuscano Agency for helping to fund programs that empower our youth and to, Powdermill Nature Reserve for providing a unique location to collect field data. We couldn’t do this work without you and all our Pennsylvania donors, so thank you for helping us shape the future.

Remember, if you would like to learn more about our programs or get involved, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always excited to connect with individuals and organizations passionate about science education and empowering the next generation of innovators. 

Dan Dudek

Dan Dudek

Research Experience and Data Manager