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Advice for teachers -

Teaching and learning activities

Unit 3 - Changing the land

Unit 3 - Area of Study 1: Land cover change

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse processes that result in changes to land cover and evaluate the impacts and responses resulting from these changes.

Examples of learning activities

  • Examine a series of photographs of different types of land cover, including: forest, grassland, tundra, bare lands, wetlands, land covered by water bodies and ice. Create a collaborative document which describes the distribution of each of these types of land cover on a global scale, using appropriate mapping techniques.
  • Create a series of sketch maps showing the distribution of key types of land cover such as: forest, grassland, bare land and land ice during the Last Glacial Maximum around 20,000 years ago. Use an overlay to show the changes over time in land cover during the Holocene Climatic Optimum around 8,000 years ago.
  • Annotate block diagrams of glaciers and ices sheets to identify and describe their key characteristics.
  • View YouTube clips of calving ice and write an explanation of the process.
  • Develop an illustrated glossary of different types of forest biomes and forest processes, using photographs found online.
  • Construct a concept map showing the role and interconnections between natural processes (such as tectonic activity) and human activities (such as human-induced climate change) in causing the process of melting glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Examine remote sensing imagery and satellite imagery to determine land cover change at a global scale.
  • Access interactive online geospatial tools, such as Global Forest Watch to investigate and analyse global tree cover gain and loss over time. Turn on and off layers on the GIS maps to study the causes and impacts of this land cover change.
  • With reference to mapped and graphed data, describe the spatial association between deforestation and human activities such as land conversion and logging.
  • Investigate a specific location where deforestation or melting glaciers/ice sheets is occurring. Use information gathered from a teacher-prepared case study file of resources to assess the reasons for the land cover change, the impacts on people and the environment and subsequent issues and challenges.
  • Research a response to the impacts of deforestation and melting glaciers and ice sheets at a local scale and a national scale. For each response, summarise its aims, achievements and an example of how it uses geospatial technology. Present the findings as a slideshow.
  • Explore the website of an organsiation responding to the impacts of deforestation (such as REDD) or melting glaciers and ice sheet (such as NASA) at a global scale. Discuss the questions: How have these organisations used geospatial technologies to monitor land cover change? How successful have these organisations been in responding to land use change?
  • Investigate a case study involving the use of spatial technologies to monitor (in real time) a land cover change. Examples could include GoLIVE for Glaciers and DeforestAction for vegetation. Discuss the questions: How have geospatial technologies been used? How effective are these technologies to monitor changes in land cover?
  • As a class, develop appropriate criteria that can be used to evaluate responses to impacts of deforestation and melting glaciers and ice sheets at a specific location: for example, To what extent does the response achieve its aims? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the response?
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Interpreting remote sensing images to analyse land cover change

The purpose of this activity is for students to:

  • understand how to interpret remote sensing imagery
  • analyse satellite and remote sensing imagery to determine causes and impacts of land cover change.

Part A – What is a remote sensing image?

Students research and find answers to the following:

  • What is remote sensing?
  • How is the electromagnetic spectrum used by the LANDSAT?
  • How do the LANDSAT satellite sensors record images?

Part B – How do you interpret remote sensing images?

  • Allocate students into groups. Give each group two or three LANDSAT images of land cover change in a specific location. Ideally, these images should be printed on A3 in colour. LANDSAT imagery can be found at the NASA Landsat Image Gallery.
  • In their groups, students use the resources listed below to begin interpreting the different types of land cover on the images and discover which colours represent a change between images.
  • Students annotate these changes on the images. To support students in annotating, provide information or examples from the resources listed below.
  • Student groups then rotate and provide feedback on other imagery in terms of the clarity and accuracy of annotations (Gallery walk).

Part C – What evidence can you collect from the imagery to determine cause and impact of land cover change?

  • Using their annotations and evidence from the images, students make predictions on the causes and impacts of land cover change. They may also choose to complete further research on these locations to support their predictions.

Additional activity

Students may be interested in creating their own LANDSAT image. Directions for doing this are available from the NASA website.


NASA Earth Observatory – How to Interpret a Satellite Image: Five Tips and Strategies

Earth Exploration Toolbook, Annotating Change in Satellite Images

Unit 3 - Area of Study 2: Land use change

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse land use change and evaluate its impacts.

Examples of learning activities

  • In pairs or small groups, examine ground or oblique aerial photographs of a variety of landscapes, such as rural, urban, industrial, mining, and coastal. Explain the difference between land cover and land use shown in the photographs. Discuss different classifications of land use.
  • Use GIS software, such as Google My Maps, Scribble Maps or ArcGIS, to create a land use map (creation of layers over a satellite image) of your school and surrounding area. Each land use should be a different layer on the map.
  • Use Google TimeLapse to investigate the change in land use over time of your school and its surroundings. Open Google Streetview in Google Maps and select the option to view Streetview Image over time in the local area. Describe the changes that have taken place and suggest the reasons for these changes.
  • Analyse maps and/or satellite or aerial photographs that show the natural and human characteristics of a selected area before and after land use change and respond to a series of short-answer questions.
  • Create an annotated timeline showing how organisations such as local councils, community groups, commercial developers and individuals have influenced land use change in a selected area. This activity could be completed using a teacher-prepared ‘case study’ file of resources (such as video clips, newspaper articles) and links to online resources (such as local government planning documents).
  • Write a short evaluation of the key reasons for the land use change in a selected area, with reference to the annotated timeline and showing the influence of organisations, individuals and planning strategies. Take into consideration: economic, social, political, environmental and cultural factors.
  • Brainstorm research questions that focus on the impacts of the land use change at a selected area and its surrounding region. Classify the impacts into positive or negative, short or long term, environmental, economic, social and cultural. Present this information in a graphic organiser.
  • Use fieldwork techniques to collect information about the geographic characteristics of the selected area that has undergone a land use change. These could include sketching, photographing, recording observations, measuring and counting.
  • Conduct social interviews or surveys, using paper surveys or geospatial tools such as Epicollect 5 or Survey 123, to determine the impact of land use change on a selected area and its surrounding region. For example, survey users of a newly developed park or retail area and conduct interviews with local residents.
  • Construct a table to evaluate the usefulness of the primary and secondary data sources used to collect information in answering the research question. Aspects to consider include: which aspect of the research question the data source addressed, whether it provided qualitative or quantitative data, its validity and reliability and any limitations.
  • Collate data collected in the field (such as survey results) in a class collaborative document, or by downloading the data from Epicollect 5 or Survey 123.
  • Discuss the advantages of, and conventions for, presenting geographic data in each of the following forms: graphs, tables, annotated photographs, digital maps.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Create a map using GIS to represent the primary data collected in the field, as well as secondary data from online databases, in order to answer the research question.
  • Draw a sketch map of the area that has undergone a land use change and its surrounding region or create a map with layers using GIS software (Google My Maps, Scribble Maps or ArcGIS). Annotate it to show positive and negative impacts of the land use change on people and the natural and built environment.
  • Create a table showing the positive and negative impacts or predicted impacts of the land use change on the selected area and its surrounding region. Points should be supported with reference to secondary sources (such as local government planning document, developer masterplan, ABS statistics, topographic map) and primary sources (such as class survey results, pedestrian count, annotated ground photographs and mapped observations).
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Create a GIS Map using primary and secondary data for a fieldwork report

Online GIS mapping tools such as Google My Maps or ArcGIS online allow students to create maps using both primary data collected in the field, or secondary data downloaded from online databases.

Collecting primary data in the field

  • For information on how to collect primary data in the field using geospatial technologies, see the detailed example for Unit 2 Area of Study 2 – Tourism.

Finding secondary data

  • When the fieldwork has been completed, students consider how the data they have collected should be represented to support their findings when responding to their research question.
  • Students may find that more evidence is needed from secondary online databases to enhance the discussions in their fieldwork report. This could include further population data from the ABS to discuss land use change or other data collected or downloaded from local government authorities.
  • Students should be provided with opportunities for discussion to consider the types of data they may need and how this data will support their research question.

Creating a map with secondary data

  • Many online databases provide the option to download data as a .csv file. Often these databases also allow the user to filter and refine the data prior to download. This is important for students because it enables them to quickly ‘clean’ and upload the data.
  • The secondary data must include a ‘location’ column (Latitude and longitude, suburb, state, country) for it to be mapped.
  • Students should follow the steps outlined in the detailed example in Unit 2 Area of Study 2 to ‘clean’ and import the secondary data into an online spatial tool such as Google My Maps or ArcGIS online.
  • Each layer of data that is imported should be a different column on the spreadsheet. For example, students could import ABS data on ‘population density’ for each suburb as one layer of data, followed by ‘dwelling type’ as a second layer to show a change in land use from industrial to residential in a locality.
  • Students may also choose to consider existing layers of data on Google Maps, including elevation or traffic data, when creating their maps.

Additional Information

If students are creating a map using country data, Microsoft Excel has an option to create a choropleth map of data from a .csv file.