Heidi Trautmann

95 - 'The wonders of nature through a magnifying glass at the GAU College


By Heidi Trautmann


It is not so long ago that I had the chance to get informed about the practice of art education throughout the house of the GAU College and now I was invited to learn about a new understanding and approach to open the wide field of Sciences to the children.

It is about life, all living cells and mysterious happenings in nature…it is the subjects that explain all the questions we have why the things in our life, in nature are the way they are; it is the world of SCIENCE:  biology, physics and chemistry, the subjects we have all gone through in school, where we learnt why  things fall to the ground and not up into the air, what kind of living matter is contained in the air we breathe, and the volume of one kilo of feathers; why can water make us sick or anything else that we eat; the miracle of atoms and molecules, compounds that change things altogether; subjects where we learn how life develops and how the continuity of nature is guaranteed – under certain conditions. A fascinating world that children are led through as from a certain age, but often too complex for a young mind to grasp.

So the science teachers at the GAU have sat down together and discussed to find a way how to bring the world of sciences closer to the kids and to invite them in to participate and join the “Science Club” which should not be understood as a room dedicated to the purpose but as a sort of forum where questions are brought forward and are thrown into the ring for discussions.


One morning I was introduced to one of the young scientists at the GAU College, Mert Besiktaş, who is teaching biology to the students from the age of 11 and 12 years (from years 11 (AS level) and 12 (A level) biology) . He is an Australian born Turkish Cypriot who has made his bachelor there but his Master at the Cyprus Institute of Genetics and Neurology at the University in Nicosia South. 

“I was educated in a way to teach science in a de-mystified manner and when I came here to join the teaching staff at GAU College I found the minds open for an interactive form of education. To explore the depths of the scientific background of our existence is an adventure in itself and why should children at any age not participate in this exciting experience.”

Mert Besiktaş is a young man of 24 years of age, eager and sportive, a comrade like person, not the prototype of a scientist I had in my schooldays: drawn and overtired face, white skin, little hair on the interesting shape of a head, no, a young man close to the age of the students, somebody one can trust, one would lie down with on the ground to study the march of the ants.

“In our laboratory we not only study the objects according to the books but I try to demonstrate things on objects such as bones, antlers, dried bodies of small animals found on nature walks; or I would bring live samples into the classroom; we keep turtles there so we can watch them develop; there is an aquarium in the entrance hall for all to see. Last week I had brought a small chicken in a glass container, so children could study it from very close. Or take insects, you can only understand the delicate structure if you can watch them move. It is also to eliminate fear and disgust many people have in front of crawling bugs, spiders, and the like…”

Here Mert and I get carried away discussing the beauty of a spider net, of a wasp’s clay house in free nature, the social behaviour of bees, a wonderful example for the proper functioning of a community.

“Yes, it is our understanding among the science teachers to make children stop and go down on their knees to discover the world under their soles, to take one’s time to observe the wonderful happenings under the bushes, in the trees, in the air. I often arrange a meeting with the children outside the classroom, sit together and discuss things a little further with more time at hand than in the classroom. It is not done to answer questions, children must be brought to think critically, they must try to find the answers themselves, undertake the process from beginning to end.”

Do you also take them out on nature walks, I asked.

“Yes, I do. Not just as a class do we do walks in the mountains, but we have a good understanding with Robin Snape from ‘Cyprus Wildlifeecology’ and with the ‘Kuşkor’ Wildlife Association, with experts away from the laboratory, directly involved with nature. We are planning an open camp in Karpaz in the next early spring to have plenty of time to do nature observation.”

However, it is not done with observing the various species only, we must understand the entire interplay, the chain of which we humans are also a member…and I tell Mert of the habit of municipalities to heavily spray in villages against mosquitoes for the wrongly understood care of citizens and tourists, and killing thereby all useful insects that guarantee the growth of fruit on the trees.

“That is a very important subject we teach, the interactivity in nature, we must not disturb the chain, because we humans will be on the losing end and species will disappear from our life. Birds, snakes, mice, all animals of the natural habitat around us will not find enough food and they will go away or die. Just as we humans hope to be protected against enemies and dangers of any kind by our governments, nature needs a representative to protect their rights.” I tell Mert that I am very lucky to live in an area with lots of natural habitat around us with many species living in the ravine and I tell him about the baby fox that lost its mother and came looking for food at our kitchen door for one winter season.

“That is another aspect of our zoom-in education, the respect and the care for all living matter and that is a very wide field, I am telling you. First of all we explain to the children that we must respect each other, controversy opinions of our comrades on a matter, people of different skin colour or of different background, people with disabilities. We go deeply into explaining questions: why is skin dark, why white or yellow? Why is a child born without an arm. We even research together the reason for Down Sydrome; missing links in the genetic chain. Only what you can understand, you will be able to respect.”

That is opening the book of life, right down to its very last cell. Just like Jules Verne exploring the depths of our earth, the fantastic stories I devoured as a child. Now, here at GAU College, pure adventure in the classrooms….


So far we have discussed the world of two and four legged living species, what about flora, what about environmental problems of which we have aplenty?

“People here don’t even know what they have right at their feet, the riches of own species of flora and fauna, but it seems that they want to destroy it with the carelessness they treat the island. We try to make the children understand and hopefully they will take their knowledge to their families and friends and spread the news. The coming school year is dedicated to our environment and we have fixed days when students meet and discuss what can be done. On 10 January it is planned for all primary schools to meet and confer on educational possibilities to deepen the knowledge and respect for nature and to take measures to avoid misuse. Only what you learn early in your life will become an everyday habit. Hands-on training in every respect; with my class we will establish a veggie patch in the back of the school to watch the process of growth of vegetables to the moment of tasting them; we are discussing the importance of clean food for our health; of clean air and clean soil, the misuse of pesticides and uncontrolled use of chemical fertilizers ….even our College Christmas Bazaar has the environment as their main theme….”


I am shown the biology laboratory by this young engaged teacher Mert Besiktaş where I discover a rich variety of books on shelves for the children to use and photos displayed from the last photo competition. I am amazed of the quality of those photos taken by children. They should make their own College calendar with little stories of their own and sell them on their Christmas Market or other occasions.


“This is only the beginning,” says Mert Besiktaş, “we need to involve our children to participate in our decisions of tomorrow, to sharpen their sensitivities towards the only assets we really have, that is nature, and that is the base we stand on and live from.”


A good feeling. I would wish that young teachers with such a positive approach to teaching will get all the support they need to make our life better and safer, I am saying to my host Burçin Karavelioğlu who accompanies me to my car, and we pass a group of children in the entrance hall selling cakes, their moms have made. “They sell the cakes for our “Charity for Children in Need Club”, one of our educational measures to learn caring for others,” she says.

Mert Besiktas and the lab library
Mert Besiktas and the lab library

the Lab turtle
the Lab turtle

the Biology lab with photos of the last competition
the Biology lab with photos of the last competition

Selling cakes for Children in Need
Selling cakes for Children in Need

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