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!

Research Field Science Program at  McKeesport Area High School

Research Field Science Program at McKeesport Area High School

Headwaters completed a very successful Introduction to Research Field Science Program at McKeesport Area High School with 30 10th-12th grade environmental science and biology students! The program aims to foster scientific inquiry and hands-on learning experiences for students and 100% of students reported that they gained new skills in problem-solving during this program. 

On Tuesday, April 9th, students engaged in a preparatory session with Headwaters, focusing on question formulation and methods development in anticipation of their field day. Divided into five groups, students crafted research inquiries ranging from the effects of total dissolved solids on amphibians to the impact of human interaction on biodiversity.

The following day, Wednesday, April 10th, students embarked on a field trip to Cedar Creek Park in Belle Vernon, PA. The students went to the field despite recent rainfall and the remnants of flooding. They demonstrated remarkable dedication to field data collection, and most groups surpassed their data collection goals! With enthusiasm and resilience, they navigated muddy terrain, fell in the creek at times, and to their surprise even encountered frogs and salamanders. All the groups were trying to better understand the plants and animals in the park and the effects of human activity on the ecosystem. 

Back in the classroom on April 11th, students analyzed their data and presented their findings to peers. Notable discoveries included the relationship between light exposure and tree size, the correlation between water speed and amphibian populations, and the influence of human activity on biodiversity.

Impressed by their students’ achievements, Marla Hayes, their teacher, commended their commitment to scientific exploration. The program also benefited from the invaluable support of mentors from Seton Hill University, Duquesne University, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who shared their expertise in ecology and environmental science with the students.  One student said, “I thought it was really cool how we got to go out and collect real data, using professional tools. Our instructors were very helpful with problem solving.”  100% of the students reported they learned something they wouldn’t have normally learned in class. 

“This was the first time any of these students had been to Cedar Creek Park, and most reported a heightened interest in science and nature,” Meg Seifert, Headwaters Science Institute ED said.

One student said, “I enjoyed the freedom we had when we were in person collecting data. It made me feel very capable.” Headwaters looks forward to continuing to inspire future generations of scientists!

I enjoyed the freedom we had when we were in person collecting data. It made me feel very capable.

McKeesport Student

Headwaters Science Institute is thankful to Nature’s Way, the Tuscano Agency, the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, and local donors for their generous contributions, and to Cedar Creek Park for their help planning the program and providing a great field space for the students. Without all of this support this program would not have been possible. By providing students with firsthand experiences in nature, the program aims to ignite a lifelong passion for science and environmental stewardship.

Meg Seifert

Meg Seifert

Executive Director

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.