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

Field Notes from Bay Area Afterschool Programs

Field Notes from Bay Area Afterschool Programs

This spring, Headwaters has been excited to partner with Richmond schools to provide an afterschool program for students at three different schools! We are serving around 150 students each week in after school programs, with students ranging in grade level from TK-6 grade.

This semester we are focused on all things birds and a special emphasis is put on Bay Area Birds. Students are learning about the adaptations some birds have and why, their life cycle, and habitats. They put up bird feeders and are asking questions about what we could change about the feeders that may change the number or type of birds we see.

One particular student who is more shy about speaking up has requested to put up a trap camera to see what is coming around when we aren’t there and she is excited to start that process this week.

Allowing students to set the parameters and rules in this way gives them ownership over their questions and their experience with science. Students rarely get to choose what they do, but we offer them those choices when we can to show them, they can be scientists!

Students have enjoyed learning about and identifying their local birds. At one school, they are thrilled to see the main culprit that is eating their birdseed is wild turkeys!

This program provides students with more access to ecological science than what they may get in the classroom. We are encouraging them to be inquisitive and curious about the immediate world around them. Students are learning that sometimes our questions and hypotheses are unanswerable but that the process is important.

Katie Cannon

Katie Cannon

Bay Area Program Manager

Inspiring Women Mentor Headwaters Students

Inspiring Women Mentor Headwaters Students

Headwaters Science Institute is proud to connect our students with science mentors in many of our programs. And on International Women’s Day, introducing some of the incredible women who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists. These women are all dedicated and accomplished researchers who are advancing science in their fields, and taking the time to share their experiences with Headwaters students!

Some of the incredible women who are making a difference with Headwaters Science Institute’s programs are Gabriela Rios-Sotelo, Kerri Spuller, Ashley Pierce, Anna Holmquist, Aviva Fiske, and Hanna Kahl. We are always grateful when they are able to allocate some of their time to help us reinforce our mission of “fostering curiosity through science.”

Gabriela Rios-Sotelo‘s research on White nose syndrome in bats is crucial for understanding and combating this deadly fungal disease. In addition, her work as a science educator has brought natural history and science lessons to people of all ages.

Kerri Spuller‘s research on landscape change and climate change in drylands has important implications for understanding how our planet is changing. Her work as an environmental scientist also helps ensure that our water and soil are safe and healthy.

Ashley Pierce‘s work in atmospheric pollutants is essential for understanding and addressing some of the most pressing environmental problems we face today. As an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow placed at the National Science Foundation, she works on programs that are cross-disciplinary with a focus on sustainability.

Anna Holmquist‘s research on spider biodiversity and the urban heat island effect is fascinating and important for understanding how our cities impact the natural world. Her passion for science education and making science accessible to all is also inspiring.

Aviva Fiske‘s research on sturgeon genetics is crucial for understanding and conserving these endangered fish populations. Her work with the GOALS program also helps ensure that more girls have the opportunity to experience the wonders of science and the outdoors.

Hanna Kahl‘s research on citrus pest management is essential for ensuring that farmers can produce healthy and sustainable food. Her work as a middle school teacher and in Women in Data also highlights her dedication to science education and empowering women in STEM.

Mentors play a critical role in inspiring young students to pursue science. They act as a guiding light by providing advice, answering tough questions, and empowering students to navigate the complexities of science with confidence. With a mentor’s support, students can feel inspired and equipped to take on the challenges of science, and pursue their dreams with passion and purpose. This is why we pair the best mentors with our Headwaters programs! The students see what is possible when they see themselves in and connect with these amazing women scientists.

A Summer of Fun: Campers Enjoy Summer Camps

A Summer of Fun: Campers Enjoy Summer Camps

Headwaters Science Institute had an amazing summer of camps! We hosted day camps at three separate locations: Carpenter Valley, Serene Lakes, and Kirkwood. At each week-long camp, campers investigated a research question related to the week’s theme. The weekly themes included water, plants and wildflowers, and bugs and insects.

Campers came up with inquisitive questions and it was easy for campers to think large and want to attempt to answer some of science’s most looming questions. We reminded them that they had to be able to answer their question while at camp, but their natural curiosity makes us sure that they are true scientists in the making. Some questions that campers settled on included, “Where do we find the most animals?” Is the drinking water lake actually cleaner than the swimming lake at Serene Lakes?”, “Are there more bugs in the meadow or the forest and why might that be?”

Campers collecting macroinvertebrates to assess stream health in Carpenter Valley

Campers came up with inquisitive questions and it was easy for campers to think large and want to attempt to answer some of science’s most looming questions. We reminded them that they had to be able to answer their question while at camp, but their natural curiosity makes us sure that they are true scientists in the making. Some questions that campers settled on included, “Where do we find the most animals?” Is the drinking water lake actually cleaner than the swimming lake at Serene Lakes?”, “Are there more bugs in the meadow or the forest and why might that be?”

Taking in the view at Serene Lakes

Campers learned the scientific process, all the way from observing what’s around them to presenting their data and findings to an audience. For some campers, it was their first time observing the natural world through a scientific lens and being able to facilitate their curiosity is important in their development as young scientists.

Webber Lake campers presenting their preliminary findings to fellow campers and members of the community who joined for a docent hike through the Truckee Donner Land Trust

In addition, we also hosted two overnight week-long camps at Webber Lake; one was our Environmental Science Research camp and the other was our Girls Science camp. It was an amazing week of focused science and also time to enjoy being outside. Students at these camps fully immersed in the scientific process and eventually created online presentations that were available for the public to watch.

We had a successful summer of science and fun and hope to see many returning campers next year!