Introduction to Research Camp
Headwaters hosted an introduction to research camp at the Clair Tappaan Lodge at Donner Summit last week for 18 students. Students thoroughly enjoyed their 3-day, 2-night field camp – as one said, “It’s fun to do science in the fresh air!” Thanks to the Tahoe Mountain Resort Foundation for funding this program and helping us bring these middle school students out to experience scientific research, mentorship, professional caliber scientific exploration, and the wonders of the Sierras.
We hoped to provide an opportunity for students to fully participate in the scientific process. We started camp with an overview of available methods for data collection to help students begin to think about what kinds of research questions can be asked and answered in the environment we are in with the tools we have available. Then we will start designing research questions in groups of about 5 and start thinking about what’s the best way to go about data collection. Some of the questions they came up with were “which species of trees die most commonly and why are there so many dead trees?” and “does soil pH affect how well a tree grows?” which were really insightful and set us up for some fun exploration throughout camp.
We spent most of the second day collecting data in the field, which required getting muddy to collect water samples. Some of the field techniques we practiced were:
- assessing plant diversity and percent cover using quadrants
- calculating tree density and tree age
- soil chemistry
- macroinvertebrate sampling to assess stream health
- using bug nets to collect bugs in different environments
“I had a lot of fun catching insects and gathering data!” and as another student said “this was a really fun day!”
We dove into data analysis and interpretation of results on the third day. Because students were interpreting their own data, even those who had some trepidation about analysis grew comfortable and confident leading up to their final conclusions. Presentations were great! Everyone was so excited to share what they had found and proud of their accomplishments.
Students were especially grateful to have Bryn Anderson (Headwaters’ program manager), Beth Fitzpatrick (PhD student at University of Wyoming), Cas Carroll (PhD student at UNR), and Chloe Gorman (bachelor’s student at Claremont College) for guiding them through this program.
Our science mentors were very nice and excited to teach us new things. They are passionate about science!
Using the natural world to investigate a research topic in the field of ecology allowed students to really experience the process of science firsthand through a diverse set of research questions and we’re grateful to the Tahoe Mountain Resort Foundation for their funding. Headwaters always strives to make our programs, and by extension hands-on science education, approachable, accessible, and affordable and the Tahoe Mountain Resort Foundation shares these values, committing key support to this program.