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SAEON camp opens up the fascinating world of environmental science

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The Plantation group identifies a bird. (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Members of the Forest group collect data. (Picture: Dave Thompson)

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Members of the Plantation group investigate a transect to collect data. (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Sharon Thompson (left) talks to Lerato about career choices available in environmental science. (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

By Joe Sibiya, Education Outreach Officer, SAEON Ndlovu Node

In April this year, a group of 15 learners from schools in and around Phalaborwa had the opportunity to experience a SAEON Ndlovu Node science camp.

The camp, which was held at Magoebaskloof Adventures in the Limpopo Province, exposed them to teamwork, career options in science, and scientific thinking.

Learners were divided into three groups focusing on grasslands, forests and plantations. Led by staff members from the node, each group took to the field to collect vegetation data at a specific location. The learners commented that being out in the field experiencing what it was like to be a scientist for a day was a “thought-provoking and inspiring opportunity”.

Philip Nyirenda, a grade 10 learner from Frans du Toit High School in Phalaborwa, described his participation in the SAEON Science Camp as follows:

Learners ought to strengthen their scientific knowledge by taking part in alternative research programmes and evaluating their overall personal skills and career goals for the future.

Such opportunities are not always accessible to learners. However, for me and another 14 learners from different schools in and around Phalaborwa, SAEON provided us with yet another chance to obtain all this and have a taste of what it feels like to be a scientist for a day. All this was provided by our devoted scientists Dr Dave Thompson and Sharon Thompson, education officer Joe Sibiya and researchers Patrick Ndlovu, Mightyman Mashele and Thembi Marshall.

A welcoming gesture from the adventure camp staff involved games that were challenging but fun, during which I learnt that we might not have the same level of physicality and mentality, but that working as a team with full cooperation is beneficial for all to reach success. Later a lecture about “being a scientist” taught me that scientists apply the same principle while conducting research as one does in school and in everyday situations. This process is known as the scientific method.

An important question was asked by one of the students - ”Should we believe a scientist?” The answer to this question gradually opened itself up during the science camp.

Feeling enthusiastic, my friends and I were very eager to learn and at the same time explore the Haenertsburg field sites. We were divided into three groups, namely Forests, Grasslands and Plantations. Our purpose was to collect data from these environmental habitats in order to investigate their similarities and differences. I was in the Forests team led by Dave and Patrick. It was a whole new environment for me.

We set out into the field and put up transects to collect our data and samples in a repeated manner. At first I didn’t understand the reason for repeating our data collection, but later on I learnt that repetition is done for accuracy purposes. This all related back to my practical life science class whereby we did experiments in repetition.

Later that day, the SAEON staff (Patrick, Thembi and Mightyman) presented what they called a “talk of interest”. To me it was an inspiring, thought-provoking and heartening talk as it ignited my aspirations to fulfil my goals. After all, I have no excuse comparing to what greatness they have been able to achieve under difficult circumstances. They all emphasised one point - stating that education is the key to success. Having experienced confusion in what career to follow in IT and sciences our lecturer, Sharon, opened my eyes during her career guidance lesson to a new career which I would readily pursue - in Environmental Information Systems.

The science camp has not only developed me academically and career wise, but through it I have also acquired life skills and new friendships. It has given me a boost in confidence when approaching science expos after comprehending the fundamental keys (observation, questioning, information and variables) and how to handle them.

One important lesson I have learned is that the workplace can be burdensome, but one has to be disciplined and determined to accomplish whatever is set. I have learned from our scientists that a true scientist is someone who assesses repeatedly and evaluates all evidence and data gathered. They carefully devote their time to performing and completing tasks that will benefit humankind and other organisms.

During this course I have obtained abundant knowledge and experience that I would love to share with other learners. Having nothing to add, my gratitude goes to my parents, my school (Frans du Toit) and lastly to the SAEON team for making it such a memorable experience. One will always bear in mind the friendliness and excellent hospitality presented by SAEON with its Education Outreach.

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The learners with scientists Dave and Sharon Thompson, researchers Patrick Ndlovu, Mightyman Mashele and Thembi Marshall and Education Outreach Officer Joe Sibiya.

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