That’s a Wrap on Spring Semester School Programs!

That’s a Wrap on Spring Semester School Programs!

That’s a wrap on the spring semester! As thoughts turn to summer exploration, summer camps, fun events, and vacations, we want to take a moment to recap some of the local Tahoe Truckee school programs we did this school year.

With a huge thank you to our local community with grants from Powdr Corp Community Foundation, Martis Camp, Donner Party Charitable Fund, Tahoe Mt. Resorts, Truckee Airport Foundation, Truckee Rotary, North Tahoe Kiwanis, and Tahoe League for Charity. Thank you for all your support.

Alder Creek Middle School

Late this spring, we worked with ACMS 7th graders to create research projects focused around human impacts in Donner Memorial State Park! We began the week by joining students in class to talk about question asking and planning to collect data. Students were interested in the various ways that humans may impact the park, ranging from investigating water quality, to looking at trash and litter, to measuring plant and insect biodiversity. In order to test these questions, students collected data at the park during the middle of the week. Each group was able to collect data at various locations across the park, while also observing wildlife like frogs and lizards outside of their projects!

Thanks to the support of Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, Martis Camp, and the hospitality of Donner Memorial State Park, this adventure was a wild success!


Truckee High School

Thanks to the incredible support of the Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation and the Martis Camp Foundation, we ran an amazing field program with Truckee High School for over 40 students! From formulating questions in the classroom to hands-on fieldwork at Donner Creek, students explored macroinvertebrate populations, measured stream pH and temperatures, and even discovered unexpected surprises like fish and a large crawfish! Back in class, they analyzed their data and delivered insightful presentations. A huge thank you to our sponsors for making this enriching experience possible!

Student questions were mostly centered around organisms within the stream, including fish, crayfish, and macroinvertebrate insects. Some groups were also interested in plants around the stream, and looked at biodiversity found in the area, as well as chemical composition of leaves.

Truckee Afterschool

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.

Sierra Expeditionary Learning School

Projects focused on snow science, and how chemical and physical properties of snow are affected by location, depth of the snow pack, and presence of insects. Each groups’ question was inspired by a tour at the Central Sierra Snow Lab, where students got to learn about the large-scale climate and snow monitoring happening at the lab, before conducting their own smaller scale research.

Students were able to work in the area around the lab, collecting data, and also having fun playing in the snow and playing some group games.

La Fuerza Latina Truckee

Thanks to funding from Truckee Rotary, a group of La Fuerza Latina Truckee students from Truckee High School came with us to tour the Central Sierra Snow Lab and to start data collection. The students had really insightful ideas on what their data meant, and why they saw the trends they did, and it was great to see the students engage in that discussion around data visualization.

Donner Trail Yuba River Day

It was a great, warm, sunny October Day on the South Yuba River. Headwaters spent the day in the river teaching the kids about water speed and gradient in the river, as well as algae growth and water quality. The students loved using the ducks and meter sticks to measure the flow. They learned how increased gradient means increased water speed. They also learned how where in the river you are measuring changes the water speed. For example when the bank or logs/sticks jet out into the river they block the water and decrease the speed that is flows. Truckee Tahoe School district media was there and are interested in doing more stories with us.

King’s Beach Elementary

During this program, we developed hyper-local, sustainable food programming to engage with over 60 fifth-grade students, including varied paths to science, the importance of a sustainable diet, and creating a healthy meal from the local 7-Eleven.  

Over three sessions, students learned about Headwaters’ program manager Courtney’s background, her master’s thesis, and how to make a healthy meal based on what you can find at the local 7-Eleven. 

Students learned about the components of a healthy diet including understanding the role of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. During this discussion, students were able to cook themselves from boiling water, create salads, or pass out cut fruit. The students were surprised to see how much fruit and vegetables were available at the local 7-Eleven and how they could make healthy choices for their diets, no matter their access.

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

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

Early in October, we spent part of Washoe County’s fall break with a group of students at our Introduction to Research Camp. These students are from the Reno/Carson area, and they came to Davis Creek Regional Park to learn about science, and conduct research. 

Campers used the forest at Davis Creek Regional Park for inspiration as they came up with research questions for the weekend.

This program was funded by a grant from Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas. Offering camps and other programs at a low cost is made possible through grants like this, and we are grateful to Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas for funding this camp and helping us reach more students. 

We had beautiful early fall weather, and the streams in the park were still flowing, inspiring students to come up with questions on a variety of topics. One group spent the weekend filtering water and measuring pH and total dissolved solids to test water quality, while another group tested fertility of soil at different distances from water sources. The third group was interested in how sunlight affects soil moisture and pH, and what impact that might have on plants. Facilitating this exploration and curiosity in students at a park close to where they all live can be especially impactful because they can bring their findings and knowledge back to their homes and continue to make connections in their own environment. 

Campers Kris and Noah are hard at work collecting data.

After finishing a full day of data collection, campers relaxed by the pond and looked for fish and birds.

Campers Audrey, Marshall, and Maggie are hard at work collecting data.

We spent the evenings telling stories and eating s’mores around a campfire, and showcasing the students’ talents at a talent show. These fun and community building aspects of camp were reflected in conversations with students at the end of the weekend with one student expressing that “my favorite part of camp was meeting new friends” before adding “collecting data was fun too.” The groups presented their findings to their parents at the end of the weekend, and all the students were excited to share their findings, as well as tell their parents stories from the weekend. Students shared that they “learned about the steps to come up with a good answer to a question”, and that “science is about more than just testing things, there’s a lot of steps to it”. 

Morgan Long

Morgan Long

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.