The Primary Science Programme (PSP) offers in-service teacher training workshops to teachers in the Overberg. Sandra Rousseaux is the co-ordinater who runs workshops and gives classroom support to a range of schools in the area. I joined her to present the first workshop for 2016 in Swellendam.
The Seven Life Processes
All living organisms need to carry out the same 7 life processes that can easily be remembered by introducing MRS GREF. All adaptations that animals and plants have in order to survive can be linked back to these seven basic processes.If an organism is prevented or restricted in any one of them, their health is affected and they may even not survive.
What would you need to survive on top of a fynbos mountain for 24 hours? That was the challenge. Teachers made a list of everything that they would like to have along with them and then one teacher dressed up. There was lots of hilarity connecting with all the items in my rucksack. The bottle of sherry and the toilet paper caused the most laughs.
However,the discussion became more serious when teachers realised how humans are able to adapt to changing environments with their behavior. Humans can make blankets, sleeping bags, tents and raincoats to protect them in cold wet, weather. Humans can move into the shade to get away from the heat of the sun in the middle of the day. They can store water in bottles and food in containers and carry it along with them to use when they need it.
In order to survive, plants must have all those adaptations built in. If plants are not able to reduce the effects of water shortages in summer they will die. The adaptations exhibited by plants to achieve this is truly astounding such as red pigments and hairs serving as sun screen, bitter sap and spines deterring herbivores.
Interactions and interdependence
Biodiversity can simply be explained as different animals and plants on earth but it is much more than that. No organism can survive on earth without the presence of other species. All plants trap light energy to make their own food and all animals need to eat something in order to get their energy and are ultimately completely dependent on plants. Plants are dependent on animals for other services like pollination or seed dispersal. Many animals make homes in and around plants or harvest plant products to make their homes to bring up their young. The place where organisms live, the habitat, is therefore also part of biodiversity.This means that everything depends on everything else. We can best understand this concept of interdependence by thinking of life as a huge big web made up of millions of interconnections.
Food chains and food webs
Food chains are the simplest interactions to explain this concept. Looking at small animals found on the school grounds and thinking about what food they eat is a good way to start. Children love being outside and looking for bugs and catching animals is relatively easy to do with an empty plastic bottle.The importance of noticing where the animal was living highlights the importance of habitat.
Some teachers were a bit squeamish about getting their hands dirty but overcame their reluctance quite quickly when they saw what fun their colleagues were having.
Getting the absolutely correct name is NOT the aim of this exercise! A description of some sort is adequate eg black hairy spider or black beetle with yellow spots
What does this animal eat? ie is it a plant eater or does it eat other animals? Looking at the mouthparts will help work this out.
What are the enemies of your animal? ie what animal eats your animal?
Answering these two questions will enabled us to construct simple food chains.
The energy trapped by the leaves of the plant during photosynthesis is used by the herbivore. The carnivore gets its energy by eating the herbivore. This transfer of energy is shown by arrows
The tricky part was finding ways to connect them up into one big web
Making a food web with the animals we found
We found a range of different animals and worked together to discuss what they eat and what their predators might be.
The PSP animal cards were useful in filling the gaps in the web eg. we know that frogs eats flies and that birds eat grasshoppers and spiders. We were able to catch a grasshopper and a fly but not a bird or a frog but we could include them in the web. The cards were also useful for reading up information and finding out about the feeding habits of animals.
Swellendam: just one part of South African biodiversity
I enjoyed my stay in Swellendam.Thank you for the wonderful hospitality.