Summer Camp Field Notes

Summer Camp Field Notes

Headwaters’ summer camps were an absolute blast! Campers of all ages really impressed us with their hard work – especially since planning out their projects and working through the scientific process is often new for them! Campers were challenged to design a testable research question and develop a scientific method for collecting data.They analyzed their data and interpreted their results to determine whether or not they could support their hypothesis! 

Many of our camps also spent time playing games and telling stories around the campfire, of course with s’mores each night, and not only did we hike around each day, but we also went on a short night walk to observe the stars and talk about nocturnal wildlife at camps in the Truckee region!

By taking students outside to learn real-world science, and empowering them to design their own research projects, we are also teaching them critical thinking and communication skills. At Headwaters, our goal is to see these students grow into informed citizens who not only pursue science careers but blossom when faced with opportunities to positively impact society!

Program managers from camps had the following field notes:

Intro to Research Camp

Projects included investigating the effects of pH and temperature on macroinvertebrate biodiversity, identifying if bird populations were more abundant closer or farther from the lake, and examining if tree density affected the number of plant species.

Girls Science Camp

These girls were invested in projects like macroinvertebrate populations in Lacey Stream, pH and DO measurements in Webber Lake, and stump degradation in the forests! 

Webber Lake Environmental Research

Campers investigated projects like investigating macroinvertebrate populations in Lacey Stream and arthropod abundance in Lacey Meadows. On Friday morning, we were joined by the Truckee Donner Land Trust for a docent hike where campers presented their projects to members of the community. 

Serene Lakes Camps

Week 1: Anson Call joined us for a presentation on Aspen trees on Thursday afternoon!

Week 2: We had an exceptional week exploring trees and wildflowers around Serene Lakes. Morgan Long joined us for a scientific presentation on bear denning on Thursday afternoon!

Week 3: We explored animals and insects during week three. Campers questioned whether things like soil moisture, tree species, or sunlight influenced the number of insects they saw. Todd Rawlinson from the U.S. Forest Service joined us Thursday to talk about his work as a wildlife biologist and all of the different aspects of his role.

Truckee Camps

We had an exceptional week exploring the ecosystems around the area to search for different patterns in animals and insects. From meadows to forests, we had no shortage of area to explore. We investigated all sorts of data but campers seemed to really enjoy catching grasshoppers and listening for birds. We even had one group dive deep into some of the math ecologists do to determine the age of trees! 

Richmond Summer Camp 

In June and July, we had a new-to-Headwaters summer camp in Richmond for elementary-aged students!

 We aim to ignite curiosity, deepen campers’ connection with the environment, and explore science in a captivating way, which meant taking these campers on exciting field trips to parks, sanctuaries, and zoos, where they were able to explore the wonders of nature up close! They were particularly excited about insects and their general surroundings, discovering new places like the creek. Each of these field trips was coupled with other outdoor activities, engaging discussions, and scientific method practice, like data collection, which helped campers put the pieces together when it came time to think through the scientific process.

By the end of camp, each child was understanding the scientific process and beginning to see potential career paths they hadn’t thought of before. Plus, their excitement about camp and science grew every day! A beautiful transformation occurred in our attendees. They not only grasped the scientific process but also developed a passion for science-related careers. Their enthusiasm grew daily.

We also spent time bridging science and art through creative thinking, art projects, and fun activities that had the campers learning facts about insects and enhancing engagement, while also flexing their creative muscles and using their imaginative minds. 

Throughout the summer, our campers’ enthusiasm shone in all the activities!

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

‘Students were highly engaged and enriched’: Headwaters’ first ever Florida science camp a success

‘Students were highly engaged and enriched’: Headwaters’ first ever Florida science camp a success

Headwaters Science Institute took to the beautiful and diverse Florida coastline for the first time in a recently completed school science camp with South Lake Elementary School.

Students were introduced to the natural wonders of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River Lagoon. 

The three-day program took students through the process of science and into the field to investigate soil pH, biodiversity, and water quality along the shores of the 156-mile estuary located along the east coast of Florida. 

“South Lake students were highly engaged and enriched…,” South Lake principal Jennifer Brockwell told Headwaters. “I was amazed that in such a short amount of time, all they had accomplished and their quality of work, which they proudly presented. These students will be able to leverage their science skills in the upcoming school year and come prepared with scientific knowledge, data analysis abilities, and scientific research skills. I highly recommend this experience!”

Run by Programs Manager Jennifer Cotton, the camp was a perfect example of how Headwaters hands-on programs translate well in any part of the country, whether it be the mountain lakes and streams of the Tahoe-Truckee area or the coast of Florida. South Lake students culminated the program with presentations of their projects, leaving them with an encapsulation of what real science in the field is all about. 

“What an incredible opportunity this was!” one parent told Headwaters. “We are very grateful for you, your volunteers, and South Lake for offering this incredible summer camp. I was very impressed with what all the groups accomplished.”

For more information on Headwaters school programs or to inquire about bringing a camp to your school, click below or contact Jenn at

Check out more photos from Headwaters’ first ever Florida school program. 

‘This was an amazing learning experience’: Spring field days show value of hands-on science research

‘This was an amazing learning experience’: Spring field days show value of hands-on science research

It’s been a busy spring of field day programs at Headwaters Science Institute, and we couldn’t be more excited to share with you what our students have been working on. 

From erosion research on the banks of the American River in Sacramento to examining the effects of fire on forests near Truckee, we’ve been thrilled to facilitate the ability of hundreds of students to get out of the classroom and into the natural world around them in beautiful Northern California and Lake Tahoe areas. 

“I really appreciated being able to fully design our own research – we came up with our own question, method, and process, with guidance from Headwaters Institute teachers,” one student from San Francisco’s Urban High School said of their field day. “Then, we learned how to analyze our data and results with information about statistics from Headwaters Institute teachers. Throughout everything, we were able to choose our main path and learn a lot, with support and assistance from knowledgeable and helpful guides!”

Here’s a closer look at the school programs we’ve hosted over the past couple of months. For more information on our school programs, whether it be one-day field days or multiple-day programs that incorporate field and classroom work, hit the button below. 

Truckee High School La Fuerza Latina program field day

Students from Truckee High School’s La Fuerza Latina program learned how to sample and identify invertebrates in this field day at Truckee Springs, which is part of Tahoe Donner Land Trust. 

Most of the students had not been to this location and were excited to explore. They learned how to use quadrats to estimate the percent cover of vegetation and then came up with their own question to collect data around. 

All first-generation students working hard in school and learning about potential career paths, they asked questions like “do certain birds prefer certain trees?” and “does the soil composition change with distance from the river?” 

“This program made me realize I positively would love to major in science!” one student from the program said. 

Thanks to Rotary Club for funding this program. 

Sacramento Country Day School 8th grade erosion field day

In this field day, students investigated the effect of erosion on the American River at the Clay Banks access. They analyzed factors such as sediment size, vegetation density, bank height, and water speed. Three graduate students from UC Davis helped Headwaters team members Beth Fitzgerald and Mary Ellen Benier.

“This was an amazing learning experience for all of us and something I remember when I am an adult,” one program student said. 

North Tahoe Middle School fire and human impacts field day

These students were challenged not only by their science research but also the weather, as a very snowy spring day greeted us in the field, as is often the case in science field work. Despite that fact, the students learned about scientific techniques used to measure forest characteristics that potentially relate to fire risk and human impacts in the forest adjacent to their school.

They learned how to transect, measure DBH (diameter at breast height), use quadrats, and assess tree health by quantifying insect damage. 

The students were able to synthesize their findings and relate them back to fire and human impacts. Some of the students even presented their research to their classroom. 

“I very much liked this program because you can learn very new interesting things that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else,” a program student said. 

Thanks to Truckee Tahoe Airport for funding this program. 

Urban High School ecology class, factors that impact riparian habitats field day

Juniors and seniors at San Francisco’s Urban High School spent two days in the field collecting data at Marin Headlands in Gerbode Valley. They were focused on questions about the impact of soil nutrients and soil moisture on plant biodiversity, the impact of salinity on plant biodiversity, and factors that influence the amount of native versus nonnative plants observed. 

“I learned how to do work in a real-world environment which was something I had not gotten an opportunity to do before,” a program student said. 


Fall 2021 Field Days

Fall 2021 Field Days

Headwaters was excited to put together a series of Fall Field Days for students in middle and high school. Over the course of four days, 12 students came out to explore the ecosystems around them and engage in outdoor learning after a year spent on Zoom!

We offered four different themed programs in September and October: meadows and water, environmental field science (for girls in science), ecology, and environmental science (for AP students). Students were excited to get outside!

Students learned to problem solve in the field, increasing their analytical and critical thinking skills. Students also learned about interpreting the data they collected, like what individual measures of dissolved oxygen and aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity mean for water quality in a stream. Hosting these programs outside of the classroom allowed the students to connect with the land and learn more about the local environment. We also talked about the scientific process, what it takes to be a scientist, and what careers in science can look like. 

Overall, students enjoyed their experiences with the Fall Field Days. Each student reported that they learned something during the field days that they would not have in a regular science classroom, and each also stated they like science more after attending the field days than before.

Thank you to our partners at the Truckee Donner Land Trust for allowing us to host these field days on their property – it provided a great opportunity for students to learn and explore the ecosystems around them. Also, thank you to our sponsors and donors, including Soroptimist International, the Truckee Tahoe Airport, Rotary Club of Truckee, and the Tahoe League for Charity. We were able to provide these programs to students in the greater Truckee/Tahoe/Reno area free of charge, allowing students who might face prohibitive costs of the program to attend.