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Our Magoebaskloof science camp adventure

By Joe Sibiya, Education Officer, SAEON Ndlovu Node

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Collecting and identifying vegetation in the plantation

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Members of the Forest Group learn more about the intriguing forest environment

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The Grassland Group hard at work at the Haenertsburg research site, with Thembisile Shabangu (left) taking a leading role in data collection

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SAEON field assistant Patrick Ndlovhu (right) shows learners Teddy and Harrel different types of forbs found in the Haenertsburg grasslands

The SAEON Ndlovu Node's annual science camp for learners is the flagship initiative in the node's science education programme.

Each year the camp provides an opportunity for specially selected grade 9-11 learners from local high schools in the Phalaborwa region to participate in the environmental science education learning experience. Learners are exposed to scientists who engage them in intensive, structured, small-scale research projects aimed at stimulating their scientific knowledge and skills and promoting teamwork.

In addition, learners are introduced to diverse careers in environmental sciences and afforded the opportunity to complete career portfolios with the objective of guiding them in setting career goals for themselves, as well as identifying their abilities and career interests. The overall objectives of the camp are to strengthen the learners' scientific thinking by encouraging and enabling them to develop and complete their own scientific projects, and to evaluate personal skills and goals in the light of future career choices.

Two of the learners, Kwano Mathebula and Thembisile Shabangu (Frans Du Toit High School), describe their science camp experiences in their own words:

Quest for knowledge

From the stifling heat in Phalaborwa we made our way to a cold and misty Magoebaskloof, like weekend warriors on a quest for knowledge.

We were camping on a mountain with valleys, hills and gorges, trees, plants and forbs surrounding us. It was breathtaking. Like chameleons we had to adapt to our new environment. Luckily for most of us last year's geography paid off handsomely. It was an amazing experience to see our studies unfolding before our eyes.

Our stay in Magoebaskloof was nice but too short - it was as if we had been reunited with Mother Nature back in the days before cellphones were the in-thing for teenagers when we would play games outside on the road. We got a taste of that when our mentors took our cellphones away; we had no choice but to accept that we were those kids again. It brought back great memories.

Highlight

The highlight of our three-day trip was our visit to the research site in the village of Haenertsburg, where we did some fieldwork for our projects. We were split up into three sections - the Forest, Grasslands and Plantation groups.

After a hard day’s work collecting data and identifying plants, we enjoyed lunch at The Red Plate Restaurant. We were treated to an odd-tasting spinach soup, but things looked brighter when we found out it was Teddy's birthday. We planned his birthday prank as fast as we could.

When we arrived at the camp we wasted no time and began working on our projects, which took us the whole night to complete. We also enjoyed watching our prank unfold on an unsuspecting Teddy, who wasn't too happy when we slashed him with water in the cold Magoebaskloof night.

Then the day we had all dreaded arrived - our last day at camp. The final hours were spent presenting our projects to our peers and mentors. We finally got our cellphones back and began taking selfies and pictures like it was 1999 and the world was about to end.

And so began our long trip back home. Listening to the likes of Bob Marley, Chris Brown and others helped us get over the pain of leaving.

Thank you SAEON for making this excursion possible, and thanks especially to our mentors for sacrificing their time to be stuck on a mountain with a bunch of annoying teenagers. And thanks to our fellow learners for making the cold nights fun and enjoyable.

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Members of the Plantation Group search for invertebrates

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