Earth Sciences

Getting citizen science into South African class rooms​​

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A group of researchers and educators interested in developing Citizen Science outreach projects participated in a three-day workshop at Stellenbosch University from 9 to 11 July 2018.

With this workshop, SU's Department of Earth Sciences, in collaboration with North Carolina State University and the Western Cape Education Department WCED), plan to foster the development of Citizen Science projects within Western Cape and South African classrooms. The workshop included engagement with researchers, teacher success stories, and how to start a citizen science project.

After the three-day workshop, Ms Suanne Rampou, national curriculum advisor for natural sciences in the WCED, said teachers should stop with the “talk and chalk" approach, and trigger their learners' interest in real-life science: “There is a world of science out there waiting to be discovered, but this is not reflected in our class rooms. We need to excite our learners and trigger their brains, so that one day they may also become researchers."

After a similar workshop at SU last year, three schools in the Western Cape implemented the Shark Tooth Forensics citizen science project in collaboration with Dr Terry 'Bucky' Gates, a palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist from North Carolina University.

As part of the project, learners collect simple measurements from thousands of fossilised shark teeth and enter the data into a database. They are then confronted with the same questions that scientists are grappling with. For example, how well do the preserved shark teeth reflect shark biodiversity 10 million years ago?

“By examining fossil shark teeth, we learn a great deal about the diversity of sharks in ancient seas, which provides a context for understanding current and future biodiversity," he explains.

Dr Ryan Tucker, a palaeontologist from the Department of Earth Sciences at SU and one of the organisers of the workshop, says another aim of the workshop was to help scientists to develop projects that can work in the class room, while at the same time gathering valuable data.

“This is the first time where we had scientists, educators and WCED officials in the same room for three days," he added.

Mr Michael Hager, Natural Sciences Advisor for Grades 4 to 7 in the Metro South Education District of the WCED, thanked the presenters for their enthusiasm and personal commitments to effect a change in the way science is being taught at schools.

For more information, or to find a Citizen Science project for your school, contact Contact Dr Ryan Tucker at Stellenbosch University or Mr Ronald Engelbrecht at the Western Cape Education Department.

Some of the Citizen Science projects which participated in the workshop, include the Iimbovane Outreach Project (Exploring South African biodiversity and change), Cape Citizen Science (Go hiking for science), the Namibian Dolphin Project (a research and conservation project),  the rePhotoSA project (a repeat photography project looking at landscape change), and the South African National Biodiversity Institute's iNaturalist project.​

Text and photo published by Media&Communication Faculty of Sciences