If you had told the teenage me that I could earn a living by catching, counting, and measuring fishes and invertebrates, I most certainly would not have believed you – yet I found myself trying to convince middle and high school students just that. A career in research performing observational and experimental studies in the field was unknown to me until my third year as an undergraduate student. This revelation sent me down an exhausting, but exhilarating and rewarding, path of studying aquatic ecology. In this new chapter, my office was a river decorated with cattail and willow, regularly visited by heron, beaver, and osprey. I could not be happier, and I wanted to spread this information with young students.
I was eager to work with Headwaters Science Institute as a mentor because I wanted to share with students the vast possibilities that exist in the field of scientific research. I hoped they would find wonder in natural environments that would instill curiosity and excitement. This anticipation was met as I helped students complete their projects in an incredibly short period of time – one week for 6th and 7th grade students from Sacramento Country Day and two weeks for 12th grade students at College Preparatory School.
From study design to data collection and analysis, the level of collaboration and teamwork that occurred within groups at College Preparatory School was amazing. The students were impressive both virtually in the classroom and in-person in the field. As I helped a group of students collect aquatic invertebrates from a stream and sort them by taxonomic group, I drew parallels between the research they were performing as high school seniors and the research I conducted as a graduate student. This program is so valuable because it exposes students to experiences that cannot be taught through lectures and allows them an opportunity to learn by engaging with nature and their classmates.
Headwaters Science Institute was excited to host our second program with Sacramento Country Day School in October! We combined digital classroom lessons with a fun field day of in-person data collection to help the 7th graders design projects focusing on the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors in riparian habitat. Our programs emphasize the complete scientific process, and students learned how to ask a scientific question, develop a research plan, collect their data, and interpret the results from their data to find an answer to their question. As one student commented at the end of our program, they learned that “ science is more than just testing things and getting results.”
Working with their team of fellow classmates and under the guidance of Headwaters staff, UC Davis graduate students, and local scientists, each group did an excellent job through every step of the process. They were intrigued by the relationships in and around the American River and asked questions like: How does the pH and depth of the American River affect the aquatic macroinvertebrates found in the river?, How does water temperature affect plant growth?, and How does the amount of rocks in an area affect the flow rate of water?.
This program, like all of Headwaters’ student-driven research programs, highlights the benefits of moving beyond the normal classroom experience for science learning. Following this program, 90% of the students said they like science more than they did before the program!
We continue to work with teachers and schools to provide these unique science opportunities to middle and high school students this school year and beyond! Sacramento Country Day teachers called this a “great experience to get students out in the field and working with graduate students”. We encourage teachers to reach out to discuss options on how we can bring these opportunities to your students as well – either virtually or in person!
Headwaters Science Institute was excited to be back with students from Sacramento this fall, as we joined the 6th graders of Sacramento Country Day for a week-long program examining how humans and invasive species can affect habitats in an urban environment.
Almost 50 students got to explore and learn about science through a combination of digital classroom lessons and an in-person field day along the American River. The students designed and implemented their own studies to test diverse research questions such as “How does the Watt Avenue bridge affect the water temperature of the American River?” and “How does soil moisture compare between locations with native and invasive plant species?” Headwaters staff, along with local graduate students and scientists Rob Blenk, Aviva Fiske, Rich Kim, and Jasmine Williamshen, joined the students outdoors for a field day full of data collection and exploration. The students also took part in a river cleanup at the end of the field day to help the local environment. Each group later graphed their results, interpreted their data, and presented their findings to their classmates.
This program, like all of Headwaters’ student-driven research programs, emphasized the importance of curiosity in learning the scientific process. Following the program, 96% of the students felt confident in their ability to apply the scientific method and 92% said they learned something they would not have in a regular science class! As one student commented at the end of our program, “I learned that science is a really cool and fun way to figure out how things work!”
We are excited to be providing these science opportunities to both middle and high school students again! Teachers, if you are interested in this type of unique program for your students, please reach out to discuss options. We are here for you and your students!
Over the past year, we witnessed the learning environment shift from the hands-on nature of the classroom to Zoom meetings and computer screens. Students are more than ready to re-engage in experiential science opportunities, and Headwaters Science Institute is excited to be back with students this fall, digitally in the classroom and in-person in the field. We were thrilled to kick the 2021-2022 school year off with the students of San Francisco University High School this September. As part of their Advanced Placement Environmental Science course curriculum, 28 students took part in an immersive in-class and field hybrid program to study how differences in abiotic conditions can affect plant biodiversity.
The program kicked off with Headwaters staff leading the students in two days of question asking activities and research plan development. Thanks to the hybrid nature of Headwaters programs, Headwaters staff and graduate student research mentors from both UC Berkeley (PhD candidate Ana Lyons) and San Francisco State University (MS student Leo Rodriguez) were able to join the students of SFUHS in their classroom remotely while still providing guidance and feedback on the student-driven research projects. Students developed diverse projects regarding how different characteristics such as elevation, slope, and soil chemistry affected plant biodiversity.
With the Marin Headlands of Golden Gate National Research Area as the backdrop for their field site, students worked in collaboration as research groups to collect the data needed to evaluate their research questions and hypotheses. A cool morning and light mist didn’t deter the students as they practiced techniques such as soil chemistry testing and quadrat sampling for plant biodiversity.
Each group analyzed their results and interpreted their findings to draw conclusions for their research question. The program culminated with student presentations to their classmates on their research.
This program, like all Headwaters’ programs, emphasized the importance of curiosity, communication, and collaboration in the scientific process. As one student commented at the end of the program, “I learned that I love fieldwork and that science is more collaborative than I would have thought!” Students in our programs improve their ability to apply the scientific method, gain exposure to professional scientists, and learn how to become a scientist themselves.
We are so excited to provide these unique opportunities to students again this year. Teachers, if you are interested in a similar program for your students, please reach out to discuss options to best meet the needs for you and your students!
We want to extend a congratulations to all of our students highlighted in the newest issue of the Student Research Journal, published last week! Amanda Becker, Leo Long, Isaiah Ferebee, Colin Saltzgaber, and Brian Browne developed original research ideas, collected their own data or analyzed existing datasets, analyzed and interpreted their data to find the conclusions presented in these manuscripts.
The breadth of research in this publication is a true testament to the creativity of the students in the program. Each student worked incredibly hard to complete these manuscripts, and we encourage them to be proud of what this research represents. Each student fostered their curiosity while managing the setbacks, time constraints, and challenges that come with scientific research in order to author these papers.
“The Headwaters process completely changed my outlook on what I could accomplish as a young scientist. It gave me the skills and tools that I need to propose a question, conduct my own research, and share it with the scientific community. Additionally, being paired with a very knowledgeable mentor that guided me through the process made it very smooth and stressless, and being able to ask her any questions I had about the process or the science helped me to learn a lot.”
These articles also highlight the fantastic job the scientist mentors did in promoting this creativity and in assisting the students throughout the scientific process. These scientists each brought unique knowledge to the program, and, as research mentors, they shared with students their own experiences in what it takes to conduct original scientific research. Thank you to all of the scientist mentors who provided the time and energy to not only make these projects possible but to help our students grow as scientific thinkers.
“Over the last 18 month during the pandemic, I participated in a research program through Headwaters Science Institute and got the opportunity to work with scientists as my mentors on two research projects. I not only designed my own research projects but had the opportunity to present and publish my findings. My experience was incredibly unique as there are very few opportunities for high school students to have access to college professors or scientists as their mentors.”
Students participating in our summer Research Experience presented their scientific findings in August over three nights online to family, friends, teachers, and mentors. These students did a fantastic job and you can view their presentations on YouTube, below.
The research experience is a fantastic opportunity for students interested in science and looking for an impressive project to add to their college resume. More information can be found here – we run this program in the fall, spring, and summer so think about getting involved and let us know if you have any questions.