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

Park Day School Investigates Snow Pollution

Park Day School Investigates Snow Pollution

This past week students from the Park Day School’s 7th grade joined Headwaters on Donner Summit for a snow science program themed around snow as a source of water. A majority of California’s drinking water comes from melted snow which also serves as a ecosystem sustaining water source during the hot and dry summer months.

Students collect samples in the field site on Donner Summit.

Headwaters staff challenged students to create their own original research projects around something that would affect the water they consume in Oakland. The students worked together in teams to create a creative array of different projects around this theme. Below are some highlights from the group work. 

A few groups of students noticed on arrival that the snow near the road was noticeably dirtier than the snow elsewhere around the field site and chose to investigate this further. They collected dozens of snow samples from near the road, in clean snow, and many areas in between. Students melted their snow samples and tested them for total dissolved solids (TDS), the concentration of ions like salts in water, as well as the clarity of the snow melt water to quantify how much dirt and organic matter was in the snow.

Students test their findings in their “laboratory” at Clair Tappaan Lodge.

This group hypothesized that they would find a linear decrease in TDS and increase in clarity as they moved away from the road. They found that areas within 8 feet of the road were significantly impacted with much higher TDS and much less clear meltwater while areas further than 8 feet showed very little effect from this human disturbance.  The group also found evidence that particulates from the road not only affected snowmelt water quality but also made the snow near the road darker and warmer causing it to melt faster. While the roads studied did not have salts applied to them, these students hypothesized that the increase in TDS came from the mechanical breakdown of asphalt and sand by car tires. However, they also found an unexpected result of this increase. In their sample sites downhill of the road, this team found evidence that pollutants from the road were entering nearby waterways. 

In their research presentation, these students discussed how the moderate decreases in water quality they observed on Donner Summit could be magnified further downstream in the reservoirs that hold much of the Bay Areas drinking water.  Their project also highlights the importance of wetlands, swales, and catchment ponds which filter sediment and clean water. 

Students share their findings through data analysis presented in this graph during their final research presentation.

This project is a great example of what makes Headwaters student programs so special. They start with students’ own observations and challenge them to explore their curiosity more deeply. Lead by their own investigations, students learn about the ecosystems they live in, how they work, and how to protect these important natural resources.