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Local learners get science-smart the Ndlovu way

Learners begin to appreciate that the natural world is organised and understood in many different ways, depending on the observations being made (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

Under guidance from SAEON’s Dr Dave Thompson, grade 10 learners practice their new scientific skills as they record information on birds around the Shingwedzi research camp in the Kruger National Park (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

Learners collect information to investigate whether the clearing of trees on the Shingwedzi airstrip has affected the remaining plant community. Sharon Thompson of SANParks encourages the learners to be thorough and accurate when identifying plants (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

The experience of working in the Kruger National Park was a highlight, with learners nervously expecting to encounter an elephant or lion behind every tree! Shingwedzi research assistant and game guard Jacob Mlangeni remains calm (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

Future scientists. Local Ba-Phalaborwa grade 10 learners and SAEON’s Thabo Mohlala take a break from aquatic monitoring to capture their experience on camera (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

- Dr Dave Thompson, Biodiversity Scientist and Joe Sibiya, Education Outreach Officer, SAEON Ndlovu Node


Following on the heels of successful ADVENVIRO science camps for grade 11 learners, SAEON’s Ndlovu Node recently conducted its first weekend camp for promising Grade 10 learners.

The grade 10 science camp tracks recommendations made by the SAEON Education Experts Advisory Committee in 2009 who, after reviewing the achievements and shortcomings of the ADVENVIRO programme over the past four years, felt that a single camp does not adequately prepare or motivate learners to further their studies and pursue careers in environmental sciences or related fields.

With the purpose of creating a pool of ‘science-smart’ grade 10 learners who can be further mentored during the 2011 ADVENVIRO camp, the recent weekend camp in the northern Kruger National Park introduced a group of grade 10 learners to the activities of SAEON and built on the skills being taught as part of their life sciences curriculum.

Based on nominations by their teachers and their interest in geography, mathematics and life sciences, 18 learners (7 boys and 11 girls) from nine public high schools in the Ba-Phalaborwa municipality participated in this inaugural grade 10 camp, which was conducted in April at the Shingwedzi Research Camp.

‘For the first time in my life I was in the same place with wild animals’

Working within the broad theme of 'Scientific Inquiry and Problem Solving', learners were exposed to the skills of making careful and critical observations and the all-important process of asking questions and finding answers.

Sharon Thompson, a staff member of SANParks Scientific Services, led the learners in an exercise in observation and got them to recognise how we use observation to organise and understand the world around us - whether we are packing a cupboard, identifying birds or carrying out a scientific investigation.

‘It was nice learning (something new) - I really enjoyed the lecturing’

On this grounding, SAEON’s Dr Dave Thompson guided the learners through the ‘scientific method’ - the process of observation, questioning, data collection and understanding that underpins the discipline of science.

‘It felt like life science had given me a book to read. SAEON came and blew life into that book’

The learners practiced their new skills and conducted a very relevant scientific investigation into whether changes in habitat - such as the clearing of trees to create an airstrip adjacent to the research camp - affect the communities of birds, mammals and plants in the area and the need for conservation.

The opportunity to walk and work in the Kruger National Park under the watchful guard of Jacob Mlangeni, research assistant at Shingwedzi and Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node was a highlight for the learners - especially when having to avoid browsing elephants!

But not all environments have the drawcard of hosting the ‘Big 5’ and Thabo Mohlala, Rivers Bio-technician for the Ndlovu Node successfully introduced the learners to water quality assessment and the monitoring of less glamorous aquatic animals during a visit to the Kanniedood weir on the Shingwedzi River.

‘Reading and theory is nice, but seeing and touching is like a fairy tale come to life’

The intense weekend programme was concluded with the learners delivering oral reports to staff and their peers, thereby reinforcing the learning process and developing confidence in their future as scientists. The success and value of the camp from the learners’ perspective is best judged by the five quotes in this article lifted from a sample of their camp diaries.

‘I didn’t want to leave the camp’

SAEON Ndlovu agreed that this year’s camp was a success and we are looking forward to hosting another group of enthusiastic grade 10 learners next year. The camp organisers would like to thank everyone who volunteered their time to participate in this important programme.

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