Creating Opportunities for Science Education Outside of the Classroom

Creating Opportunities for Science Education Outside of the Classroom

Science isn’t simply the memorization of information out of a textbook but is an entire process of how we expand our understanding of the world around us. We challenge each other’s ideas, gather data, statistically analyze data to ensure the assertions we are making are valid, and ultimately disseminate that information. What students read in a textbook is the current consensus of that ongoing debate. But in classrooms across the country, there’s a lack of hands-on research opportunities for students to get involved, develop critical thinking, and foster an overall understanding and interest in the scientific process.

We developed the Headwaters Research Experience to supplement what students learn in school and to enrich science education, inspire curiosity through student-led research, address the wealth inequality of education, and prepare students for the future. Our program offers an affordable hands-on research experience where students are able to explore what they are curious about and design a project around that topic. We supply participants with an in-depth understanding of the scientific method and take them through all stages, starting with the question-asking process and ending with the dissemination of their results via live oral presentations and peer-reviewed manuscripts. No matter what the topic is that they wish to research, we help them design a project around the question and pair them with a professional science mentor who has experience conducting research. Students experience the ups and downs, pressures, and other difficulties that exist with conducting their own novel research but emerge with a more robust understanding of science and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. In the end, students join a growing network of alumni and mentors which will aid in their professional growth and can potentially lead to career opportunities in the future. Everyone needs help navigating the path of pursuing a science-related career, and our network helps connect students.

Headwaters Science Institute is proud to offer our student-driven research experience regardless of location. This spring we had the opportunity to work with Angelina, a student in South Korea, over 5800 miles away from the California coast. Angelina looked at differences between compost and synthetic fertilizer and her research is a prime example of using interests to drive science. Like all of our research experience students, Angelina was able to work with a professional mentor and she will be published in our journal. One of the benefits of having a professional mentor is that the students are supported in their efforts and not experiencing the ups and downs of conducting a research project alone.

Check out Angelina’s presentation:

Angelina felt a sense of relief and accomplishment after conducting an intensive project that truly embodied the scientific process. She also researched a topic close to her and her father’s interests which made the process of science more impactful in her life.

The Headwaters Research Experience is not meant to replace current science education but instead supplements students’ education by connecting the dots between the scientific process and the published results. Students like Angelina are able to design and direct their own research, and are rewarded with the accomplishment of conducting a feat the majority of students today wouldn’t complete until the end of their Bachelor’s degree.

Registration for our Fall Research Experience is still open until September 18th. Please find more information on our website and contact dan@headwatersscienceinstitute.org with any questions.

Back to School Fundraiser

With your support, Headwaters can fund more scholarships, provide more Lunch with a Scientist talks free of charge, and supplement the costs of bringing programs to schools, which all means more science for more students! If you are able, please support our Back to School Fundraiser:

Dan Dudek

Dan Dudek

Instructor

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

Programs

Spots still open for Headwaters’ 2022 summer camps and programs

Spots still open for Headwaters’ 2022 summer camps and programs

Your one-stop shop for your student’s summer plans are right here. Registration for Headwaters Science Institute’s summer camps and programs are open, and spots are still available. But they are filling up fast, so act now. Below you can find all of our offerings for Summer 2022.

Truckee Young Scientist Exploration Camp

Give your child the opportunity to explore nature this summer. This hands-on science camp is designed for children to have fun while exploring the unique ecology of the area.

Campers will explore the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s new Truckee Springs park in Downtown Truckee. From this site, hiking, splashing in the river, and other fun activities are all easily accessible. Science is fun and engaging when children get to ask the questions that they are curious about. This program will show your child that science is all around them, while forging a unique connection to the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada region.

Overview

Ages: 5-12

Dates:
Session 1 – July 5-8
Session 2 – Aug. 8-12

Times: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily

Location: Truckee Donner Land Trust’s “Truckee Springs” parcel (drop off at the end of South River Street)

Price:

Session 1 – $315 (includes Headwaters T-shirt), CIT $150
Session 2 – $385 (includes Headwaters T-shirt), CIT $175

For more details or sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Kirkwood Scientist Exploration Camp

Over the week, Headwaters instructors will guide participants through exploring the natural systems around them and developing curiosity about the natural world.

Campers will explore the native diversity in the Kirkwood area. We will take hikes and investigate the local ecosystem. We’ll ask questions about what we’re seeing, collect data, and find answers. There will be time for games, scavenger hunts, play, and time to cool off.

Overview

General registration: Ages 5-13
Counselor-in-training program: Ages 13-15

Dates:

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Friday

Session 1 – Water Week, June 27- July 1
Session 2 – Plants and Wildflowers, July 5- 8 (Tuesday-Friday)
Session 3 – Rocks and Geology July, 11-15
Session 4 – Animals, July 25-29
Session 5 – Insects, Aug. 1-5

Price: $450/session (includes Headwaters T-shirt) ($375 for Session 2); $225 for CIT Program (Ages 13-15)

For more information or to sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Serene Lakes Young Scientist Exploration Camp

Give your child the opportunity to explore Serene Lakes this summer. This hands-on science camp is designed for children of Serene Lakes families to explore the unique ecology of the area.

Day campers will explore the natural spaces around Serene Lakes, ask scientific questions, and design and conduct experiments to answer their own questions. Science is fun and engaging when children get to ask the questions that they are curious about. This program will show your child science is fun and all around them while forging a unique connection to the Serene Lakes area.

Overview

General registration: Ages 5-12
Counselor-in-training program:
Ages 13-15

Dates:

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday

Session 1 – July 18-21
Session 2 – July 25-28
Session 3 – Aug. 1-4

Price: $275 per Session, CIT $140

For more information or to sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Girls Science Program

We will have a week of GIRLS ONLY science and camping at the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Webber Lake Campground. In addition, girls can sign up for the Headwaters’ Summer Research Experience, for a full summer of science.

Foundations of the program:

1. Scientific  Research

Students work with an all female cohort of peers at Webber Lake and with professional female scientist mentors to create questions around their environmental topics of interest and develop these questions into a research project.

2. Mentorship

The students will be mentored by female scientists for guidance through their project. These career-scientists can help with recommendations for how to turn an idea into an executable project.

3. Female Empowerment

A female-specific cohort provides support for participants to explore the science field in ways that are unique.

4. Professional caliber scientific exploration 

Participants are given the chance to practice science just like a professional would, analyzing data and finally creating a research talk. If they would like to create a paper they should also join our Summer Research Experience and at the end, they submit their paper for publication. They can get all of their data collected for the summer-long program during this week at Webber Lake.

Overview

Camping: Participants will camp at our Webber Lake study site from July 10-15. Parents will drop off campers on Sunday, July 10th after dinner and pick up on Friday, July 15 by noon.

Location: The campground is located at Webber Lake in Truckee, California at the Truckee Donner Land Trust campground.

Price: $800

For more information or to sign up, visit the program page here.

 

Environmental Science Research Camp

An environmental science camp at the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Webber Lake Campground for students going into 7th grade and older.

Foundations of the program:

1. Scientific Research

Students work with a cohort of peers at Webber Lake and with professional scientist mentors to create questions around their environmental topics of interest and develop these questions into a research project.

2. Mentorship

The students will be mentored by scientists for guidance through their project. These career-scientists can help with recommendations for how to turn an idea into an executable project.

3. Professional caliber scientific exploration

Participants are given the chance to practice science just like a professional would, analyzing data and finally creating a research talk. If they would like to create a paper they should also join our Summer Research Experience and at the end, they submit their paper for publication. They can get all of their data collected for the summer-long program during this week at Webber Lake.

Overview

Camping: Participants will camp at our Webber Lake study site from July 10-15. Parents will drop off campers on Sunday, July 10th after dinner and pick up on Friday, July 15 by noon.

Location: The campground is located at Webber Lake in Truckee, California at the Truckee Donner Land Trust campground.

Price: $800

For more information or to sign up, visit the program page here.

Research Experience

In the program, students will design and create an original research project mentored by a professional scientist, see through the project by conducting field research, (or compiling pre-existing available datasets), and learn how to analyze their findings. Students complete the program with a finalized research presentation and a formal research paper that will be submitted for publication.

Mentors:
Our professional scientist mentors are experienced in research and in mentoring students with a variety of research interests. They guide students to utilize a diverse array of research skills that can be used to study almost any topic imaginable.

Benefits:
Students emerge from the program with an experience they can add to a college resume, and life skills that will better prepare them for any career.

Overview

Location: Online meetings, independent research in the location of student’s choosing

Summer 2022 Program dates: Week of June 14 through the week of August 9th

Session Times: (students can select one of these based on their availability)

Tuesday – 2-3 p.m. PST

Tuesday – 5-6 p.m. PST

Cost: $1,350

Registration Process: Fill out either the financial assistance application (if you need financial help) or register directly. Registration opens February 1, 2022.
Regular registration until the program is filled. Financial assistance applications are open through March 1, 2022. Students will be notified by April 1, 2022.

For more information or sign up, visit the program page here.

 

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

4 Headwaters Research Experience students published in academic journal

4 Headwaters Research Experience students published in academic journal

She was a middle schooler with a passion for bird watching when she joined Headwater Science Institute’s Research Experience just a year ago. Now she’s a published researcher attending college at 14 years old.  

Lara Tseng’s stunning educational evolution, from middle-schooler to full-time student in the Early Entrance Program at CSULA, is just one example of the success experienced by graduates of Headwater’s Research Experience. In fact, she’s one of four recent Headwaters students who had their research manuscripts published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators.  

Colin Saltzgaber, a senior at the Nueva School in San Mateo, Calif., cited his published work on vegetation in the Yosemite Valley as a primary contributing factor to his acceptance into the University of Pennsylvania.  

Thresia Vazhaeparambil, a senior at Harker School in San Jose, Calif., published her research studying the dams, reservoirs, and watersheds in the foothills surrounding her home.  

And in 2020, Monta Vista High School student Ryan Li was published for his research on the relationship between macroinvertebrates, water quality, and the health of a creek near his home.  

A huge congratulations to all four of our students! Below is more on each project and how the Research Experience helped in their journey to being published.  

A passion for birds turns into an educational opportunity

“I just never was expecting something like a manuscript to be a part of the equation, but Headwaters encouraged me to do that,” Lara Tseng said. “My research mentor helped me with writing and editing the manuscript because, especially in middle school, there really isn’t a lot of that incorporated into the curriculum. Headwaters and the people there definitely guided me through the experience so I didn’t really feel like I was alone or afraid to approach something.” 

Lara’s project focused on eggshell consumption in different reproductive stages and broods of the Western Bluebird. She was inspired after reading an article about feeding eggshells to wild birds and trying it in her own backyard. She had also begun to monitor bluebirds the previous year.  

She called the impetus to her research as a “combination of interest and coincidence,” a good starting point for many good scientific inquiries. She’s since enrolled in CSULA, one of the few programs in the nation that allows students 16 and under to be full-time university students.  

“For me, the Research Experience changed a lot of things about my perception of science,” she said. “… It taught me about the different aspects of a study: Going from the initial observation that leads to a question that you’re interested in, discovering the answer to it and then hypothesizing and creating a methodology that actually works and then actually going through with that methodology and producing results and drawing some sort of conclusion from those results.   

“One thing that surprised me is the results; they don’t have to match up with your hypothesis. It can be completely different, and it can still be really important impactful research.”

A dream to attend UPenn becomes a reality 

Colin Saltzgaber has had his eye on attending the University of Pennsylvania, where his dad graduated from, for as long as he can remember. He said his Research Experience was a big part of being accepted, specifically a letter of recommendation from Headwaters Executive Director Meg Seifert.  

“Meg touched upon not only the work I did with Headwaters, but also she wrote about broader things like work ethic and how I contributed to help Headwaters outside of science, whether it was through donations or giving talks helping other students out,” said Colin, who plans on studying mineralogy and geology at Penn. “The Headwaters program itself, it was one of things I talked a lot about, ways I could back up my interest in mineralogy and geology.” 

Colin’s research project focused on vegetation in relation to slope in the Yosemite Valley. He said the path to getting published was “tedious and stressful, to be honest,” but rewarding and well worth it in the end.  

“This stuff is really important and something I’ll take to college with me,” he said.  

 

Environmental concern for her own backyard becomes published research 

Thresia Vazhaeparambil read with concern about the proposed expansion of the Pacheco Reservoir in Santa Clara County and decided to do something about it. Her Research Experience project put a literal microscope on the impact of dams on the nitrification of the surrounding ecosystem.  

“The rendering of the proposed expanded reservoir will increase the reservoir’s operational capacity up to 140,000 acre-feet of water,” she said. “Dams have many widely known benefits to humans, but not many people are aware of the harmful effects they can have on their surrounding environment.  

“An expansion of this magnitude will have significant and severe impacts on the reservoir’s ecosystem, which is why I wanted to further study dams and the nitrification of their surroundings.” 

She echoed Colin’s sentiments of the publication process being arduous but worth it.  

“I was not expecting the depth of feedback that I received and was surprised by the extensive nature of the process,” she said. “… It was reviewed by three scientists with relevant expertise in the specific field in addition to the editors and reviewers of the journal itself. While the process seemed intimidating at first, it was an exciting learning experience.” 

 

Finding large-scale climate phenomena in his own backyard 

Ryan Li also based his project out of interest in the water quality in a prominent watershed in the San Jose area, studying the relationship between macroinvertebrates, water quality, and the health of Stevens Creek.  

He said his favorite part of the process was “the opportunity to delve deeply into an area of science which I have been interested in while helping to make new potential discoveries which relate to that field of science as well as the study area.” 

He said the publication process helped him improve his ability to translate findings into writing.  

“I would say to a student considering entering this program that they should definitely give it a go,” he said. “Even if you don’t have an exact idea of what your research project would look like, the people who run the program will help you narrow down and guide you through the process of writing a research paper.”