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Nurturing young talent at Lambert's Bay science camp

By Thulwaneng Mashifane, Thomas Mtontsi, Jordan Van Stavel, Tania Moyikwa, Ramontsheng Rapolaki and Lizelle Carolus, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The learners identify, count and measure species within a quadrant during the rocky shore activity in Lambert's Bay

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Tania Moyikwa inspiring the learners during her environmental awareness talk and motivating them to take full responsibility for the environment

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Thulwaneng, Tania and Jordan adjudicate the science debates on the topics of environmental crisis, recycling and climate change

The SAEON Egagasini Node presented a science camp in Lambert's Bay from 16-18 March organised by science education officer Thomas Mtontsi, with support from Lizelle Carolus and Jordan Van Stavel.

The camp consisted of six facilitators and two teachers overseeing 37 learners from schools within coastal communities. The learners, currently in grades nine to eleven, major in Mathematics, Physics, Life Sciences, Geography and Natural Science.

On arrival that Friday, the learners were first divided into groups and then allocated apartments. The grouping was set up to encourage integration between the different schools and to foster new friendships.

Thomas officially opened the camp by introducing the facilitators to the learners.

Ice-breaker with Jordan

Jordan facilitated a fun-filled games session to get the learners more comfortable around each other. The games introduced fun methods of separating the learners into their respective working groups, making sure to form a combination of learners from different schools.

Ice-breaker games included team-building exercises aimed at establishing team spirit among the members of each group. By the end of this session learners were elated to proceed to the next activity within their new groups and no longer found themselves clutching onto the comforts of their initial friendships.

The rocky shore

On Saturday the learners geared up for the rocky shore group activity within Lambert's Bay led by Jordan, Tania and Thomas. For this activity, learners were equipped with quadrats, rulers and worksheets for data collection. The aim of this activity was to introduce the three different intertidal zones that comprise the rocky shore, and to teach learners how each zone is characterised by different marine flora and fauna.

Their task was to identify ecosystem changes between the low, medium and high zones of the rocky shore during a low tide. Along a transect line perpendicular to the coast, the learners were required to randomly place one quadrat in each zone and to identify, count and measure each of the required species on their worksheets. They were also taught about the stressful conditions that the rocky shore experiences and how the marine life is adapted to withstand those conditions.

The beach clean-up, a lesson on pollution

Shortly after the rocky shore activity, the learners were transported to the eastern sandy shore of Lambert's Bay where facilitators led a beach clean-up. Further divided into groups of three, the learners were given gloves, refuse bags and worksheets to record different items collected on the beach. 

Each group member was assigned a duty, and together the learners managed to collect a considerable amount of litter along the selected area which initially appeared to be relatively clean. It is during this activity that the learners were made aware of the various types of litter and pollution that our beaches are exposed to. The refuse bags were collected and removed by local authorities afterwards. 

After the beach clean-up, the learners were transported to Bird Island where they learned more about the Cape gannet colony, the main attraction on the island. The youngsters were made aware of the variety of threats facing the birds, including human disturbances, and measures put in place to minimise those.

Developing a science project

Following the beach clean-up, Dr Thulwaneng Mashifane facilitated a session titled "developing a science project". The main purpose of this session was to equip learners with the necessary skills to develop a science project making use of conventional methods.

This session followed the rocky shore and beach clean-up to help the learners understand design and data collection methods used during these activities. The learners were handed experimental design sheets and guided through the process of developing each section. The sections included a topic, purpose, hypothesis, design, data analysis and conclusion.

A floating egg experiment was performed during the session to give learners a practical example of how a science project is designed, organised and conducted. The experiment was included to demonstrate density and buoyancy in salt water bodies.

Thulwaneng advised the learners to make use of sources such as school libraries, newspapers, magazines, scientific journals and the internet to develop research topics and explore ideas for their Eskom Expo science projects. He informed them about good practices of collecting data such as keeping and making entries in a notebook, recording data in tables and making repeated measurements for experiments performed over extended periods.

He also outlined the differences between qualitative and quantitative data, and the methods used to analyse both types of data. Included in the above-mentioned methods are the statistical analyses, tables, charts and different types of graphs which are commonly used in scientific reports.

At the end of the session, learners were required to determine if their initial hypotheses about the floating egg experiment were supported or disproved and to draw conclusions based on the experiment. The learners were also advised to keep the experimental design sheets and use them as reference when designing future projects.

Extreme rainfall-producing systems over South Africa

Ramontsheng Rapolaki's talk focused mainly on the weather and climate of South Africa and why different regions experience different conditions. He provided an overview of different rainfall-producing systems over South Africa such as the cloud bands, tropical cyclones, mesoscale convective complexes, cold fronts and cut-off lows, which often lead to extreme precipitation.

He highlighted the importance of these systems in providing much needed water resources that support most of the agricultural industry, including drinking water. However, he did mention that these systems often cause huge damage to property and infrastructure, and sometimes lead to loss of life. He told learners that understanding these systems would help both the decision-makers and the general public to be better prepared for them.

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Activities during the Egagasini Node science camp included the collection of rocky shore data, a beach clean-up and debates on environmental awareness and policy

Environmental awareness talk

Tania Moyikwa delivered an inspirational talk on environmental awareness in a plenary session. The main objective for the talk was to make the learners fully aware of their surroundings and to train them on how better to relate to these surroundings.

Tania highlighted the ocean as one of the environments that they are fortunate to have around them and together with the learners, came up with the "importance of the oceans" list. This proved to be an exciting activity for the learners because many of them have an intimate relationship with the ocean services. "Here in Lambert's Bay our parents are fishers and they put food on the table because of the ocean," one of the learners stated.

After highlighting the importance of the ocean, Tania and the learners spoke about how marine environments could be challenged, what the impacts of those challenges are and how they could be resolved. At the end of the talk, Tania was happy to have facilitated a conversation that allowed the learners to make their voices heard.

"The learners left the room motivated to take full responsibility for the environment and that was the cherry on top for me," she said.

Environmental science debates

For the science debates, the learners selected three members from their respective groups to represent them. The groups were given topics to debate on and approximately a day to prepare.

Topics for the debates were focused on environmental crisis and policy, recycling and climate change. Winners from the first two debates on environmental crisis and recycling were selected by the judges and they proceeded to battle it out in the final debate on climate change which took place on Sunday morning.

The learners showed great courage, diligence and commitment throughout the debates. Despite being either isiXhosa or Afrikaans speaking, they made powerful and articulate statements in English that left the judges in complete awe. The winners of the final debate were rewarded with prizes during the camp's closing session.

Building capacity

Late evenings and early mornings of the camp were dedicated to providing the learners with an opportunity to find themselves, assess where they are in life and where they endeavour to be. Upon achieving this, the learners were encouraged to contemplate potential challenges and discuss possible solutions. Thomas led the morning privilege walks and evening solitaire sessions.

Acknowledgements

A large part of the success of the camp is due to behind-the-scene activities of Jordan Van Stavel, Safiyya Sedick, Lizelle Carolus and Shari Solomons, who participated in the conceptualisation of the programme and camp logistics. In particular, Lizelle Carolus was highly involved in the planning of the camp, with much of her focus being the participation of the Lambert's Bay community (involvement of grade nine learners from PW de Bruin School; securing an in-kind donation from Bayside Spar; and organising the excursion to Bird Island).

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