It’s Fun To Do Science in the Fresh Air

It’s Fun To Do Science in the Fresh Air

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.

Bryn Anderson

Bryn Anderson

Program Manager

Hiking and science in the Sierra Nevada: Headwaters executive director shares her family’s summer adventures

Hiking and science in the Sierra Nevada: Headwaters executive director shares her family’s summer adventures

There’s no better time than summer to get out and explore the natural world around you. Whether it’s hiking in the mountains or swimming in lakes, rivers or the ocean, even summertime fun can bring out the curiosity of scientific inquiry. 

The wonder nature can inspire is one of the foundations Headwaters Science Institute was founded on. 

Founder Meg Seifert took that to heart during a busy summer heading up Headwaters’ programming and summer science camps but also doing a bit of exploring herself with her family around the rugged beauty of the mountains surrounding the Truckee-Tahoe area. 

Meg loves to explore new places with her family. It’s not only great for getting the kids outside but also noticing their surroundings and connecting with nature, she said. 

“We learn grit and perseverance, as well” she said. 

Meg took two backpacking trips with her family this summer. The first a 35-mile, 3 ½-day trip to the Trinity Alps that included 10,000 feet of climbing and an equal descent. 

“It was hot and hard hiking, but the kids felt really accomplished,” she said. 

The second hike was two days and two nights to the Royal Gorge of the American River, a 7-mile out and back hike that included about 3,000 feet of climbing and descent. 

“We swam in pristine spots on the river; we saw snakes and other animals,” she said. 

Here’s more from Meg about her summer adventures and how she applies scientific inquiry:

How do you and your family view such stunning nature through a scientific lens?

“We encourage the kids to be curious. We try to notice things from flowers to plants to the landscape. We talk about and think about how the areas we are in were shaped or formed. We think about why there are different features of the landscape. We also talk about changes in plants and leaves and all of that.”

Do you try to incorporate science on these types of trips or is it more appreciating nature and all that it offers?

“It depends. Sometimes the kids are really into asking questions and looking for answers; other times, it is more an appreciation of what is around us. We let the environment and the kid’s interests guide the trips and what we do. We always have paper and a pencil to take notes or draw things. Mari loves to document with photos. She is always taking photos of plants and flowers. Sometimes it is appreciation, and sometimes it is more scientific.”

Has your science background allowed you to appreciate nature more?

“Yes, and I think it helps my kids as well. Instead of just saying something is pretty or special, we usually delve into the why. It allows us to think about how things are connected and how humans have changed or are changing an area. Really it just allows us a deeper look and hopefully, it is helping the kids to be more curious.”