The second Young Biologist course of 2018 was held over the October school holidays and, thanks to generous sponsorship from De Beers Marine, 54 grade 10 learners with a passion for the marine environment were able to have the full experience of our Marine Sciences Academy. We were delighted to host learners from outside of Cape Town, some coming from as far afield as George, Johannesburg and Durban. The course itself consisted of five days of theory lessons at the Two Oceans Aquarium, oral and written assessments, and a three-day field camp on the Cape Peninsula.

Learn more about other education opportunities with our Environmental Education Centre.

Let's take a look at what the learners got up to on this course and the lessons that were learned to help them get closer to a career in marine and environmental science, and the possibility of volunteering at the Aquarium.

Theory time

We started with an introduction to South Africa's "two oceans" and the very different coastline ecology on the west and east coasts. It was then time to delve into invertebrates, highlighting features and interesting facts about animals like sponges, anemones, flatworms, echinoderms and several lesser-known higher phyla, like bryozoans and ascidians.

Lessons were hands-on and students were physically introduced to marine plants and animals. The animals collected for the course were released by the end of the week. 

One particularly enjoyable lesson was the dissection of fresh kelp holdfasts, giving the learners an opportunity to examine the various animals hiding inside them. This is hands-on learning at its best and already students could identify some of the animals that had been dealt with in the coursework.

Written assessments and oral presentations were conducted throughout the course. On the first day, before we began coursework, a pre-course test was written with an average result of 38%. By the end of the course this mark was up to 82% - a clear indication the learners were paying attention!

Scientific inquiry

In addition to understanding key biological concepts, the learners were introduced to aspects of scientific research. They were required to work in groups to gather data on the distribution of life in rock pools. The hypothesis to be tested on this study was whether the profile of West Coast rocky shore life compiled by Prof George Branch correlated with the students’ findings.

Once the coursework was complete, we travelled from the Aquarium to the Dalebrook Tidal Pool in St James to obtain data for their scientific inquiry task. This was also a great spot for learners, many of whom had never spent much time in the water, to learn some snorkelling!

Once they arrived at camp, the groups compiled and presented a review of their findings to the rest of the class. This exposed the learners to scientific writing skills, as well as synthesising concept summaries and presenting them to an audience. The learners worked well in their groups and we were most impressed with the outcome and their overall understanding of the scientific method. Well done!

Fun and exploration on camp

Upon arriving at the Soetwater Environment Education Centre, the learners had some time to learn, in a more practical manner, about the theory that they had spent the previous five days studying. The camp was also a great chance for them to relax a bit and socialise with their peers.

On camp, learners worked in groups to conduct a beach cleanup. They conducted a survey of the collected beach litter using the "Dirty Dozen" method, which would be used as part of the research of Prof. Peter Ryan at UCT. Learning about the importance of quantifying results was great preparation for the environmental action projects each of these learners would be organising in their own communities after the course. This session prepares students to organise their own environmental action when they return to school, as part of their certificate requirements.

A lot of time was spent in nature, simply to reflect on the lessons learned. A highlight for many was a short night hike - a first for many of the learners; a beautiful evening with clear skies, perfect for star gazing and a memorable experience for everyone. A day hike up the nearby Slangkop was also conducted, to learn about the fynbos ecosystem and to marvel at some incredible views.

Several team-building and leadership activities were also carried out, such as an obstacle course packed with activities that required good team communication, and a camp concert, a fun-filled evening of performances by the learners, in which some of the theory they learned was to be portrayed. It was most entertaining! 

Conclusion

Our new Young Biologists have returned to school for a very busy third term. Many enthusiastic students have chosen to volunteer and some were already back over the next few weekends to start ticking off their volunteer hours.

I am thrilled to have been a part of these young individuals’ lives and sincerely hope to continue promoting the love and care of our environment through education. We are most grateful for the generous sponsorship by De Beers, which enables us to attract such passionate young people and offer this valuable experience to them.  


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