/ 6 May 2024

Science empowerment in Eden and Central Karoo Education District of the Western Cape

Keenan Rasmus, Gillian O’Reilly, Pieter Kirsten (Science Subject Advisors), Professor Shaheed Hartley (Head: AK NPC), Rousseau Mercuur (ECKED Curriculum Head), Dr Gillian Arendse (iThemba Labs).

Reinvigorating hands-on practical and experimental work by making use of elementary everyday products to teach chemistry, physics, life sciences and astronomy

On Saturday 20 April 2024, Advancing Knowledge Non-Profit Company (AK NPC) was invited to host a series of interactive scientific inquiry workshops to intermediate (grades 4-6) and senior phase (grades 7-9) Natural Sciences teachers of the Eden and Central Karoo Education District (ECKED) in George. 

The inquiry-based training formed part of the ECKED Science Empowerment Programme to draw special attention to Natural Science as a practical subject and to natural sciences teachers who are the implementers and drivers of the inquiry process to improve science at schools in the region. 

Jewel Jonkers, ECKED Director, highlighted the upward curve of the science results in the district and the importance to continue building on these initiatives. Dr Gillian Arendse, nuclear physicist and communication specialist at iThemba Labs, challenged teachers to use their knowledge to make their curriculum relevant to their learners by connecting it to their lived reality. 

According to Rosseau Mercuur, Head of Curriculum in the ECKED, the main purpose of the empowerment programme was to reinvigorate hands-on practical and experimental work, by making use of elementary everyday products to teach chemistry, physics, life sciences and astronomy. He implored teachers to make maximum use of the opportunity created by the science advisory team of ECKED and the expertise provided by AK NPC. 

Advancing Knowledge NPC Science Facilitation Team

Professor Shaheed Hartley, Academic Head at AK NPC, reminded everyone of the words of Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in Physics, namely that “you cannot get educated by a self-propagating system in which people study to pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything. You learn something by doing it yourself, by asking questions, by thinking, and by experimenting”.

During the Science Empowerment Programme offered by Advancing Knowledge NPC, teachers had the opportunity to participate, experiment, question and be hands-on in the sessions that dealt directly with the four knowledge areas of the CAPS Natural Sciences curriculum for intermediate and senior phase respectively. The areas covered for both phases were earth & beyond (astronomy), matter & materials (chemistry), energy & change (physics) and life & living (life sciences). 

In each session AK NPC facilitators maintained the simplicity of teaching science through an inquiry-based approach by using everyday resources to illustrate science concepts, principles and theories. The following pictures demonstrate the passionate participation of natural science teachers and their contribution in making the teaching and learning of natural science a fun, hands-on, interactive, creative and enjoyable experience.

#science empowerment #science teacher development #natural sciences #inquiry-based science #WCED-ECKED


Hands-on with physics

In an interview with a group of four teachers from the intersen energy and change (physics) session, their enjoyment of the session held by Robert Solomon was clearly visible. “We built a battery using two pencils and used it to light up an LED” and “We made a compass using a needle floating on water” and “We worked with different aspects of an electric circuit which made the concepts so much easier”. They all agreed with the member who said that “these are such useful activities that we can directly apply in our science class”.

Hands-on with life sciences



In the life sciences sessions teachers dealt with activities concerning habitats, human skeletons, testing various food products, testing for starch in leaves, preparing slides for microscopy, chromatography on leaves, etc. During an interview one teacher said: “I like the fact that we collected leaves, flowers and prepared our own slides to view the organelles of plant tissue under the microscope. We could gather everyday products outside to do testing and had a revamp of how to prepare slides for our elementary microscopes. These are things in which our learners can participate”.

Hands-on with chemistry 

Teachers who attended the intersen matter and materials (chemistry) session were busy with chromatography, recording the dispersion of colours on their phones and timing the process with stop watches. As one teacher said: “These chemistry activities are easy, short and allow for learners’ participation in small groups  just what we need to keep the overactive ones busy in our classes while learning the curriculum content.” 

During the senior phase chemistry session, teachers were involved in the preparation of oxygen and were concentrating hard with a heat source in hand while others were collecting the oxygen in their gas jars. “I was always so scared to do this even as a demonstration. Now I have gained skills to even burn the metals and non-metals in the oxygen even though I am still a bit wary,” said one teacher during an interview session, while another remarked: “I like the fact that facilitators have a mentoring mind set and not judge us because we have never done this demonstration before. Our phone recordings will also assist in reminding us of the safety aspects and skills required to do this.”

Hands-on and eyes-on astronomy

For both intersen (grades 4-7) and senior phase (8 and 9) sessions teachers brought their laptop computers on which Advancing Knowledge NPC staff loaded the latest software for astronomy. One teacher to the agreement of others remarked: “Very little resources are available for us to teach the earth & beyond (astronomy) knowledge area of natural sciences. This has indeed been a good opportunity to not just get the software but also being guided on how to navigate through the programme.” Another teacher remarked that she was happy with the activities of “how to build a sundial and a telescope” which she can use when she teaches this component of the curriculum.

At the end of the science empowerment day Mercuur reported that many teachers thanked him for the opportunity to attend the inquiry-based science classes offered by AK NPC and were quite emphatic that more training of this nature should be held.

Professor Shaheed Hartley is Head of Advancing Knowledge NPC

For more details, visit: http://www.skatt.co.za/