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Developing aspiring scientists through science engagement

By Zonke Gumede, DST-NRF Intern, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Science engagement presents an important platform to engage learners on hot topics and issues through science.

By its very nature, science engagement is effective through science communication, which includes raising awareness by engaging with the public through debates, workshops and events that encourage the development of scientific skills and allow disciplines such as marine science to be integrated into the school curriculum.

Raising awareness about important elements of our oceans forms part of the SAEON Egagasini Node’s Science Engagement framework. The node’s Science Engagement programme convened a number of events to equip learners with knowledge about science and its benefits and uses.

Ocean Observers Workshop

Hosted by the node’s Science Engagement programme, the Ocean Observers Workshop was held on October 12. The event was aimed at integrating marine science into the school curriculum and teaching the learners how to conduct ocean observations using autonomous ocean instruments (ocean observers), which tell a story about the processes that play a big role in regulating the global climate.

The workshop was facilitated by Thomas Mtontsi, science engagement officer at the SAEON Egagasini Node. Schools that participated in the workshop included Sophumelela High School and Usasazo Secondary School.

The workshop furthermore set out to equip the learners with presentation skills, which are vital for delivering an effective message. Dr Charine Collins, a postdoc candidate hosted by SAEON, was invited to tell the learners more about the do’s and don’ts of effective presentations. Her talk set out to teach the learners presentation skills. Taking the learners through the process of preparing and delivering a presentation, she highlighted important points and gave useful tips on delivering successful and effective presentations.

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Gustav Rautenbach tells the learners more about the functions of a wave glider                 

Rudzani Silima gives a presentation on CPIES, an instrument used to measure the speed of ocean currents

Darren Solomon introduces the learners to an underwater camera system known as Ski-Monkey ꓲꓲꓲ

Marine Science Work Integrated Learning (WIL) students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, also hosted by SAEON, were invited to give talks about different types of ocean observers and their use in collecting data. The first speaker to give a presentation was Darren Solomons, who introduced the learners to Ski-Monkey ꓲꓲꓲ, an underwater camera system.

Gustav Rautenbach then took the floor to give a presentation on an ocean observer known as a wave glider. He was followed by Aviwe Godongwana, who gave a talk on VINDTA 3C, the instrument used to determine titration alkalinity. The last student to give a talk was Rudzani Silima, who told the learners about CPIES, the instrument used to measure the speed of ocean currents.

Prior to the workshop, a booklet containing information about the ocean observers presented by the WIL students was designed and compiled by Jordan Van Stavel, Safiyya Sedick and Zonke Gumede (SAEON interns). It was made available to all the learners.

Just before the conclusion of the workshop, the learners were encouraged to use a judging scoring sheet to evaluate the presenters. From the overall evaluation it was apparent that the workshop objectives were met and achieved.

Most learners said they acquired knowledge that they would be able to apply in the near future. With the little understating they had before the workshop, the evaluation shows that after the workshop they had obtained sufficient knowledge to be able to prepare and deliver a successful presentation. They furthermore acquired interesting information about the different kinds of ocean observers that oceanographers use to measure the processes and changes in the ocean.

The Ocean Atlas: Panel debate and launch

Our oceans play an important role in regulating climate change and absorb most carbon during the biogeochemical cycle. The oceans and their resources are under threat owing to over-fishing and pollution. It is important to protect our oceans and ensure the sustainable use of its resources.

The United Nations invited the South African government and relevant stakeholders to develop strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources during the Oceans Conference in June 2017. On that occasion, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, together with the Geomar Institute, launched an Ocean Atlas that reveals facts and figures about the ocean and seeks to stimulate public engagement.

The Ocean Atlas Panel Debate and Launch was hosted jointly by SAEON’s Egagasini Node and the International Oceans Institute of South Africa (IOI-SA) at Kirstenbosch on 17 October. Experts and the public were invited to discuss the challenges facing the oceans around South Africa and globally, as well as a way forward to improve protection policies.

The Egagasini Node extended the invitation to include teachers and learners from the schools which are supported by the node’s science engagement programme. Among the schools that participated in the panel debate and launch were Sophumelela, Usasazo and Hout Bay High Schools.

The programme kicked off with a word of welcome and introductions by Ms Layla Al-Zubaidi, Director of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Southern Africa. She was followed by Ms Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Stiftung, who spoke about the initiation of the Ocean Atlas and the reasons behind it.

The debate panel included Dr Kenneth Findlay, Research Chair, Cape Peninsula University of Technology; Dr Melanie Luck-Vogel, Senior Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Advocate Radia Razack, Director: Law Reform and Appeals, Department of Environmental Affairs; Dr Pavs Pillay, Manager: Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, WWF; and Captain Ravi Naicker, National Operations Manager: Centre for Sea Watch and Response. The debate was headed and moderated by Mr John Duncan, Senior Manager of the WWF’s Marine Programme. 

In between the debate there was time for questions and answers. This allowed engagement between the invited guests, members of the public and learners.

Highlights of the debate included ways to educate people about the vulnerability of our oceans and their resources. The take-home message for delegates as well as the learners and all other participants was that everyone should undertake to start educating people about the importance of our oceans.

Sophumelela High School teacher Miss Sinazo Gidimisani said that she will start taking the learners to the seashore and dedicate time to teach them about the ocean and its resources.

Cape Town Expo Educators Academy

The Cape Town Expo Educators Academy is aimed at guiding educators on how to start an expo project and prepare learners for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. It moreover gives them ideas for possible science projects, advice on how to select a project and how to get learners excited and involved in expo projects.

The Academy was held at Rondebosch on 21 October. Educators from different schools in Cape Town were invited to participate. The programme kicked off with a word of welcome and introductions, meeting other delegates and sharing ideas for the expo of 2018.

Ms Olga Peel gave a presentation explaining why it was important for learners to participate in the expo, and highlighted the benefits of participation. Her presentation included a step-by-step process from selecting a project category to getting started on the projects and conducting the experiments.

SAEON’s Thomas Mtontsi then followed with a presentation titled ‘Science Method Projects: Hypothesis, Variables’, in which he explained the use of the scientific method and how to go about investigating a certain scientific question or problem. This included important points and ideas on how to reduce a big problem by breaking it down to make it a feasible research problem or question.

Also shared by one of the conveners, was the importance of keeping journals as a record of what the young scientist has been doing all year and how that aids in preparing for the final project.

The educators were given the opportunity to view the projects submitted by this year’s International Science Fair (ISF) finalists to get an idea of what the final projects are supposed to look like. As the educators were viewing the projects, they had a chance to interact with the finalists.

The Cape Town Expo Educators Academy is one of several workshops around the country aimed at equipping educators and learners with the necessary knowledge and skills to come up with winning and educational science projects.

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