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Sharing best practices in bringing the oceans into the classroom

By Thomas Mtontsi and Ntombifikile Nxiba, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Delegates were taken on a guided tour of the Abagold commercial marine aquaculture farm

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Rita Steyn of SAEON’s Elwandle Node gave a though-provoking presentation on ocean acidification

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Sibongile Mokoena, SAEON’s education outreach coordinator, won the prize for Best Presentation at the MCEN gala evening

In January, four members of SAEON’s Education Outreach team participated in the 2016 Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) National Conference, which was held at Habonim Campsite in Hermanus.

MCEN is a network of educators who teach children and adults about marine and coastal environmental issues. These educators are either from the formal education sector (schools and universities) across South Africa, or from the informal education sector (aquariums, zoos and government).

The MCEN annual conference provides a platform for educators to share their research, experiences, best practices and working methods through presentations and a range of activities, which include excursions to appropriate environmental sites.

Adding to the pool of knowledge

The main purpose of the five-day conference was to add to the pool of knowledge available to educators to support them in bringing the oceans into the classroom. It set out to equip educators with teaching skills and resources to portray our oceans and their inhabitants in an interesting and engaging way.

Environmental officers from various centres shared their knowledge with the educators and advised them on ways and means to attract the interest of the learners. The educators were shown how to balance their lessons by adding fun educational elements such as hands-on activities illustrating ocean-related topics.

Thomas Mtontsi, education officer at the Egagasini Node, gave a presentation on weather and climate in which he illustrated how, through SAEON’s support to schools, learners can put together school science projects using weather data. One of the projects he shared with delegates was that of Zukhanye Tida, a learner from Sophumelela High School. Zukhanye’s project looks at the relationship between cold weather and learner attendance and performance at her school.

Rita Steyn got the delegates thinking with her hard-hitting presentation on ocean acidification. Rita is a steering committee member of the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) and a Professional Development Programme* (PDP) Postdoctoral Fellow at SAEON’s Elwandle Node.

SAEON’s Sibongile Mokoena reaps the honours

SAEON’s education outreach coordinator, Sibongile Mokoena, delighted delegates with her presentation, Why does a cock crow? She also announced that she was handing the baton to passionate young science education and communication colleagues as she was retiring later this year.

Sibongile not only won the prize for Best Presentation at the gala evening, but was also honoured for her sterling contribution to environmental science education outreach. Other prizes awarded at the event included the best presentation by a first timer, best novice activity and best activity by an MCEN member.

Excursions to environmental sites

The presentations were followed by scheduled excursions to sites such as the Abagold commercial marine aquaculture farm and abalone hatchery, a recycling facility, the Green House Environmental Awareness Centre, Fernkloof Nature Reserve and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).

Ntombifikile (Ntombi) Nxiba, a third-year Oceanography student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) also attended the conference. Ntombi is currently doing a Work Integrated Learning programme with the SAEON Egagasini Node.

Commenting on her impressions of the conference, Ntombi said she gained a lot from just listening to the presentations. “The presentations and activities were related to my course of study as well as the career path I would like to follow. I look forward to using the experience and information gained and engaging with each of the participating organisations.

“I now have a very clear idea of what is required from education outreach programmes and how to engage learners. I met educators from aquariums, managers in conservation agencies, private educators and those working for government, all with different views, sharing ideas about their fields of specialisation. It inspired and equipped me for future engagements on the marine and coastal environment.”

* The Professional Development Programme of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation aims to accelerate the development of scientists and research professionals in key research areas.

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Delegates attending the 2016 Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) National Conference in Hermanus

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