Science Mentor Jasmine Speaks to the Value of Hands-on Learning

Science Mentor Jasmine Speaks to the Value of Hands-on Learning

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. 

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water

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.

students use nets to find invertebrates in shallow water

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.

Jasmine Williamshen

Jasmine Williamshen

Science Mentor

Sacramento Country Day 7th Graders Learn About Riparian Habitats

Sacramento Country Day 7th Graders Learn About Riparian Habitats

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!

David Dimitrie

David Dimitrie

Program Director

6th Graders from Sacramento Country Day Explore the American River

6th Graders from Sacramento Country Day Explore the American River

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!

David Dimitrie

David Dimitrie

Program Director

Fall 2021 Field Days

Fall 2021 Field Days

Headwaters was excited to put together a series of Fall Field Days for students in middle and high school. Over the course of four days, 12 students came out to explore the ecosystems around them and engage in outdoor learning after a year spent on Zoom!

We offered four different themed programs in September and October: meadows and water, environmental field science (for girls in science), ecology, and environmental science (for AP students). Students were excited to get outside!

Students learned to problem solve in the field, increasing their analytical and critical thinking skills. Students also learned about interpreting the data they collected, like what individual measures of dissolved oxygen and aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity mean for water quality in a stream. Hosting these programs outside of the classroom allowed the students to connect with the land and learn more about the local environment. We also talked about the scientific process, what it takes to be a scientist, and what careers in science can look like. 

Overall, students enjoyed their experiences with the Fall Field Days. Each student reported that they learned something during the field days that they would not have in a regular science classroom, and each also stated they like science more after attending the field days than before.

Thank you to our partners at the Truckee Donner Land Trust for allowing us to host these field days on their property – it provided a great opportunity for students to learn and explore the ecosystems around them. Also, thank you to our sponsors and donors, including Soroptimist International, the Truckee Tahoe Airport, Rotary Club of Truckee, and the Tahoe League for Charity. We were able to provide these programs to students in the greater Truckee/Tahoe/Reno area free of charge, allowing students who might face prohibitive costs of the program to attend.

San Francisco University High School Program

San Francisco University High School Program

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!

David Dimitrie

David Dimitrie

Program Director