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Student challenge “brings text books to life”


In the latest example of TERN’s extensive educational and outreach activities, students are learning best-practice solutions to environmental problems and helping improve our understanding of how our ecosystems behave. Importantly, the program is also motivating high school students to enrol in science related tertiary studies.
 
A student identifies a Common Dunnart (Sminthopsis murina) during the December 2016 Earthwatch Student Challenge held at TERN's Calperum Mallee SuperSite (image courtesy of Charles Tambiah)

Scientists at TERN’s nationwide environmental monitoring SuperSites are used to working with all sorts of learners from primary school kids, to university students and graduates, to Rotarians and bank employees.

In the latest example of the network’s extensive educational and outreach activities, 17 high school students—under the support and expert guidance of TERN partners the Earthwatch Institute and the Australian Landscape Trust—have recently spent a week at TERN’s Calperum Mallee SuperSite taking part in an intensive environmental monitoring and skill development program organised by Earthwatch.

Earthwatch’s Student Challenge program is designed to support the work of scientists in conserving our environment, while providing students an insight into the world of field science.

Earthwatch’s CEO, Cassandra Nichols, says: “By living and working in the field with leading researchers students experience real-world application of science; it brings text books to life.”

“The program has been extremely successful in motivating students to enrol in science related tertiary subjects and the skills gained greatly assist with the transition from secondary to tertiary education.”

“Equally important, the program is creating environmental stewards in our future leaders, ensuring the next generation will strive for sustainability.”

In fact, one student reflected that the program was “vastly different than any formal education and arguably better in understanding how the real world works.”
 

Nationwide data collection for better ecosystem understanding

Students conducted biological inventory surveys to collect data that helps build a complete picture of ecosystem functioning at the site, and the causes and effects of environmental change.

For example, data collected by the students on the physical and biological components of the Black Box floodplain community along the Murray River will assist in monitoring the effectiveness of environmental watering programs and enable improvements in these management actions.

Dr Peter Cale, the senior ecologist at the ALT at Calperum, says that the work completed at the site via such collaborative Earthwatch programs are part of a long-term process of collecting scientific data across the country.

“It will be used by Australian and international scientists, managers and policy makers to improve our understanding of how our ecosystems behave.”

“Once we understand how these ecosystems behave we can then develop ways of managing them effectively. It’s also the building blocks to understanding how we can measure these changes to ensure that our management is taking us in the right direction.”

  • This project is just one of several environmental education and community capacity building activities at the TERN Calperum Mallee SuperSite. Other educational activities happening at the site include:
    • Primary and Secondary school camps and day trips, including support for lesson planning and delivery;
    • Hosting undergraduate university and TAFE field trips;
    • Support for postgraduate research students carrying out fieldwork on site; and
    • Occasional training workshops for volunteers and community members.

 

Students collected data on the physical and biological components of the Black Box floodplain community along the Murray River, including by taking tree measurements (above) and checking pitfall traps for fauna (below), to help scientists build a complete picture of ecosystem functioning and understand the causes and effects of environment change (images courtesy of Yue Chin Chew)

 

Earthwatch Students Challenge participants and staff at TERN's Calperum Mallee SuperSite (image courtesy of Charles Tambiah)

 

 

Published in TERN newsletter January 2017

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