‘This was an amazing learning experience’: Spring field days show value of hands-on science research

‘This was an amazing learning experience’: Spring field days show value of hands-on science research

It’s been a busy spring of field day programs at Headwaters Science Institute, and we couldn’t be more excited to share with you what our students have been working on. 

From erosion research on the banks of the American River in Sacramento to examining the effects of fire on forests near Truckee, we’ve been thrilled to facilitate the ability of hundreds of students to get out of the classroom and into the natural world around them in beautiful Northern California and Lake Tahoe areas. 

“I really appreciated being able to fully design our own research – we came up with our own question, method, and process, with guidance from Headwaters Institute teachers,” one student from San Francisco’s Urban High School said of their field day. “Then, we learned how to analyze our data and results with information about statistics from Headwaters Institute teachers. Throughout everything, we were able to choose our main path and learn a lot, with support and assistance from knowledgeable and helpful guides!”

Here’s a closer look at the school programs we’ve hosted over the past couple of months. For more information on our school programs, whether it be one-day field days or multiple-day programs that incorporate field and classroom work, hit the button below. 

Truckee High School La Fuerza Latina program field day

Students from Truckee High School’s La Fuerza Latina program learned how to sample and identify invertebrates in this field day at Truckee Springs, which is part of Tahoe Donner Land Trust. 

Most of the students had not been to this location and were excited to explore. They learned how to use quadrats to estimate the percent cover of vegetation and then came up with their own question to collect data around. 

All first-generation students working hard in school and learning about potential career paths, they asked questions like “do certain birds prefer certain trees?” and “does the soil composition change with distance from the river?” 

“This program made me realize I positively would love to major in science!” one student from the program said. 

Thanks to Rotary Club for funding this program. 

Sacramento Country Day School 8th grade erosion field day

In this field day, students investigated the effect of erosion on the American River at the Clay Banks access. They analyzed factors such as sediment size, vegetation density, bank height, and water speed. Three graduate students from UC Davis helped Headwaters team members Beth Fitzgerald and Mary Ellen Benier.

“This was an amazing learning experience for all of us and something I remember when I am an adult,” one program student said. 

North Tahoe Middle School fire and human impacts field day

These students were challenged not only by their science research but also the weather, as a very snowy spring day greeted us in the field, as is often the case in science field work. Despite that fact, the students learned about scientific techniques used to measure forest characteristics that potentially relate to fire risk and human impacts in the forest adjacent to their school.

They learned how to transect, measure DBH (diameter at breast height), use quadrats, and assess tree health by quantifying insect damage. 

The students were able to synthesize their findings and relate them back to fire and human impacts. Some of the students even presented their research to their classroom. 

“I very much liked this program because you can learn very new interesting things that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else,” a program student said. 

Thanks to Truckee Tahoe Airport for funding this program. 

Urban High School ecology class, factors that impact riparian habitats field day

Juniors and seniors at San Francisco’s Urban High School spent two days in the field collecting data at Marin Headlands in Gerbode Valley. They were focused on questions about the impact of soil nutrients and soil moisture on plant biodiversity, the impact of salinity on plant biodiversity, and factors that influence the amount of native versus nonnative plants observed. 

“I learned how to do work in a real-world environment which was something I had not gotten an opportunity to do before,” a program student said. 

 

Spots still open for Headwaters’ 2022 summer camps and programs

Spots still open for Headwaters’ 2022 summer camps and programs

Your one-stop shop for your student’s summer plans are right here. Registration for Headwaters Science Institute’s summer camps and programs are open, and spots are still available. But they are filling up fast, so act now. Below you can find all of our offerings for Summer 2022.

Truckee Young Scientist Exploration Camp

Give your child the opportunity to explore nature this summer. This hands-on science camp is designed for children to have fun while exploring the unique ecology of the area.

Campers will explore the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s new Truckee Springs park in Downtown Truckee. From this site, hiking, splashing in the river, and other fun activities are all easily accessible. Science is fun and engaging when children get to ask the questions that they are curious about. This program will show your child that science is all around them, while forging a unique connection to the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada region.

Overview

Ages: 5-12

Dates:
Session 1 – July 5-8
Session 2 – Aug. 8-12

Times: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily

Location: Truckee Donner Land Trust’s “Truckee Springs” parcel (drop off at the end of South River Street)

Price:

Session 1 – $315 (includes Headwaters T-shirt), CIT $150
Session 2 – $385 (includes Headwaters T-shirt), CIT $175

For more details or sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Kirkwood Scientist Exploration Camp

Over the week, Headwaters instructors will guide participants through exploring the natural systems around them and developing curiosity about the natural world.

Campers will explore the native diversity in the Kirkwood area. We will take hikes and investigate the local ecosystem. We’ll ask questions about what we’re seeing, collect data, and find answers. There will be time for games, scavenger hunts, play, and time to cool off.

Overview

General registration: Ages 5-13
Counselor-in-training program: Ages 13-15

Dates:

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Friday

Session 1 – Water Week, June 27- July 1
Session 2 – Plants and Wildflowers, July 5- 8 (Tuesday-Friday)
Session 3 – Rocks and Geology July, 11-15
Session 4 – Animals, July 25-29
Session 5 – Insects, Aug. 1-5

Price: $450/session (includes Headwaters T-shirt) ($375 for Session 2); $225 for CIT Program (Ages 13-15)

For more information or to sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Serene Lakes Young Scientist Exploration Camp

Give your child the opportunity to explore Serene Lakes this summer. This hands-on science camp is designed for children of Serene Lakes families to explore the unique ecology of the area.

Day campers will explore the natural spaces around Serene Lakes, ask scientific questions, and design and conduct experiments to answer their own questions. Science is fun and engaging when children get to ask the questions that they are curious about. This program will show your child science is fun and all around them while forging a unique connection to the Serene Lakes area.

Overview

General registration: Ages 5-12
Counselor-in-training program:
Ages 13-15

Dates:

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday

Session 1 – July 18-21
Session 2 – July 25-28
Session 3 – Aug. 1-4

Price: $275 per Session, CIT $140

For more information or to sign up, visit the camp page here.

 

Girls Science Program

We will have a week of GIRLS ONLY science and camping at the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Webber Lake Campground. In addition, girls can sign up for the Headwaters’ Summer Research Experience, for a full summer of science.

Foundations of the program:

1. Scientific  Research

Students work with an all female cohort of peers at Webber Lake and with professional female scientist mentors to create questions around their environmental topics of interest and develop these questions into a research project.

2. Mentorship

The students will be mentored by female scientists for guidance through their project. These career-scientists can help with recommendations for how to turn an idea into an executable project.

3. Female Empowerment

A female-specific cohort provides support for participants to explore the science field in ways that are unique.

4. Professional caliber scientific exploration 

Participants are given the chance to practice science just like a professional would, analyzing data and finally creating a research talk. If they would like to create a paper they should also join our Summer Research Experience and at the end, they submit their paper for publication. They can get all of their data collected for the summer-long program during this week at Webber Lake.

Overview

Camping: Participants will camp at our Webber Lake study site from July 10-15. Parents will drop off campers on Sunday, July 10th after dinner and pick up on Friday, July 15 by noon.

Location: The campground is located at Webber Lake in Truckee, California at the Truckee Donner Land Trust campground.

Price: $800

For more information or to sign up, visit the program page here.

 

Environmental Science Research Camp

An environmental science camp at the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Webber Lake Campground for students going into 7th grade and older.

Foundations of the program:

1. Scientific Research

Students work with a cohort of peers at Webber Lake and with professional scientist mentors to create questions around their environmental topics of interest and develop these questions into a research project.

2. Mentorship

The students will be mentored by scientists for guidance through their project. These career-scientists can help with recommendations for how to turn an idea into an executable project.

3. Professional caliber scientific exploration

Participants are given the chance to practice science just like a professional would, analyzing data and finally creating a research talk. If they would like to create a paper they should also join our Summer Research Experience and at the end, they submit their paper for publication. They can get all of their data collected for the summer-long program during this week at Webber Lake.

Overview

Camping: Participants will camp at our Webber Lake study site from July 10-15. Parents will drop off campers on Sunday, July 10th after dinner and pick up on Friday, July 15 by noon.

Location: The campground is located at Webber Lake in Truckee, California at the Truckee Donner Land Trust campground.

Price: $800

For more information or to sign up, visit the program page here.

Research Experience

In the program, students will design and create an original research project mentored by a professional scientist, see through the project by conducting field research, (or compiling pre-existing available datasets), and learn how to analyze their findings. Students complete the program with a finalized research presentation and a formal research paper that will be submitted for publication.

Mentors:
Our professional scientist mentors are experienced in research and in mentoring students with a variety of research interests. They guide students to utilize a diverse array of research skills that can be used to study almost any topic imaginable.

Benefits:
Students emerge from the program with an experience they can add to a college resume, and life skills that will better prepare them for any career.

Overview

Location: Online meetings, independent research in the location of student’s choosing

Summer 2022 Program dates: Week of June 14 through the week of August 9th

Session Times: (students can select one of these based on their availability)

Tuesday – 2-3 p.m. PST

Tuesday – 5-6 p.m. PST

Cost: $1,350

Registration Process: Fill out either the financial assistance application (if you need financial help) or register directly. Registration opens February 1, 2022.
Regular registration until the program is filled. Financial assistance applications are open through March 1, 2022. Students will be notified by April 1, 2022.

For more information or sign up, visit the program page here.

 

‘They’re more excited, they’re more engaged’: BDOG highlights programs in underserved communities

‘They’re more excited, they’re more engaged’: BDOG highlights programs in underserved communities

The field research programs that Sacramento’s Barrett Middle School participates in each year with Headwaters Science Institute might just be for one day, but the impact lasts far longer – sometimes for a lifetime.  

Seventh-grade teacher Lori Sindel-Wawro said she commonly hears students talking about the research they participated in days after the program has ended. 

I would say 99 percent of the kids talked about it afterward because they were in the stream or in the field and figuring out stuff on their own,” Sindel-Wawro recently told Headwaters. 

Research takes kids out of classrooms

This type of hands-on research takes Barrett students out of the classroom, away from the city and into the outdoors in places like Donner Summit. Unfortunately, Barrett and many of its families don’t have the ability to afford these types of experiences on their own, and they struggle to fundraise for these trips each year. 

That’s where Headwaters’ participation in Big Day of Giving comes in, allowing schools in Sacramento’s disadvantaged communities, like Barrett, to continue to offer these important hands-on learning activities. 

“They’re more excited, they’re more engaged in the activity, they’re asking questions, they’re finding things, they’re discovering stuff,” Sindel-Wawro said. “They’re just excited. They’re not in a sterile classroom, and you’re out in the field and you’re researching something you’re interested in because you picked the topic.”

Kids research topics such as bird populations, insects near the water vs. in the forest, how moisture affects plant growth or how water temperature changes fish populations. 

“I don’t ever have kids come away saying that was a bad trip”

It can be life changing. 

More than 90 percent of students who participate in Headwaters’ programs say they learn something they wouldn’t in a normal science class. The percentage of students interested in a career in science increased by more than 24 percent to 63 percent after a program. 

“I don’t ever have kids come away saying that was a bad trip,” Sindel-Wawro said. “It inspires some of them.”

You can have a direct impact on the life of a child who’s interested in science but doesn’t necessarily have the opportunity to expand their knowledge by participating in Headwaters’ 2022 Big Day of Giving fundraiser. Raising enough money will allow Headwaters to continue to make these types of programs free to schools like Barrett Middle School. 

 

‘It’s incredibly exciting to see’: Spring Research Experience students present their projects

‘It’s incredibly exciting to see’: Spring Research Experience students present their projects

Headwaters Science Institute celebrated the completion of the Spring Research Experience on Monday as four students presented their original research projects in a live broadcast (watch above). 

It was the culmination of the students’ hard work over this past semester, illuminating what is possible when you allow Headwaters to take a passion for science and research to the next level.

From hurricanes to social media, our students formulated their own research questions and then collected original data or researched existing data to answer those questions. Each of these students will be published in the Headwaters Research Journal, as well as having the opportunity to publish their findings in other scientific journals. 

“Every year it’s completely different; the topics are often off the wall,” research mentor Daniel Dudek said. “… We help them collect the data, analyze the data and draw conclusions to whatever question they may have. 

“It’s incredibly exciting every year to see what comes out of the program.” 

Research projects studied diverse topics

Charlie Benson researched the effect of surface temperatures on the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes in Florida, drawing on airport weather databases over four decades. 

Kian Schaefer examined how future climate models, in 2050 and then in 2070, will affect spider monkey habitat and populations. He used mapping tools and climate models to predict the future of spider monkeys, a key species in rainforest reforestation.

Shuchi Shivangi studied social media’s effects on eating habits in female teens, asking the key question of how idealized body proportions, weight and eating habits influence her generation. 

Carolyn Pyun created her own survey distributed in her Saratoga, Fla., high school to also study social media’s effects on youths. She studied its effect on self esteem. 

Projects a testament to power of student-driven research

On behalf of everyone at Headwaters Science Institute, we would like to congratulate all of the Spring Research Experience students on a job well done with all of their projects this semester. It’s a great example of bringing science to life in a hands-on fashion, and we hope the tools learned throughout this experience will benefit them for years to come. 

For high school students interested in the Research Experience, we still have spots available for the summer program that starts June 14. We’ll also soon begin accepting students for the fall semester, as well. Email program director Jennifer Cotton at jenn@headwatersscienceinstitute.org or visit the Research Experience page for more information. 

 

Winter field day students study ‘the importance of snow’

Winter field day students study ‘the importance of snow’

Students at the 2022 TEA Snow Science field day.

Headwater Science Institute’s winter of studying the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada continued last week with the completion of the Tahoe Expedition Academy Snow Science Field Program. 

It was two days of fun-filled and informative research, the first day for ninth- and 10th-grade biology students and the second for 11th- and 12th-grade earth science students. 

“I never knew what I skied on everyday was so complex,” one student said.

The days were a shortened version of Headwaters’ Research Experience, an immersive, months-long program where students develop a formal research paper, allowing students to see how snow depth and density is measured and what kinds of water-quality metrics can be measured from snow melt. 

Like the full Research Experience, these students then completed a mini research project of their own to experience how the scientific process works. 

Here are some more quotes from the two field days:

“I loved learning about how snow layers are formed and seeing it in real life.”

“I got to learn about the importance of snow and different factors [that can be measured] in snow. I got to be outside and have a blast.”

“I had a lot of fun and learned about albedo and its impact on rate of snow melt.”

Check out more photos from the camp here.