#01 2023

Young learners gain hands-on experience of environmental research

By Joe Sibiya and Rudzi Maboyi, Ndlovu Node, NRF-SAEON

Sixteen grade 10 learners and fourteen grade 9 learners gathered at the Ndlovu Node office in the Kruger National Park for the much-anticipated grade 10 Science Camp and grade 9 Science Day held in December. During both these initiatives the budding scientists gained hands-on experience in environmental science activities and learned more about biodiversity.

Ndlovu Science Camp learners collect data in the Kruger National Park.

Ndlovu Science Camp 

The camp was the first in-person encounter with the grade 10 learners after two years of virtual science camps and environmental theme day celebration meetings. The learners soon demonstrated that they were not novices in the environmental education space. They immediately engaged with other learners and Node staff on environmental issues.

The science camp activities started with an ice-breaker exercise to provide a platform for the learners to share their interests, strengths, expectations and career aspirations.

On the first day of the camp, the 16 learners were engaged in activities to catch up on the grade 9 science camp work they had missed the previous year. This included the development of fundamental skills such as observation, classification, the use of scientific instruments and problem solving.

These activities created a platform for the learners to question what biodiversity is. The Kruger National Park was the perfect environment to explore and investigate the nature of biodiversity and how it coexists with humans.

On the second day of the camp, the learners brainstormed and designed their research project, and ventured out into the field to collect data at disturbed and undisturbed areas in the Kruger Park. The field work exposed the learners to a simple scientific investigation that introduced them to reasoning and the all-important scientific method.

Left: Dr Dave Thompson, biodiversity scientist at the Ndlovu Node, introduces the Grade 10 learners to biodiversity and species classification during the science camp. Centre and right: The field work exposed the learners to a simple scientific investigation that introduced them to the all-important scientific method.

At the end of the science camp, learners were asked to share their experiences. Here are two excerpts:

‘Learning about the environment and what influences animal behaviour has always been a part of me as a well-rounded person. Although I am considering a different career, this camp has equipped me with knowledge to conduct research in different aspects of my life. Being surrounded by individuals who share the same interests allowed for the process to be more informative, because of the way we all shared our different views of the environment and worked towards a common goal as a team. What made the camp so enjoyable, was that we were surrounded by people representing different fields of science. Knowing that SAEON takes pride in creating a team consisting of different personalities intrigued me.’ 


‘There are many things that can be learnt in a camp of this nature, but what I learnt is how to classify and identify living organisms using the dichotomous key provided to us – something I did not think I would be able to do on my own. I have learnt that I do not have sufficient knowledge of the things I am surrounded by. So, having the opportunity to learn to observe and not just see, but be able to learn to question the way things are and how they can be changed or improved is something I have always wanted to do and I’m grateful to have been able to do this. The aspect I liked the most was the discussion about animal activities being affected by human activities around them. It challenged me and got me thinking on a broader scale and more openly. I am excited to learn more about our surroundings and everything that we need to know to be scientists.’

The grade 9 learners observing biodiversity (plants, animals and birds) from a game drive vehicle in the Kruger National Park as part of the Grade 9 Science Day activities.

Science Day 

The grade 9 learners were introduced to species classification (biodiversity) before they were divided into two groups that ventured out into the great outdoors in two Kruger Park game vehicles to identify as many species as possible. After two hours of field drive observation, they returned to the lecture room to classify the observed species (plants, birds and mammals) using field books provided by the Node to identify all the species that were spotted. The two groups engaged in friendly competition to see which team had identified the most species.

The Ndlovu Node’s outreach programme not only inspires the youth to consider careers in science and research, but also boosts the confidence of timid learners. The group noted that they experienced a sense of unity in their quest for knowledge.

“It was a great way to end the year’s outreach programme, with young minds experiencing the safari and research world for the first time,” says Rudzi Maboyi, an intern at the Ndlovu Node. “We may have met SAEON researchers of the future.”

Left & centre: The learners analysing and classifying the plant, bird and animal species that were spotted using field books provided by the Node. Right: Dr Tony Swemmer, manager of the Ndlovu Node, assisting the learners with their classification.