Every year for the past 5 years, Warrandyte Primary School has offered students the opportunity to participate in the Science Teachers’ Association of Victoria’s ‘Science Talent Search’. This year Warrandyte Primary had a record number of students who entered submissions into the competition, despite it being an exceptionally challenging year for students with school shutdowns and online learning.

Maths/Science Specialist teacher, Jenny McDonell explained that this year’s competition theme was ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. “We have always been very lucky to have an active and involved school community and we were able to tap into those skills and resources. One of the parents at the school, Andy Costen, used to manage the Great Barrier Reef, and he was able to conduct an information ZOOM session with the students where he talked about the threats to aquaculture and really fired up their enthusiasm for the topic. And this year I was able to run the Science Talent Search alongside Shamirah Dutkovich, who works in our Out of School Hours Programme. Shamirah has a Masters Degree and previously worked as a Science Specialist teacher in Singapore. Together we were able to support the 7 students who persevered with their submissions this year. It was very challenging as our weekly meetings had to be online during the shutdowns, and we only managed to physically meet with the students a handful of times. The unique challenges this year have brought out the very best in resilience and perseverance in these students.”

Students from Grade 1 to Year 12 could submit entries to the competition in a variety of categories, including creating videos, games, creative writing, interviews and models.

Archie, in grade 2 was asked how he did his research for his animated video on ocean pollution: “I listened to Andy [Costen] and sent some questions to a family friend who is a marine biologist and he emailed me back some very useful information. I hadn’t made any videos before but I used a programme called Toontastic this time. Making the characters move was the hardest part.”

Grade 6 student Amari created a video with an experiment showing what would happen to the Antarctic food chain if krill dies out due to over fishing. “I learnt a lot about my research topic, which was the food chain in Antarctica. If we don’t stop over fishing krill and polluting the environment, many species in Antarctica are threatened. Krill look a bit like aliens, but they are very important for our world.”

Grade 5 George knew exactly how he wanted to present his research. “I chose to design a video game because I was familiar with how the code worked and it’s one of my interests. I’ve done quite a lot of coding before, on a website called ‘Scratch’. My game is all about simulating how much food fish need to eat each day in order to survive. The most difficult part was doing all the calculations.”

Sam, in grade 4, took a very hands on approach with his entry, creating a working, scale model of a boat that could help clean up rubbish out of waterways. “I found a life size example online of a boat that has already been designed to start cleaning up the oceans. But I wanted to improve on it by adding a proximity sensor which detects and discriminates between different objects in front of the boat, before allowing the boat to capture them if they’re rubbish. At the moment a full size version of my boat would only be able to go in lakes and rivers because it wouldn’t handle waves very well. But this could be improved. I had a lot of trouble with the propellers and getting [my model] to go at the right speed in a small tank. It hit the sides of the tank a lot at first, but I fixed this by putting in a ‘turbo’ mode which gets it off the sides, and makes it go back to searching for rubbish in the middle of the tank. I wanted to create an invention because it would teach me basic constructing and coding skills. I learnt a lot about how much rubbish is in the ocean, and how to write very basic code and to solder. I also learnt how to type on a keyboard with both hands, which is useful.”

We asked the students whether the challenges of Online Learning this year made it more difficult for them to research and produce their Science Talent Search submission. Grade 2 student Archie admitted that keeping track of his research proved to be quite tricky. “I read some books when I first started but I forgot the names of them because of the Corona.”

Sam said it was a bit of a juggle to keep progressing his STS submission while keeping up with online schooling, but he worked on his waterway cleanup boat model solidly through 2 sets of school holidays.

All the students agreed that they know a whole lot more now about aquaculture and the threats to our oceans.

Asher in grade 4 mentioned, “I was already interested in the impact of pollution on coral reefs. My Science Talent Search project was an experiment that showed how putting carbon dioxide into salt water makes it more acidic. Oceans are becoming more acidic, which is eroding calcium carbonate that coral needs to recover and grow. It’s a big problem.”

Thank you to Jenny McDonell (Grade 4/5 teacher) and Shamirah Dutkovich (Science specialist teacher in Singapore, Masters obtained in 2017) for organising and facilitating this opportunity, working hard and guiding these students to achieve their finished product.

Thank you also to Marine Biologist and dad at WPS, Andy Costen who used to manage the Great Barrier Reef. Through a Zoom session with students he was able to talk about aquaculture and answer their questions.