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Education symposium showcases learner research projects

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SAEON's education symposium provides a platform for learners to present what they learnt while participating in the SAEON Education Outreach programme. This year’s presenters were, from left: Sophakama Zabo (Elwandle Node), Kgaugelo Ramalepe (Ndlovu Node) and Melikhaya Mdubeki (Egagasini Node).

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In his presentation, ZooClub member Ofentse Litsele highlighted the urgent need for action to save our endangered species

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Sibongile Mokoena, SAEON’s Education Outreach Coordinator (left) with Helen Williamson, who has been a member of the SAEON Education Outreach Advisory Committee for nine years

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Dr Beverley Damonse, NRF Group Executive for Science Engagement delivered the opening address at the symposium

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In the spirit of Arbor week, which is celebrated in September, each presenter received an indigenous tree (Buddleja salvifolia - the sage wood) to plant at home or in their communities

By Sibongile Mokoena and Mpho Makwarela, SAEON

 

'Science is for everyday life'.

This was the message highlighted by Dr Beverley Damonse, NRF Group Executive for Science Engagement in her opening address at the SAEON Science Education Outreach Symposium.

Dr Damonse used cancer as an example to illustrate how science can help society to understand the cause, process and effect of cancer. Once society, the family or the patient has gained a better understanding of the disease and its impacts, it helps them to deal with the difficult situation.

Highlight

The education symposium is the annual highlight on the SAEON Science Education Outreach calendar. The symposium provides a platform for learners to present to an audience what they learnt while participating in the SAEON Education Outreach programme. This year’s symposium was held at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in September 2013.

The event was attended by the members of the SAEON Network of Education Experts who play an advisory role to the programme, as well as SAEON’s Management and invited scientists and guests. The most important guests for the day, however, were the learners from the SAEON Education Programme and the ZooClub. The inclusion of ZooClub members in this year’s symposium provided an exciting cross-pollination of ideas from learners who are environmentally active and informed.

Research projects

The first learner to present was Sophakama Zabo, a Grade 11 learner from Nombulelo High School in Grahamstown. His topic was entitled "Can we feel the same weather in the same locality?" His project was aimed at evaluating and comparing weather data from the school-based weather stations with weather data from the South African Weather Service (SAWS) to verify the accuracy of weather data for three different vicinities in Grahamstown over a period of twenty-one days. Sophakama concluded that Grahamstown has different kinds of weather on account of a range of altitudes within a five-kilometre radius.

Melikhaya Mdubeki from Hout Bay High School represented the SAEON Egagasini Node. He investigated salinity and evaporation rates; inspired by the Argo profiles. The aim of Melikhaya’s investigation was to determine if salinity of seawater affects the evaporation rate and if rainfall patterns change as a result. His hypothesis was that the more salty the water, the faster the water evaporates. His conclusion was that the more salt is added to water, the higher the boiling point. The results from his study proved his hypothesis wrong.

Kgaugelo Ramalepe from the SAEON Ndlovu Node was also well prepared and ready to deliver her presentation. She presented a study to determine the soil quality and grazing potential for subsistence farming at Ha-Makuya in Limpopo. The aim of Kgaugelo’s project was to determine the soil quality and veld condition for rural farming at Ha-Makuya. Her hypothesis was that soil quality and veld condition at Ha-Makuya would be suitable for rural farming in the area. Her conclusion was that her hypothesis was rejected because the soil quality and veld condition at Ha-Makuya proved unsuitable for rural farming.

Science and climate change

Professor Willem Landman from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was the scientist speaker of the day. His presentation was entitled "Climate is what we expect, but weather is what we get".

He spoke about different phenomena that contribute to global weather patterns, such as El Niño and La Niña, which bring drought and floods to different parts of the world. He demonstrated the continuing rise of temperatures, which is a result of increase of carbon in the atmosphere, due to human activities.

Prof. Landman also explained how long-term climate data can be used to predict the climate for the future, and how the accuracy of predictions increases as more data becomes available, highlighting the importance of accurate weather observations and monitoring.

ZooClub highlights plight of endangered species

The presentations of the ZooClub members were well researched and informative. The learners informed the audience about the plight of a number of endangered species such as the Cape vulture, rhino and wild dog. The learners emphasised the urgent need for action to save our endangered species.

Dr Ken Ngcoza, a member of the SAEON Network of Education Experts, came all the way from Rhodes University to bring a message of encouragement to the learners. His message was that through education one is able to change one’s circumstances and become a better person. He encouraged learners to use the opportunities to study and stressed the fact that they could be anything they want if they remained focused.

The symposium was rated as one of the most successful to date, particularly in respect of the quality of the learners’ interaction, which was evident in the insightful questions they asked the presenters.

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