Chipping in to save the greens

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St Aloysius students Zara Timmins and Aiden Thomas test the water at Cronulla. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
St Aloysius students Zara Timmins and Aiden Thomas test the water at Cronulla. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

There’s something in the water down at Cronulla – and the students from St Aloysius Primary School are working on developing an app to remove it.

The Year 5 and 6 pupils – in conjunction with Sutherland Shire Council and Sydney Water – are working on a digital system that can monitor the water quality that keeps the local golf course and surrounding fields green.

Currently, due to rising tides, heat and rain, salt water seeps into the Gunnamatta Bay irrigation system pipes which is then sprayed on the greens threatening its growth.

The students have been given a November deadline to design a system which alerts staff when the salinity of the water in the pipes is too high, enabling them to shut it off and water the greens other ways.

Using Skype, pupils directly chat with experts from the Sutherland Council’s Recycled water scheme and golf course to design a state-of-the-art system for greenkeepers.

The project is part of the school’s unique STEM program which highlights the scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical skills of the students and fits in alongside the traditional subjects of English, history and geography.

Principal Elizabeth Ovens said the fact the students are dealing with real community problems affecting the local environment has seen a very positive response.

“When it’s a genuine problem and they’re dealing with people who are clever in their field the kids really hook in,” she said. “Knowing it is a real issue for the local community and that they can come up with real solutions has resonated so well with them.

Students Amelie Pyne, 11, and Olivia Middlemiss, 11, testing the local soil. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Students Amelie Pyne, 11, and Olivia Middlemiss, 11, testing the local soil. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“One of the things we are really passionate about is working with industry professionals. The students have learnt about the water purification process, reverse osmosis and how the desalination plants work from the experts.”

Year 5 student Olivia Middlemiss said the project was a lot of fun but extra special for her as her grandad is a passionate golfer at the Woolooware course.

The 11-year-old said he was very proud of the work she was doing not just for science but for the local environment.

“It’s been so much fun firstly identifying exactly what the problem is and then researching it to find a solution,” she said.

“When we first started we all thought it was too complex a problem for us kids to solve but when we started to break the problem down it has been really interesting.

“It feels really good knowing kids can make a difference and help fix a problem that affects a lot of people.

St Aloysius students test the water at Cronulla. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
St Aloysius students test the water at Cronulla. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“And it’s extra special for me as my grandad really loves his golf and it will help his local course.”

Ms Ovens said the STEM work offered at the school focuses on real-world partnerships, coding and processes that develop students’ collaboration and crucial thinking skills for students from kindergarten to Year 6.

She said all projects undertaken directly benefit the local community including the Year 3 pupils who have been making a new garden and hive to introduce stingless bees into the playground while other children are looking for a solution to minimise the effects of erosion on the Cronulla coastline.

“We have a great STEM teacher in David Bugden who invested many hours into researching and developing programs and processes to make this learning meaningfully come alive for the students,” she said.

“Unlike many schools, we have not brought a few high tech resources and taught STEM skills like coding to the brightest. Our model is whole school STEM learning. It is very much embedded into our curriculum, but is driven by real world problem solving experiences, collaborative work and creative opportunities.

“Just last week the students Skyped with Professor Salah Sukkarieh who is the professor of robotics and intelligent systems at the University of Sydney. He answered the students’ questions around how best we could build our system and they now have a much better understanding of the engineering process and the use of robotics to solve problems.”