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Teaching and learning

A range of suggested learning activities have been provided for each area of study in Units 1–4. It should be noted that the activities included cover a range of the key knowledge and key science skills for each area of study, but not all of them. Some activities could be completed within one class and others could be completed over an extended period. They include learning activities that involve group work, class discussion, practical application of scientific skills and synthesis of knowledge and skills in written responses. Some of the learning activities have been tagged to provide examples of how the nine scientific investigation methodologies applicable to VCE Environmental Science can be can be applied in each unit. Many of the learning activities could be adapted for use in other areas of study or units, or developed into assessment tasks. All are intended to be examples that teachers will use and/or adapt to suit the needs of their own students.

Included external links are for teacher reference purposes. They do not constitute VCAA endorsement of the views or materials contained on these sites and teachers need to ensure that any information or activities are appropriately adapted to meet the requirements of the VCE Environmental Science Study Design 2022–2026.

Unit 1: How are Earth’s dynamic systems interconnected to support life?

Unit 1 - Area of Study 1: How are Earth’s systems organised and connected?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to describe the movement of energy and nutrients across Earth’s four interrelated systems, and analyse how dynamic interactions among biotic and abiotic components of selected local and regional ecosystems contribute to their capacity to support life and sustain ecological integrity.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Investigation of local ecosystems

  • Fieldwork: Conduct a field study on the ecology of a habitat to produce valid data, including the use of quadrats and transects, to assess the abundance and distribution of organisms, including introduced species, and the measurement of specific abiotic factors; for example, solar energy input, climatic factors, topography and oxygen availability.
  • Fieldwork: Conduct a nature scavenger hunt/bingo game where students work in pairs to take photographs that illustrate relationships between the biotic and abiotic components of a particular environment, taking safety precautions and following ethical guidelines in observing and handling living things. Relationships to be photographed in a bush environment may include, for example: a sign of insect activity (holes in leaves, anthills, tunneling in logs, empty caterpillar nests, plant galls, insect egg cases); a spider web with a trapped insect; an animal home or shelter; a sign of an animal having eaten something; a flower with a bee or other insect on it; seeds that could be dispersed by the wind; seeds that could be dispersed by animals (stuck to fur or ingested). Students may also take a photograph that illustrates a relationship not included in the scavenger hunt / bingo game. Students should annotate their photographs to explain the ecosystem relationships.
  • Compare class observations of a single environmental phenomenon or ecosystem component and discuss why careful observation is important in scientific investigations; comment on the quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) German poet, dramatist: ‘We see only what we know’.
  • Classification and identification: Explore the questions: ‘What is an ecosystem?’ How are ecosystems different / similar in different parts of Earth – what structures / components (abiotic and biotic) and processes (interrelationships) do they have in common? Which are unique?
  • Conduct experiments to measure and compare abiotic and biotic factors in two different habitats in your schoolground.
  • Record the population growth of duckweed (Lemna major) over a three-week period, generate and graph data, and discuss results in relation to the concept of ‘carrying capacity’.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to compare the quality of different water samples: pH; temperature; dissolved oxygen content; total dissolved solids; salinity; turbidity; nutrients in terms of nitrates, phosphates, sulfates; biological indicators in terms of various measures of macroinvertebrate or fish diversity.
  • Investigate changes in an abiotic factor on the survival of an organism.
  • Analyse and relate the measurement of specific abiotic factors to the distribution of organisms in a selected ecosystem.
  • Correlational study: Analyse and relate the measurement of specific abiotic factors to the distribution of organisms in a selected ecosystem.
  • Correlational study: Investigate the distribution patterns of mosses and algae in relation to orientation and altitude.
  • Classification and identification: Discuss what determines the classification of a plant as a ‘weed’: use the example of Echium plantagineum which is generally known as ‘Paterson’s curse’ but in South Australia is called ‘Salvation Jane’.
  • Fieldwork: Undertake fieldwork in a local environment involving sampling techniques and the use of quadrats and transects to investigate ecosystem relationships and functioning; for example:
    • patterns of growth under trees
    • distribution of flowering plants in a field
    • distribution of lichens, algae or moss on trees, rocks and other surfaces
    • leaf size in plants growing in different light or soil conditions
    • distribution patterns of mosses and algae in relation to orientation and altitude.
  • Record the population of duckweed (Lemna major) over a three-week period; generate and graph data, and recognise carrying capacity. Students may set up different environmental conditions (for example, added nitrate, phosphate, sulfate) to compare with a ‘control’.
  • Explore the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have managed water as an important abiotic resource in their environment, using the Queensland Government report, How did Aboriginal peoples manage their water resources?
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to compare the properties of different types of soils: water permeability; water content; pH; salinity; ability for different seeds to germinate; percentage organic matter in terms of nitrate, sulfate or phosphate content.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to compare the quality of different soil samples: pH; salinity; available water capacity; infiltration; aggregate stability (for example, capacity of a soil to withstand raindrops); earthworms; soil enzymes; total organic carbon content; particulate organic matter content; nutrients in terms of nitrates, phosphates, sulfates.
  • Prepare a soil mixture (for example, using compost, vermiculite, black earth, top soil, mushroom mulch, peat moss, manure, loam and / or sand) for a selected plant species, based on analysis of the requirements for optimal growth for that species (for example, tomato plants, wheat, avocado, banksia, murnong / yam daisy, native raspberry).
  • Correlational study: Investigate the motion of fallen seeds; explain how the motion is related to survival of the species.
  • Devise an investigation to test an explanation of how seeds can spread over wide distances.
  • Use a hand lens to compare the textures of different rock types; for example, igneous rocks (granite, obsidian, basalt, gabbro); metamorphic (slate, marble, quartzite, gneiss, schist) and sedimentary (limestone, sandstone, conglomerate, shale, gypsum); test the properties of different rocks (for example, porosity; ability to be abraded; hardness) and link to their use in society.
  • Fieldwork: Visit a local geological setting (for example, river  /  stream bed, a rock outcrop) and identify and classify rock samples collected from that area; discuss the importance of replacing rocks in their natural setting after they have been identified and classified as part of fieldwork investigations.
  • Controlled experiment: Plan and conduct an investigation to determine the factors that affect the size and form of mineral crystals such as copper(II) sulfate; for example, the temperature of the salt solution, the type of salt that will form the crystal, or the level of saturation of the salt solution.
  • As Earth’s natural resources are depleted, researchers are studying the feasibility of using space mining to supplement these resources. Potential candidates for space mining include asteroids and other bodies in the solar system that are thought to contain rich sources of minerals. Discuss the environmental, technological, economic, legal and ethical aspects of space mining as a source of minerals and raw materials for Earth.
  • Simulation: Use videos and interactives such as the materials found at the National Geographic website to distinguish between terms related to ecological relationships: competition, predation, symbiosis, mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism.
  • Classification and identification: How is a habitat different from an ecosystem? Or a biome? Or the biosphere (global ecosystem)? Explain or illustrate the various degrees of scale, both spatial and temporal.
  • Construct a table to show the differences and similarities between food chains, food webs, energy pyramids and biomass pyramids: when are each useful? Which of these illustrates dynamic interactions?
  • Discuss the role of decomposers in ecosystems.
  • Fieldwork: Explain how a variety of sampling techniques (for example, quadrat sampling, catch-and-release, core sampling to measure tree rings, counting annuli in scales to measure the age of fish) are used to collect information about ecosystems; plan a field trip that requires the use of sampling techniques to respond to a question of interest about ecosystem functioning or relationships.
  • Modelling: Deconstruct an established food web to identify a single food chain; visually represent the selected food chain by creating a mouth-in-mouth collage or string of dangling discs; for example, Food Chain Collage at Pinterest.
  • Explore applications of the use of food webs at The Nature Education website.
  • Modelling: Create a food web for a selected ecosystem (for example, a river using creature cards) and string.
  • Simulation: Use an online simulation to explore food web relationships; for example, Australian grassland, and Anyflip worksheets.
  • Literature review: Investigate the importance of keystone species in ecosystems. Refer to Greentumble’s 12 examples.
  • Investigate mistletoe as a parasitic species on the ABC site: ‘Unveiling the misunderstood magical mistletoes of Australia’.
  • Case study: Use Ecological communities: Networks of Interacting Species as a source of examples of different feeding relationships in food webs.
  • Biomass pyramids and energy pyramids are two types of ecological ‘infographics’ used by scientists to represent the relationships among elements in a food chain. Access the resource on the Sciencing website to find out how scientists can use these kinds of biological pyramids to determine the health of plant and animal populations by using pictures to represent concrete measurements of an ecosystem's parts.
  • Simulation: Access an interactive program such as ‘Exploring biomass pyramids’ to collect and analyse data from a virtual river to construct biomass and energy pyramids.
  • Correlational study: Set up two aquaria with leaf litter and place worms into one of these. Observe the changes in the tank over time: Does the leaf litter in each aquarium decompose at the same rate? Where does the matter go? Where does the energy go?
  • Select an ecosystem and create an infographic to visualise how the E.A.R. conditions / requirements are met:
    • E: there must be a constant supply of energy
    • A: there must be living organisms that can convert energy into useable forms
    • R: there must be a recycling of energy and nutrients among organisms and their environment.
  • Product, process or system development: Construct a Winogradsky column – a simple device for constructing a stratified ecosystem—that illustrates different types of microbial metabolism in a colourful way. After construction, the column may be observed once a week over the course of a number of weeks. Students may set up different columns to investigate different questions related to microbial survival in different environments. A single column that is half covered with foil on one side (lengthways on the bottle) to investigate the effects of high and low light intensity may be set up. References such as the Winogradsky Column (1) and Winogradsky Column (2) provide suggested procedures involving the testing of different nutrient environments that are readily adapted to individual schools.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform tests to investigate the effectiveness of natural products, such as peppermint oil, lemongrass, eucalyptus oil, lavender and thyme, as insect repellants; for example, using raw fruit slices compared with fruit slices covered with the natural products and observing and recording insect behaviour.
  • Correlational study: Design and conduct an investigation to determine if areas with high plant diversity also have high animal diversity.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to investigate ecosystem functioning and relationships, for example:
    • What is the effect of soil salinity on the germination of food crops?
    • Do particular plants repel insects such as cockroaches, flies, ants or beetles?
    • Do different wavelengths of light affect the rate of photosynthesis?
    • Does fluoridated water affect the rate of photosynthesis in plants?
  • Design a landscaping project for an area in the school or community (for example, a rooftop garden, a plot in a community garden, a landscape that requires restoration), taking into account local conditions (for example, soil composition, prevailing winds, amount of sunlight and rainfall), and propose a course of action to ensure the sustainability of the project over time and its interaction with the surrounding environment (for example, companion planting, the use of natural fertilisers, the use of native and indigenous plant species, the inclusion of plants that attract pollinators).

Key knowledge: Earth systems thinking

  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Simulation: Introduce ‘systems thinking’ by being part of a class ‘Triangular Connections’ simulation activity. (Detailed example 1)
  • Classification and identification: Use a Venn diagram to identify the unique features of Earth’s four major systems and the major interactions between the systems.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Case study: Analyse interactions between Earth’s four systems through a case study: ‘Parachuting Cats – History or Hoax?’ (Detailed example 2)
  • Imagine a world without humans; construct a graphic that compares a world with and without humans in terms of Earth’s four spheres.
  • Classification and identification: Identify in which of Earth’s four major systems some of the physical, chemical and biological processes in biogeochemical cycles operate; for example, evaporation in the water cycle (hydrosphere → atmosphere), denitrification in the nitrogen cycle (biosphere → atmosphere), sequestration in the carbon cycle (atmosphere → biosphere → lithosphere), and decomposition in the phosphorus cycle (biosphere → lithosphere).
  • Investigate the energy potential held in a potato / lemon and discuss how different energy conversions can occur.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to determine the factors that affect photosynthetic rates and plant growth; for example, level of carbon dioxide or oxygen, light intensity, wavelength of light, temperature.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to investigate the decomposition rates of different types of food scraps; consider and manage safety issues related to decomposition products.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to investigate how changing a biotic or abiotic factor in one of Earth’s spheres affects the other spheres; examples of investigations include: whether increased carbon environments increase photosynthetic rates (atmosphere); testing ‘companion planting’ effectiveness (biosphere); dumping of salt into a stream (hydrosphere); or changing the number of earthworms or type of fertiliser used in soils (lithosphere).
  • Literature review: Research and annotate maps of Earth’s surface to show key locations of the outputs (for example, coal, oil, gas and phosphate rocks) of the different cycles. Visit Study.com and search for 'Biogeochemical cycling and the phosphorous cycle'.
  • Draw a flow diagram to show how energy and matter move through the human body when a meal is consumed, or altered when a candle is burned, identifying the state of matter (gas, liquid or solid) and the energy transformations occurring at each stage of the flow diagram.
  • Simulation: Explore how energy flows through different types of ecosystems using an online simulation; search on the internet: 'MH model ecosystems'.
  • Comment on the quote by Ronald Wright, from A Short History of Progress (2005), that: ‘If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, and not the capital, of nature’ in terms of inputs and outputs for life.
  • Modelling: Illustrate a water cycle diagram and record a voice-over from the perspective of a character (such as a cloud / sun / water drop / plant / puddle) to represent how a raindrop can travel through various paths of the water cycle.
  • Use a graphic organiser to illustrate the main sources of the essential inputs (energy, nutrients, air and water) required for life.
  • Construct a table that compares examples of different organisms that use different methods of generating energy (photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, aerobic and anaerobic respiration); identify inputs and outputs of each energy-generating process.
  • Controlled experiment: Investigate yeast growth, with and without sugar, to explore inputs and outputs, and processes of energy production; using the 'Energy for Life' lesson from the BioEd Online website.
  • Correlational study: Perform an aquarium investigation that explores differences between open, semi-permeable and closed systems.
  • Explain the ‘system’ part of the word ‘ecosystem’.
  • Refer to the Earth’s four systems to identify and explain the benefits and risks of:
    • a selected outdoor recreational activity such as fishing, camping or bushwalking
    • ecotourism
    • formal landscape gardening
    • watering and use of herbicides on golf courses.
  • Write a short article suitable for publication in a school newsletter in response to the question, ‘How do components and processes sustain ecological integrity?’
  • Study a local ecosystem and create a photo essay, considering how the structures and processes can be visualised. Add annotations that demonstrate links between biotic and abiotic components and the environmental conditions generated.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example 1

Triangular connections: What is ‘systems thinking’ about?

Aim

To introduce the concept of ‘systems thinking’ through a physical simulation involving students acting as individual components of a system.

Introduction

There are various ways of physically simulating the complexities of Earth as a system of four interrelated spheres (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) and the interdependencies of various elements between and within each system. In this activity, each student represents an element within a system; some connections between elements within the system may be relatively strong, while others are weak. Any change in one element of the system can affect the whole system, sometimes in unpredictable ways.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • discuss relevant environmental science information, ideas, concepts, theories and models and the connections between them
  • analyse and explain how models and theories are used to organise and understand observed phenomena and concepts related to environmental science, identifying limitations of selected models / theories.

Preparation

  • An understanding of Earth as four interconnected systems, and bio-geochemical cycles, covered in Unit 1 Area of Study 1.
  • If the basic concept of ‘systems thinking’ has already been covered, teachers may use this activity to develop deeper thinking about the effects of changes within systems in terms of intra- and inter-system functionality and influences.
  • If the activity is not taking place outdoors, the classroom must be cleared so that students have space to walk around.

Health, safety and ethical notes

There are no issues.

Procedure

  • Students stand in a circle outdoors or in a cleared classroom to represent elements (each student) in a system (the circle of students).
  • Each student silently chooses two people in the room to be their ‘influencers’; at no time during the activity should the ‘influencers’ be known to anyone else.

Activity 1: A simple system

Students are instructed that when the teacher says ‘go’, each student should move so that they are equally distant from their two ‘influencers’. After 5 minutes the teacher will say ‘stop’. Students record their observations in terms of the stability of the ‘system’.

Activity 2: Effects of system change

Activity 1 is repeated and, this time, students choose two different ‘influencers’. After 5 minutes, when the teacher says ‘stop’, only certain students stop while everyone else keeps moving so that they remain equidistant from their two ‘influencers’. The students who stop are those with a selected particular characteristic chosen by the teacher and not previously disclosed to students; for example, an item of red clothing or blond hair. Students observe and record what happens in terms of system stability.

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

A series of cognitively differentiated questions should be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  • Identify: The simulation includes ‘influencers’. Identify the ‘influencers’ in a selected bio-geochemical cycle.
  • Explain: How are the ‘stop’ instructions in the simulation related to an aspect of a bio-geochemical cycle or one of Earth’s four spheres?
  • Classify: All systems must include elements, interconnections and a function or purpose. Is the water cycle a system? Why or why not?
  • Apply: In what ways is your class of students a system? In what ways is your class of students not a system?
  • Connect: Why are systems so complex? Refer to the simulation ‘triangles’ and their equivalent elements in bio-geochemical cycles or one of Earth’s four spheres to explain your answer.
  • Synthesise: Why do systems fluctuate? Use the results from your simulation as an analogy to explain fluctuations in either of the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere or lithosphere.
  • Evaluate: Simulations generally attempt to show how complex ideas are interconnected and how complex systems can be unpacked and understood. Evaluate the effectiveness of the simulation used in this activity in understanding and explaining the complexity of a system.
  • Create: Draw a concept map to illustrate how interconnections occur within and between Earth’s four spheres.
  • Imagine: Explain how relationships within systems could change over time.

Teaching notes

  • The simulation could be extended by allocating four students to be ‘observers’ in each corner of the room or at four different points outside the circle and away from the rest of the students. Their role is to determine which ‘triangles’ are connected, and to explain how they represent particular elements in a cycle and how these elements influence each other within the system. This also reflects the complexity of systems and the difficulty in being able to identify all relationships within systems.
  • The effects of changes in relationships and delays within systems can be explored by extending the activity. For example, a group could be asked to change one of their ‘influencers’ mid-way through the 5-minute triangulation activity, and students could observe what happens in another 5-minute stint of system adjustment in the simulation.

Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example 2

Parachuting cats – history or hoax?

Aims

  • To investigate the interactions between Earth’s four systems by examining a case study.
  • To explore how solutions to one problem may generate new problems, which then require new solutions.
  • To examine the nature of evidence.

Background information for teachers

A ‘classic’ example of solutions causing different problems from those that they initially solved is illustrated by the ‘parachuting cats’ case. The case is also interesting because a number of versions can be found on the internet that include contradictory information and disputed ‘facts’.

For Activity 1 in this extended example, students will use the most popular, but disputed, version of the case to investigate relationships between Earth’s systems:

‘In the early 1950s, there was an outbreak of malaria among the Dayak people in Borneo. The World Health Organization (WHO) organised indoor residual spraying campaigns in many countries around the world, including Borneo. The campaigns involved spraying houses with DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) to kill the mosquitoes that transmitted malaria. The mosquitoes died and the incidence of malaria decreased significantly.

However, there were side effects. One of the first was that the thatched roofs of people’s houses began to fall down. This occurred because the DDT was also killing a parasitic wasp that ate thatch-eating caterpillars. Without the wasps to eat them, there were more and more thatch-eating caterpillars. In addition, the wasps that died from being poisoned by DDT were eaten by gecko lizards, which were then eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the Dayak people were threatened by outbreaks of two serious diseases carried by the rats: sylvatic plague and typhus. To solve these problems, the WHO parachuted live cats into Borneo.’

Points of dispute relate to the methods of DDT delivery (aeroplane versus local spraying), the number of cats delivered to Borneo and the purpose of their delivery; the mechanism for the widespread death of cats; the reason for the proliferation of rats; and whether typhus and plague actually occurred.

For Activity 2, students will use a more reliable source of information about the case to explore the nature of evidence.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • apply Earth systems thinking to analyse and evaluate responses to environmental science scenarios, case studies, issues and challenges in terms of supporting and sustaining ecological integrity
  • distinguish between opinion, anecdote and evidence (including weak and strong evidence), and scientific and non-scientific ideas.

Preparation

For Activity 1, teachers should make available to students a list of events related to the most popular, although disputed, ‘parachuting cats’ case in the following order:

  • Rats brought plague and typhus
  • Lizards ate wasps containing DDT
  • Thatched (grass) roofs of houses collapsed
  • Caterpillars increased
  • Rats increased
  • Cats died
  • Rats died
  • Lizards disappeared
  • Mosquitoes were wiped out
  • Lizard numbers decreased
  • Wasp numbers decreased (dead wasps stored DDT in their bodies)
  • Caterpillars ate thatched (grass) roofs of houses
  • WHO financed and supported over 14,000 cats being parachuted in to Borneo
  • Cats caught lizards containing DDT
  • WHO financed and sent DDT to Borneo.

Health, safety and ethical notes

There are no issues.

Procedure

Activity 1: Interactions between Earth’s systems

Students:

  • work in small groups to sequence the jumbled set of events into chronological order
  • identify how the four spheres are associated with different events in the ‘parachuting cats’ case
  • suggest alternative solutions.

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

A series of cognitively differentiated questions could be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  • Connect: Draw a food web to illustrate relationships between living things involved in the ‘parachuting cats’ case.
  • Identify: Outline how each of Earth’s major systems (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are involved in the ‘parachuting cats’ case.
  • Analyse: What questions would you need to ask and what information would you require to determine whether malaria is ‘worse’ for a community than plague or typhus?
  • Evaluate: How could the unintended effects associated with the use of DDT have been avoided?
  • Predict: Draw a flow chart to illustrate what could have happened if no intervention was taken to treat the outbreak of malaria.
  • Imagine: What problems could be generated by the ‘parachuting cats’ solution?
  • Propose: Suggest alternative solutions to solving the malaria problem.

Teaching notes

A correct order of events is listed below:

  • WHO financed and sent DDT to Borneo
  • Mosquitoes were wiped out
  • Wasp numbers decreased (dead wasps stored DDT in their bodies)
  • Caterpillars increased
  • Caterpillars ate thatched (grass) roofs of houses
  • Thatched (grass) roofs of houses collapsed
  • Lizards ate wasps containing DDT
  • Lizard numbers decreased
  • Cats caught lizards containing DDT
  • Lizards disappeared
  • Cats died
  • Rats increased
  • Rats brought plague and typhus
  • WHO financed and supported over 14,000 cats being parachuted in to Borneo
  • Rats died

Activity 2: Examining evidence

A number of reports related to this case study are available on the internet, and students may compare different accounts to consider the authority of sources and the nature of evidence. The following article provides an overview of the case and some of the associated issues related to points of dispute:

‘Parachuting Cats and Crushed Eggs – The Controversy over the Use of DDT to Control Malaria’

Points of dispute include:

  • only twenty cats were dropped in a container with other provisions to one very small village in the Highlands of Borneo on one occasion, and they were dropped for entirely different reasons than to control a rat population (compared with alternative versions that 14,000 cats were parachuted into Borneo)
  • the claims that the biomagnification of DDT caused the cat deaths has never been verified; the cause of death of the original cats was from licking their fur and ingesting DDT – not from eating the lizards that had eaten the wasps that had been killed by DDT
  • the proliferation of rats was more likely due to environmental conditions and not lack of cats
  • there were no reported cases of typhus except for one reported outbreak of Bolivian fever (compared with reports of outbreaks of typhus and / or plague).

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

Students work in groups to suggest how sources of information can be authenticated and verified. Guiding questions could include:

  • What is the difference between source verification and authentication?
  • How can we distinguish between opinion, anecdote and evidence? Complete the following table in relation to elements of different versions of the ‘parachuting cats’ case study:
    A table with three columns, labelled ‘opinion’, ‘anecdote’ and ‘evidence’, can be used to record relevant examples from the ‘parachuting cats’ case study.
    OpinionAnecdoteEvidence

  • What is the difference between ‘strong’ evidence and ‘weak’ evidence? What type of evidence could be considered as ‘strong’ evidence in evaluating the ‘parachuting cats’ case?
  • How can we distinguish between scientific and non-scientific ideas? Provide examples of each in relation to ideas about ‘parachuting cats’ case.
  • How can reported WHO actions be verified?
  • Where can records of disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics be sourced?
  • How are outbreaks of disease tracked?
  • Do cats eat lizards?
  • What is biomagnification?
  • Is the opinion of an individual less reliable than a statement from an organisation?

Unit 1 - Area of Study 2: How do Earth’s systems change over time?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse how changes occurring at various time and spatial scales influence Earth’s characteristics and interrelated systems, and assess the impact of diverse stakeholder values, knowledge and priorities in the solutions-focused management of a selected regional environmental challenge.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Earth’s dynamic systems

  • Simulation: Explore key moments in Earth's transformative history that have shaped our planet as continents have drifted and climate has fluctuated over 4.6 billion years. This animation on the Smithsonian website can be used as a springboard to understanding how humans are affecting the natural cycles and events occurring across Earth's systems.
  • Simulation: Use simulations such as the one on the University of Colorado website to visualise plate tectonics.
  • Simulation: Use simulations such as ‘Virtual Earthquake’ accessed through to model how seismic waves are used to determine the magnitude of an earthquake and to locate its epicentre.
  • Consider how natural environmental changes have influenced human history; for example, by watching the documentary ‘How the Earth Changed History’ and discussing main points.
  • Discuss the evidence for changes and disruptions to landscapes, ecosystems and biomes, for example, by accessing videos and information such as the online NOVA resources. Evidence for the cause of the extinction of dinosaurs is discussed.
  • After reading the key knowledge point ‘transformative processes occurring during Earth’s deep history that shaped the formation of Earth’s four interrelated systems’ (for example, on the board) and watching a short video clip about Earth’s transformations with the sound turned OFF, carry out a Think, Puzzle, Explore routine (similar to KWL routine but using richer language) to activate prior knowledge, and generate ideas and curiosity for deeper exploration. Post it notes or poster paper can be used to group and visualise ideas. Useful questions to pose to students include: What do you think you already know about this key knowledge point? What questions do you have? What puzzles you? What does it make you want to explore?
  • Explore the geological features of one of Australia's ancient landscapes using: ‘Interactive 3D models’.
  • Case study: Read a case study or a text related to changes in Earth’s landscape and carry out a 4Cs thinking routine; for example, use an excerpt from the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies about the prehistory of the Bassian Plain.
  • Modelling: Model the concept of geological time by marking out the geological periods and then signposting significant environmental events using a scale of 1 metre is equal to 450,000,000 years.
  • Literature review: Explore the effects of abrupt changes such as volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis on the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere using reputable information from the internet. Construct a summary table of information.
  • Case study: Access a case study of a natural disaster; for example, a United Nations account of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Identify and explain the physical effects of the natural disaster on living and non-living things.
  • Compare qualitative and quantitative methods used to measure earthquake intensity and magnitude; for example, the Richter Scale and the Mercalli scale.
  • Modelling: Construct models to explain the difference between shield and composite volcanoes; refer to the BBC article on Volcanoes for information about different types of volcanoes and their effects.
  • Compare geological time scales with human time scales; for example, compare the occurrence of major events in Earth’s geological history or the geological history of a student’s location with major events in human history or with milestones in a student’s own lifetime.
  • Literature review: Access data on the internet about changes in atmospheric conditions recorded throughout the geological record to draw conclusions about past and present atmospheric conditions.
  • Literature review: Access data on the internet to explore how patterns of ocean currents have changed as a result of continental drift, and how this has affected Earth’s climate.
  • Investigate the relationship between bushfires and food webs on the Royal Society Publishing website.
  • Download a copy of the poem ‘Song of the Artesian Way’ by Banjo Patterson and annotate it to identify changes to Earth’s landscape and the consequences for living things.
  • Organise students into groups of four to work together to create a set of four or eight ‘Who Has? …I  Have’ double-sided cards related to images and descriptions of Environmental science concepts, for example, ecosystem relationships or geological features. Each card has one face with a ‘Who has…?’ description of a concept, and the other face of the card has an image that correspond to another student’s card’s ‘Who has…?’ description. Combine cards from the class to play the game, and deal out each student one or two cards. One student begins the game by asking their “who has…” question. The student with the correct answer says, “I have!” and then asks the “Who has…?” question that is on their card. Students continue this question and answer pattern until all cards have been used.
  • Simulation: Use an interactive applet to visualise day / night, seasons, and the effects of the different parts of the Milankovitch cycle.
  • Access Australian Seismometers in Schools (AuSIS) materials to investigate Earth events (for example, seismic waves and quake catchers) to determine earthquake location and magnitude.
  • Investigate different types of geological evidence of major changes that have taken place in Earth’s history; for example, fossil evidence of mass extinctions; topographic evidence of past glaciations; evidence of plate movement in igneous rocks with magnetic reversals.
  • Modelling: Deduce information about a small object that has been dropped in flour by looking at the size and shape of the crater-like shape that results from the impact; use modelling to explore the factors that affect the depth and shape of craters; obtain images and dimensions of sites that have been impacted by a meteorite and estimate the dimensions of the meteorite.
  • Watch ‘What if all the sea water became fresh water?’ and summarise how Earth’s oceans have become salty over time. What interactions do the ocean and ocean currents have with the atmosphere?
  • Literature review: Investigate the properties of Earth that protect life from hazards such as radiation and collision with other bodies in space; for example, atmospheric ozone minimising incoming ultraviolet radiation for the Sun; Earth’s orbital position helping to protect it from asteroids, some of which are deflected by Jovian planets; or Earth’s magnetic field protecting the planet from solar wind.
  • Investigate seasonal waterways using the WIREs Water article,  ‘Temporary streams in temperate zones: recognizing, monitoring and restoring transitional aquatic-terrestrial ecosystems’.
  • Students imagine themselves as a scientist whose research has led them to believe that the following scenarios could possibly arise at some time in the future:
    • Earth stops rotating on its axis
    • Earth’s mantle stops moving
    • the Sun that Earth orbits changes from a yellow star to a red giant
    • Earth’s orbit becomes highly elliptical
    • Earth’s atmosphere consists of 78% carbon dioxide instead of 78% nitrogen.
    Students select ONE of these scenarios and write a feature story / article for a leading newspaper, explaining to the public what they think might happen to Earth’s ability to support life. Students could use the following sentence starters / prompts to guide their writing:
    • Only recently, Earth was a habitable planet…
    • Scientists have now collected enough evidence to suggest that…
    • …and these are all the ways in which the oceans, atmosphere, land, Sun and life are connected.
    • Our future…
  • Use an interactive biome explorer (such as Biome or Biome Viewer) to map the distribution of biomes in Australia, and correlate this with average temperature and average rainfall data Bureau of Meteorology.
    • Identify where a particular Australian biome also exists elsewhere in the World and construct a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the characteristics and climatic conditions.
    • Consider how Australia's biomes have changed over time due to natural and anthropogenic influences.
  • Simulations: Examine animations of continental plate movement over the past 240 million years as well as an animated projection for 250 million years into the future, assuming that the continents were to keep moving in their current directions at their current rates. Overlay the current geographic distribution of biomes and compare how this distribution might change with the changing latitude and longitude of continents as they are projected to shift in the future, assuming climate remains relatively constant. Consider the question, ‘Should humans invest significant energy today in what the Earth might look like in 10 million years’ time?’ and carry out a Tug-of-War thinking routine to explore the complexity of this dilemma by pegging post-it-notes of reasons and justifications along a rope that represents a continuum of viewpoints. Generate ‘what if’ questions to highlight factors or concerns that might need to be explored further to resolve the issue, which are posted above the continuum rope. Finally, write a short reflection on any new ideas or insights about the dilemma, whether students still feel the same about it or whether they have changed their mindset. This activity could also be used as a prelude to introducing various environmental world views in Unit 3.
  • Analyse a monitoring project; for example a mangrove wetlands project, to identify the key elements of the investigation and its main features, and to differentiate between a hypothesis, a question, and a prediction. Consider what is causing the changes to the ecosystem and what the outcomes are as a result of the change.

Key knowledge: Data and modelling

  • Explore the use of imaging in monitoring changes to Earth over time; for example, access the images and commentary on theDisaster Analytics for Society Lab @ NTU website. Discuss whether images are valid as ‘data’, compared with statistics, graphs and other numerical representations.
  • Match satellite imagery of Earth’s features to map locations and descriptions. Examples of satellite images and feature descriptions can be found on these BMM Feature Cards.
  • Investigate landforms using topographic terrain and satellite data sets EarthExplorer or GoogleMaps or GoogleEarthPro.
  • Analyse and interpret colour-coded topographic maps of Mars’ surface highs-and-lows.pdf. Also consider the Topographic Maps Probe.
  • Simulation: Use an interactive applet visualising the Milankovitch cycle to graph ice core data that shows Earth’s temperatures over 400,000 years; explore glacial melting and growth patterns.
  • Literature review: Investigate how geologists and archaeologists determine the ages of rocks and ancient artefacts.
  • Use the jigsaw research method to construct and share summary tables of the impacts to survival of living things for each of the environmental changes, and from each of the time scales (investigate only one change from each time scale; for example El Niño Southern Oscillation, desertification or Milankovitch cycles); relate the impacts on survival to the four key Earth systems.
  • Literature review: Specific technologies that were originally used in space exploration are now being applied to monitor changes on Earth over time. Research one application of a former space technology application that is now used to monitor change on Earth; for example, the application of Landsat and radar from space shuttles to explore changes in coastal landscapes and in monitoring natural disasters; or the use of remote sensing to monitor atmospheric changes such as changes in the ozone layer or changes to ecosystems.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Correlational study: Explore the use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ seasonal calendars as data records of Earth’s changing features over time.
  • Literature review: Investigate the environmental impact of changes in ocean temperatures over time on: species distribution; sea level; ocean acidification; sea surface temperature; species migration patterns; species breeding patterns; or extent of ice sheets.
  • Explore paleoclimatology, marine and ocean data, weather balloon data, data from land-based stations and other datasets on the National Centers for Environmental Information website.
  • Use historical data and reports about significant climate events; for example, drought, bushfire, flood, volcanic eruptions. Consider the impacts the event / s had on Earth’s systems, both short term and long term.
  • Case study: Watch the ABC’s visualisations of New Zealand’s White Island volcanic eruption. Discuss why some Earth events, such as volcanic eruptions, are difficult to predict.
  • Generate a timeline of past El Nino and La Nina events and determine if you can predict future El Nino and La Nina events. Explain why you can / can’t make these predications.
  • Modelling: Use the ‘Very, very simple climate model’ to investigate the link between carbon dioxide and temperature. Use this to consider the impacts of rising carbon dioxide levels since the industrial revolution.
  • Case study: Explore stakeholder perspectives and the use of data in response to land management projects; for example, the cooperative drilling program at Beetaloo, Queensland: including submission to a government inquiry.

Key knowledge: Managing environmental challenges

  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform experiments to investigate effects of environmental challenges on ecosystem functioning and relationships, for example:
    • Are the seeds from indigenous plants more resistant to fire than the seeds from introduced plant species?
    • Are the seeds from introduced species more resistant to frost than seeds from indigenous plant species?
  • Case study: View the PowerPoint at Practical Action and discuss the ‘floating gardens’ solution for growing crops in communities in Bangladesh that have been subject to permanent flooding. See a detailed description of the construction process. Discuss what materials could be used to construct a floating garden if students’ own region was flooded for six months of the year.
  • Literature review: The VicEmergency App was created to allow individuals to respond quickly to bushfires. Research online to find other innovations that have responded to the extreme bushfires in Australia.
  • Explain how effective fuel management and fire suppression activities use both Indigenous and Western practices, understandings and technologies; for example, access articles such as the following for background information:
  • Suggest innovative ways to ensure developments are sustainable in areas prone to floods, drought, brushfire, or other hazardous events.
  • Literature review: Work in pairs to analyse, using information from the internet, the social and economic issues associated with a selected environmental challenge; for example, overfishing, deforestation, acid rain, melting of the polar caps); explain the efforts that have been undertaken and / or are planned to address the issue.
  • Research the Murray Darling Basin Plan. In small groups construct a table to identify stakeholders’ needs; consider what is working well, what is not working well, and whether the plan is sufficient to meet their requirements. Discuss as a class whether the plan is sufficient, or are some stakeholders better represented than others? Why might this be the case? Brainstorm in groups ways the plan could be updated to address the areas that are not working well.
    A table with five columns to identify all stakeholders, their needs, what’s working well for each stakeholder, what is not working well for each stakeholder, and whether the plan is sufficient for each stakeholder.
    StakeholderNeedsWhat’s working wellWhat’s not working wellIs this plan sufficient for this stakeholder?

  • Literature review: Although volcanic eruptions can be destructive and deadly, volcanic soils are rich and fertile, leading to cities having been developed near volcanoes. Research an example of how volcanic activity can be monitored and identify an evacuation plan that has been developed to reduce the risk for people who live near volcanoes. Examples of volcanoes that may be investigated include those in Auckland, Jackson Hole, Quito, Catania, Reykjavik, Stromboli, Yogyakarta and Shimabara.
  • Modelling: Investigate the principles related to building earthquake-resistant buildings and structures; construct a model and annotate the relevant design features to explain how the design principles are applied. References such as ‘5 keys to designing earthquake-resistant buildings’ and ‘The 5 features of earthquake-proof buildings’ may be used to generate ideas.
  • Watch the 2019 documentary film 2040 and discuss the new technologies discussed that could manage environmental challenges in different regions of the world. Which of the technologies could be used in your region? What challenges would be faced with the implementation? (consider social, environmental and economic implications, regulatory frameworks and stakeholder values). What modifications could be made to the technologies to make it more suitable to the region?
  • Literature review: Research the environmental effects of the disposable coffee pod system and how some businesses have responded by redesigning the product to reduce landfill pollution and by establishing dedicated recycling centres.
  • Consider the premise, ‘Advances in science and technology help humans exploit the environment for our benefit in order to obtain food, water, fuel, medicines, building materials and many other resources – these actions and interventions are necessary for humans to withstand Earth's natural forces and variability.’
    Debate this premise or carry out a ‘Claim, Support, Question’ reasoning routine by taking turns to identify evidence that either supports the claim / premise or questions it. Responses can be grouped under two columns on the board: ‘Support’ and ‘Questions’. At the end, consider what is 'left hanging' unexplained or unexplored and brainstorm where they might look for accurate and reliable resources to help investigate such issues further.
  • Access citizen science reports such as the Citizen Science in Victoria’s Waterways: Annual Achievements Report 2019–2020 to illustrate how data and diverse stakeholder values, knowledge and priorities are used to manage environmental challenges of regional significance.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Correlational study – Seasonal calendars as data records of Earth’s changing features over time

Introduction

Over many thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have developed an intricate understanding of the cyclic nature of environmental change over time through their observations of the interrelationships between biotic and abiotic factors in their environment. This understanding can be represented in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ seasonal calendars. Seventeen calendars related to different regions around Australia can be accessed at Indigenous Weather Knowledge - Bureau of Meteorology, including the calendar for the Gariwerd region in the Grampians, Victoria.

Gariwerd National Park is home to many rare and endangered species of plants and animals. It has an abundant supply of water and is recognised as the single most important botanical reserve in Victoria. The custodians of the Gariwerd region, including the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung language groups, recognise six distinct weather periods, or seasons, over a year. Each of these seasons is associated with particular climatic features, specific astronomical observations, descriptions of the terrain, and environmental events such as plant flowering, fruiting and animal behaviour patterns.

In the past, understanding the land through seasonal observations was essential for survival. Today, this understanding is important in managing the land. Protecting and conserving habitat is the main way to help preserve plants and animals, including endangered species. To understand the season, you can begin to understand Gariwerd and its people. 

Permission to use the Gariwerd seasonal calendar and related information on the Indigenous Weather Knowledge website is given by the Elders / Directors of Gariwerd, which includes the Gunditjmara, Winda Mara (Kerrup Jamara), Goolum Goolum, Kirrae Whurrong and Framlingham peoples.

Key science skills

Teachers identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • determine appropriate investigation methodology: correlational study
  • organise and present data in useful and meaningful ways
  • distinguish between opinion, anecdote and evidence, and scientific and non-scientific ideas.

Procedure

  • Consider the Gariwerd seasonal cycles in terms of months of the year, observations of the sky, weather and land, plants, fungi, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and mammals in the woodland and / or wetland areas. Identify the interactions that occur over the six seasons related to the changing environment within Gariwerd National Park over the timeframe of a year.
  • Explore the characteristics of correlational studies, including that:
    • a correlational study involves planned observation and recording of events and behaviours that have not been manipulated or controlled by the researcher/s to understand the relationships or associations that may exist between variables being observed
    • following the observation and recording phase of a correlational study, researchers then identify which factors or variables may be of greater importance and may be investigated further, including making predictions which can then be tested. 
  • Students undertake their own correlational study in their local community from a seasonal perspective and conduct planned observations of the sky, terrain, native plants and animals, and record events and behaviours (that haven’t been manipulated or controlled to understand the relationship between variables) of local species in terms of their interactions. Students should decide how they will conduct the study. They may choose to record their observations and communicate their scientific ideas using an online blog (using a selected blogging website of choice such as Global2.vic.edu.au) or may set up a framework such as that of the Gariwerd calendar.
  • Compare and contrast student and / or group and / or class observations. Discuss similarities and differences between observations. Which factors are of greater importance? Students reflect on the degree of influence of this study on their lifestyle compared to the influence of the correlational studies on the Gariwerd peoples.
  • Compare students’ local observations with those on the Gariwerd calendar and local Western planting schedules and identify similarities and differences.
  • Consider the effects of environmental challenges as a result of disruptions in Earth’s systems on observations reported in the Gariwerd calendar.

Discussion

A series of cognitively differentiated questions could be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  • Define: How can Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ seasonal calendars be regarded as the communication of long-term correlational studies? Are the descriptions in the calendars based on opinions, anecdotes or evidence? Provide examples of how correlations are represented in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendars.
  • List: Write a list of the scientific ideas that appear in the Gariwerd calendar.
  • Elaborate: In what ways does the structure of seasonal calendars show cyclical thinking rather than a sequential progression of time that is seen in Western calendars? How can these two ways of thinking be used in land management?
  • Compare: How are correlational studies different from controlled experiments? Give examples of investigation questions that could be asked for correlational studies and questions that could be asked in controlled experiments related to the relationships between the biotic and abiotic components of the Gariwerd National Park.
  • Analyse: In what ways does marking the change in season by the progression of the natural environment, and not by a specific date, assist in understanding how Earth’s four systems interact?
  • Develop: Consider the climatic, astronomical, land, flora and fauna changes in your suburb over a year. Develop a seasonal calendar, based on the structure of the Gariwerd calendar, that is specific to your locality. Compare your calendar with those of other students in your class. How similar / different are they? How do your observations compare with those of the Gariwerd peoples? How does your local calendar and the Gariwerd calendar compare with Western planting schedules for your locality? Would the production of suburban calendars be useful?
  • Explain: How do observations influence lifestyle for students’ local communities and Gariwerd peoples? If there is a difference, suggest why.
  • Evaluate: Comment on the accuracy, precision and validity of the results of correlational studies.
  • Apply: How can the observations in seasonal calendars be used to inform management practices in terms of sustainability principles, such as conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, efficiency of resource use, intragenerational equity and intergenerational equity?
  • Reflect: Review observations and consider how Gariwerd peoples’ knowledge and perspectives contribute to understandings of the changing interrelationships between the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems over time. How is this knowledge currently used in managing Gariwerd National Park? How might past and current knowledge be used in managing the land in the future?
  • Imagine: Access the section ‘Adapting to an ice age’ on the Bureau of Meteorology website and suggest how the Gariwerd calendar would be different from the present day calendar.

Extension:

  • Working in small groups and using the information in the table below, students construct a one-paragraph profile of the climate and conditions at the three regions represented by the Miriwoong, Nyoongar and D’harawal calendars. Access the Indigenous Weather Knowledge - Bureau of Meteorology website and other climate-related websites to compare predictions with actual regional profiles. 

Table 1. A comparison of various Aboriginal seasons from around Australia with the Western four seasons calendar
Reference: Indigenous Weather Knowledge

A five-column table to compare European terms for months and seasons with the terms for three Indigenous Australian seasons, specifically the Miriwoong calendar, the Nyoongar calendar and the D’harawal calendar.

European terms

Indigenous Australian seasons

Month

Season

Miriwoong calendar

Nyoongar calendar

D'harawal calendar

DEC

Summer

Nyinggiyi-mageny (wet weather time)

Birak (dry and hot)

Parra'dowee (warm and wet)

JAN

Burran (hot and dry)

FEB

Bunuru (hottest)

MAR

Autumn

APR

Warnka-mageny (cold weather time)

Bjeran (cool begins)

Marrai'gang (wet becoming cooler)

MAY

JUN

Winter

Makuru (coldest, wettest)

Burrugin (cold, short days)

JUL

AUG

Djilba (wet days and cool nights)

Wiritjiribin (cold and windy)

SEP

Spring

Barndenyirriny (hot weather time)

Ngoonungi (cool, getting warmer)

OCT

Kambarang (long dry periods)

NOV

Parra'dowee (warm and wet)

  • In small groups, investigate Indigenous calendars other than the Gariwerd calendar by using the filter at Indigenous Weather Knowledge - Bureau of Meteorology.
    • How do the calendars compare?
    • What is the significance of the names of the seasons in the calendars?
    • Compare and contrast the changes in biotic and abiotic components and their relationships over time in the Gariwerd and another Indigenous calendar that is studied. How do the lands differ and what are the implications for land management?

Unit 1 - Area of Study 3: How do scientific investigations develop understanding of how Earth’s systems support life?

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to draw an evidence-based conclusion from primary data generated from a student-designed or student-adapted scientific investigation related to ecosystem components, ecosystem monitoring and / or change affecting Earth's systems.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Investigation design

  • Comment on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s quote, from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: ‘You see but you do not observe’ in terms of the importance of careful observation in the field or in the laboratory.
  • Consider the question: ‘Is methodology more important than a conclusion?’ with respect to an experiment you have undertaken.
  • Generate a summary table to compare qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Review an investigation of your choice and consider different ways you could potentially generate or collect data to find results. What would be the pros and cons of each method when considering validity? Categorise the data collection as qualitative or quantitative. Which would be the most appropriate data collection method?
  • Use Tarsia to create a match up puzzle for scientific method terminology including: accuracy, precision, reproducibility, repeatability, validity of measurements, aim, a hypothesis, a model, a theory, a law, qualitative, quantitative, sources of error, bias, primary data, secondary data, independent variable, dependent variable, controlled variables. (Refer to the Hermitech Laboratory  website.)

Key knowledge: Scientific evidence

  • Explore relationships​ such as linear, cyclical, domino, relational, mutual.
  • Distinguish between observations, interpretations and inferences / conclusions by annotating a text related to a real-life scenario. For example, text could be adapted from page 13 of the following: BlueMarbleMatchesSG.pdf
  • Fieldwork: Conduct fieldwork to investigate environmental science concepts: choose a local area (for example, wetland, woodland, waterway or parkland) as the investigation focus; collect quantitative data on an abiotic factor (for example, intensity of light, proportion of shade / tree cover, and soil moisture) using transects and quadrats, and compare and collate class results; collect qualitative data about what you observed while collecting the quantitative data; if available, record the history of the use of the site; seek user experience of the area to see how qualitative and quantitative data differ and can complement each other, and to consider how the environment has changed over time.
  • Controlled experiment: Investigate precision and accuracy by designing an experiment to test different measuring devices on the same variable, such as litmus paper, indicators or digital pH meter.
  • Convert the following topics to research questions that could be investigated scientifically, and identify the research methodology that could be used to investigate the question:
    • The impacts of intensive land management practices / widespread chemical use on wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes
    • The mixed ecological impact of invasive cane toads
    • Impacts of losing dingoes as the top predator
    • Managing tensions around urban flying-fox roosts – balancing stakeholder perspectives
    • Diseases from the deep freeze – public health implications of microbes thawing from within the permafrost
    • Innovations in seabed fishing using lasers – implications for overfishing.
  • Convert the following research questions into hypotheses:
    • Are some types of soils more porous than others?
    • Is the rate of photosynthesis dependent on temperature?
    • Is the rate of respiration affected by humidity?
    • Which compost materials are most effective as compost ingredients?
    • Are younger people more interested in recycling / composting / land management than older people?
    • Are fertilisers more effective in some types of soils than others?
    • How well do different soils act as water purifiers?
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Set a generic question from which students can develop and undertake their own individual research questions; for example, ‘How do fire, drought and flood affect the relative regeneration rates of indigenous, native and introduced plant species?’
  • Conduct investigations to explore a research question related to relationships within ecosystems and between Earth’s four systems:
    • Is there a correlation between levels of carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution and the rate of dissolution of the calcium carbonate in marine shells?
    • What is the effect of depth of water and temperature on dissolved oxygen content of water?
    • How do the accuracy and precision of different techniques to measure a selected environmental factor (for example, turbidity, biological oxygen demand, soil acidity, pH, particulate matter in air) compare?
    • How does the addition to soil of different types of fertilisers affect soil properties; for example, pH, permeability to water and capacity to withstand water drops?
    • Are photosynthetic rates and plant growth affected by exposure to different types of light; for example, natural or artificial?
    • How do the decomposition rates of different types of food scraps compare?
    • Do ‘organically grown’ fruits and vegetables decompose at different rates when compared with ‘non-organically’ grown fruits and vegetables?
    • How do new farming practices or urban / rural development changes affect survival of plant and animal species?
    • What factors affect erosion rates?
    • Are fishing yields related to lunar cycles and tidal patterns or to seasons?
    • Can the addition of wood ash (containing potassium bicarbonate) to house paints act as a fire retardant?

Key knowledge: Science communication

  • Evaluate a scientific report in terms of its structure, the nature of scientific evidence that supports the conclusion, and how clearly the results of the investigation have been communicated; for example, ‘How do biotic and abiotic factors predict global distribution and population density of an invasive large mammal?’ (refer to the article on the Nature website) and write a 300-word summary of the report using guidelines or a template; for example, on the Owlcation website or use Christine Bauer-Ramazani’s guidelines.
  • Review three or four scientific reports, which could be previous student examples or examples found by searching online. Rank them from high to low by considering one of, a selection of, or all of the following:
    • appropriate use of scientific methodology and method for data generation or collation
    • clear aim and hypothesis
    • quality of: data analysis, discussion, conclusion, and report presentation
    • consideration of errors and limitations of methodologies and / or method
    • inclusion and explanation of relevant key terminology and scientific concepts
    • accuracy, precision, reproducibility, repeatability and validity of measurements.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

How do fire, drought and flood affect the relative regeneration rates of indigenous, native and introduced plant species?

The practical investigation builds on knowledge and skills developed in Unit 1 Area of Study 1 and / or Area of Study 2. Teachers must consider the management logistics of the investigation, taking into account number of students, available resources and student interest. The following questions require consideration:

  • What input would students have into the selection of the type of investigation undertaken (laboratory work, fieldwork or a combination of both)?
  • What input would students have into the selection of the investigation question?
  • What input would students have into the design of the experiment or fieldwork exercises?
  • Will different groups of students in the class be able to undertake different investigations?
  • Is class data pooling a possibility?
  • Will off-school site work be involved?
  • Is the investigation reliant on particular weather conditions and / or accessibility constraints?

Teachers could provide students with a template that structures the investigation into a series of timed phases. Students may subsequently adapt the template as a personal work plan in their logbooks.

Topic selection phase

In this detailed example, the investigation question was generated following a fieldwork activity where students had noted significant regrowth in an area that had recently been subject to controlled burning. One student referred to indigenous land management practices including the use of fire, while another student reflected on regrowth after bushfires and the fact that some tree species, particularly eucalypts, appeared to flourish. This led to discussions about indigenous, native and introduced tree species and whether other extreme climatic events had similar effects on plant regeneration. From this discussion students generated a question for investigation: How do fire, drought and flood affect the relative regeneration rates of indigenous, native and introduced plant species?

Planning phase

Students may need guidance in:

  • fitting the investigation into the time available, and developing a work plan
  • identifying the independent, dependent and controlled variables in various experiments
  • distinguishing between continuous and discrete variables
  • developing hypotheses and distinguishing between a hypothesis, prediction and conclusion.

Teachers should work with students to:

  • identify and negotiate undertaking of various experiments by different students or student groups within the parameters of the question
  • safely simulate conditions of ‘fire’.

Investigation phase

Student-designed methodologies must be approved by the teacher prior to students undertaking practical investigations. A possible general management plan for the investigation follows.

  • Determine a set of experiments and set up class recording grid, for example:
A five-column table to record results of an experiment to record seed treatment, time since planting (in weeks), and the number of germinated seeds for indigenous plant seeds, native tree seeds and introduced plant seeds.

Seed treatment (N=20)

Time since planting (weeks)

Number of germinated seeds

Indigenous plant seeds

Native tree seeds

Introduced plant seeds

Untreated

1

2

3

Fire-charred

1

2

3

Sun-dried

1

2

3

Water-soaked

1

2

3

  • Treat seeds (burning to simulate fire, drying to simulate drought and soaking in water to simulate flood) and set up growing conditions.
  • Monitor weekly and record seed germination rates; monitoring times may need to be extended, dependent on when germination begins.

Reporting phase

Students consider the data collected, report on any errors or problems encountered, and use evidence to explain and answer the investigation question. Differences in germination rates should be related to the type of seed being tested and the conditions to which the seeds were subjected.

Further avenues for investigation include:
  • determining the effects on seed germination rates from other environmental events and conditions (for example, high humidity, acid rain)
  • determining the effects of changed germination rates of seeds on the types of birds and insects attracted to a particular area.

The above phases could be recorded in the student logbook. The report of the investigation can take various forms including a written report, a scientific poster or an oral presentation of the investigation.

Unit 2: What affects Earth’s capacity to sustain life?

Unit 2 - Area of Study 1: How can we manage pollution to sustain Earth’s systems?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to explain how the chemical and physical characteristics of pollutants impact on Earth’s four systems, and recommend and justify a range of options for managing the local and global impacts of pollution.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Pollution effects on Earth’s systems

  • Investigate, through using controlled experiments or fieldwork, the quality of water samples from natural and disturbed environments, for example: tap water; pond, river, stream or lake water from disturbed and undisturbed environments; and pool water.
  • Select a pollutant and create an annotated poster to demonstrate the sources, sinks, transport mechanisms, chemical structure(s) (may change through the transport and cycling), persistence, fate, toxicity and examples of synergistic actions (if applicable) of the pollutant as it moves through Earth’s four spheres.
  • Annotate a map (for example, Google Earth, Google Maps) to indicate the geographic distribution of a pollutant from its source/s to its sink/s and identify the relevant transport mechanisms.
  • Correlational study: Investigate how pollen counts (made by exposing microscope slides coated with Vaseline to the atmosphere for one day, on several successive days, ensuring slides are protected from rain) correlate to weather data and hay fever incidence (pollen can be observed by adding one or two drops of Calberla’s fluid to each slide; abundance is scored as 10 grams per cm2 = low, 10-20 = moderate and over 20 = severe). Use the data to explain whether pollen can be classified as a pollutant at each abundance level.
  • Fieldwork: Set up a stake (approximately 1.5 metres high and with horizontal cross-section dimensions of approximately 2 cm x 2 cm) in an outdoor area of interest that will not be disturbed by other people; for example, a home or school garden, an apartment balcony or a home verandah.  Take four microscope slides and label N, S, W and E; use masking tape to attach the slides on each of the four sides of the stake, leaving about three-quarters of the slide exposed to the air and orienting the slide labelled ‘N’ to the north, the slide labelled ‘S’ to the south, and so on. Smear each slide with Vaseline and leave the stake in place for a week, if possible (stake will need to be protected if rain is predicted). At the end of the experiment, take the slides off the stake, being careful not to smudge the Vaseline, and take them to school (e.g. taped to the bottom of the inside of a lidded plastic container). Examine each slide under a microscope to identify the particles (pollen, dust, fly ash, diesel carbon and grit – use identification guides) and the number (e.g. use a Likert scale such as ‘absent’, ‘rare’, ‘uncommon’, ‘common’ and ‘abundant’). Tabulate results and then analyse them by asking students to respond to questions such as, ‘Which direction has the most particles?’ (prevailing winds); ‘Which particles are most common?’ (pollen = rural; diesel carbon = roads); ‘Are particles equally common in all directions?’ (maybe a shed is on one side?); ‘Which of these particles would cause the most impact to the environment?’ (dust covering plants affects photosynthesis); ‘Which of these particles would cause the most impact to humans?’ (diesel carbon may affect respiratory passages).
    The methodology and method for this experiment may also be critiqued using questions such as, ‘Is the methodology and method realistic and likely to give valid results? What is the sampling method and how can it be improved? How could the experiment be improved?’
  • Case study: Investigate air pollution through a case study involving the Meuse Valley tragedy, with six groups of students role-playing medical doctors (two groups), climatologist, geologists, chemists, and industrialists to develop an explanation for the tragedy.
  • Simulation: Use an interactive air pollution simulator to investigate the effects of individual choices, environmental factors and different types of land use on air quality.
  • Literature review: Investigate the effects of a range of environmental factors on human health; for example, air pollutants and the incidence of asthma; bioaccumulation of heavy metals in the human body by eating fish or fish products obtained from water contaminated with mercury or lead; the thinning of the ozone layer and the correlation to skin cancers; and noise pollution leading to hearing loss. Contribute a short article to a class ‘pollution journal’.
  • Case study: Investigate mercury poisoning, bioaccumulation in organisms, and biomagnification in the hydrosphere through a case study involving the Minamata disaster (a Slideshare presentation that looks at the disaster in terms of the nature of evidence). A useful resource looks at the disaster in terms of the nature of evidence.
  • Case study: Investigate the use of asbestos and its links to mesothelioma, including the role of regulatory frameworks through case studies such as the one on the lawgovpol website.
  • Literature review: Investigate soil pollution using stimulus materials such as a Slideshare presentation as a starting point to individually prepare an infographic or short article about the causes, effects and solutions related to a selected soil pollutant.
  • Case study: Allocate a global pollution incident to groups of students, who present findings to the rest of the class in a five-minute multimodal presentation to explain causes, effects on humans and/or the environment, and ‘lessons to be learned from the tragedy’. Examples of global pollution incidents include the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Bhopal gas leak.
  • Case study: Investigate the Pacific Garbage Patch; leaded gasoline; electronic waste; the ozone hole; use of synthetic pesticides such as DDT; artisanal gold mining; lead-acid battery recycling; thermal pollution in rivers or lakes; space waste.
  • Create a brochure, flyer, short film, podcast, children’s storybook or other material that can be generated to inform the public about a selected pollutant identifying:
    • impacts of a pollutant on the health of humans, with reference to risk, exposure, dosage, tolerance limits, LD50, chronic and acute toxicity, allergies, disruption of system regulation, synergistic action
    • options for control and treatment of pollution to reduce local and global impacts.
  • Correlational study: Design a correlational study to determine the factors that affect air pollution in a particular location. Generate primary data and collate secondary data related to the factors, such as temperature, wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure, and levels of particulates or gases. Plot them on the same set of axes on a graph to explore any patterns and correlations.
  • Classification and identification: Develop a way of categorising pollution, other than as ‘air, water or soil’ pollution.
  • Controlled experiment: Design an investigation to test the effects of acid rain on plant growth, metals, limestone or soil buffering.
  • Literature review: Find a news article(s) that is based on a pollutant and environmental health. Generate primary data or find secondary data to support or contradict the claims in the article. Discuss the implications this has on Earth’s four spheres.
  • Investigate how DDT accumulates within organisms and magnifies up a food chain. Useful resource is the Big Picture Biology Laboratory Manual.
  • Controlled experiment: Define a ‘green’ detergent and compare ingredient lists for ‘green’ with lists for conventional detergents. Design and perform an experiment to test whether ‘green’ detergents are less toxic to plant seedlings than conventional detergents.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Controlled experiment: Role-play being a toxicologist and design and conduct an experiment to investigate the effect that different doses of chemicals have on the germination capacity of radish (or other fast-germinating) seeds; present results as a dose-response curve. Chemicals could include plant food, sucrose, artificial sweetener, liquid laundry detergent, shampoo, carbonated water, household all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant, salt. (Detailed example 1)
  • Debate the topic: ‘Spraying an apple with pesticides defeats the purpose of eating the apple’.
  • Controlled experiment: Develop a hypothesis and perform an experiment to determine how the growth of duckweed may be affected by different levels of pollutants; for example, detergents or salt.
  • Fieldwork: Design and undertake investigations to determine whether rivers are more polluted than their tributaries. Consideration will need to be given to what aspect of ‘pollution’ will be measured; for example, biological oxygen demand (BOD), macroinvertebrate counts or pH.
  • Suggest research plans to enable justified responses to be made to the following questions:
    • Is infrasound pollution?
    • Why do chlorofluorocarbons present an environmental risk, and how are alternatives developed?
    • To what extent is coral bleaching an issue in the Great Barrier Reef?
    • Should dioxins be banned?
  • Convert the following research questions into hypotheses, and outline a methodology for their testing:
    • Does road construction contribute to increased erosion and/or soil degradation?
    • Do pesticides also kill plants?
    • Does litter degrade faster in salt water than in fresh water?
    • Does salination lead to desertification?
  • Conduct an experiment to investigate the relationship between the availability of oxygen and the rate of decay/removal of an active pollutant; for example, nutrient pollution, decomposition of organic biodegradable materials such as fruit peel. Depending on the selected pollutant, the experiment may be a simulation / modelling exercise rather than using an actual pollutant.
  • Investigate the issue of recycling of household garbage.
    • Examine the recycling schemes for a local council. How does the ‘bin’ system work? What can be put into each bin, and why? Why can’t safety glass be put into the glass bin?
    • Use the internet to discover how batteries may be recycled.
    • Prepare a short response to a selected question of interest, for example: What are the costs of recycling compared with the costs of using landfill sites or incinerating garbage? Why is incineration of garbage controversial? Why do local council recycling programs recycle only a limited number of items?
  • Fieldwork: Plan and conduct a waste audit at school: develop a method for generating data (what data will be collected?). Present data in an appropriate format and propose a strategy to minimise waste based on the interpretation of the data.
  • Literature review: Investigate the waste generated throughout the life cycle of a product; for example, the waste associated with all the materials and energy that go into the development and disposal of a mobile phone or shoes.
  • Summarise your investigations about different pollutants you have studied in a table such as the following one.
    PollutantChemical propertiesPhysical propertiesNatural sourcesManufactured sourcesTransport mechanisms
       

     

     

     

       

     

     

     

       

     

     

     

  • Literature review: Research the impact of microplastics and wet-wipes on river ecosystems; start by reading the article ‘Microplastic pollution and wet wipe ‘reefs’ are changing the River Thames Ecosystem’.
  • Modelling: Explore the detection and toxicity of pollution due to gases through a modelling activity. Place an open bottle of perfume in one corner of a room, an open bottle of bleach in a second corner and a scented candle in a third corner. Place an empty bottle in the fourth corner. Students walk around the room to identify each smell in the four corners of the room and to rank the smells in order of potential health risks, justifying their rank order. Points of discussion include: perfumes generally contain alcohol-based carrying agents; common household bleach contains chlorine which was used in chemical warfare during World War I; candle wax is a hydrocarbon which can produce carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide depending on the amount of oxygen in the air; odourless radioactive gases such as radon can cause cancer; harmfulness of gases for humans and the environment depends on their concentration.
  • Modelling: Using the worksheet ‘Playing hide and seek…with Pollution!’ develop a presentation to a primary school audience to illustrate that pollution may not always be easily detected using the human senses. Include simple examples of (a) pollution that can be seen, (b) pollution that can be smelled, and (c) pollution that can neither be seen nor smelled. After the presentation, reflect on how effectively these ideas about pollution were communicated, how they responded to questions or comments made by their audience, and the strengths and limitations of their models.
  • Fieldwork: Use the internet to find common myths about pollution, for example, that surgical masks are the best defence against air pollution, and conduct a survey in your community to establish to what extent the myths or misconceptions exist; compare survey results in the class taking into account sampling methods and size; work in groups to develop a pamphlet to address an identified myth or misconception.

Key knowledge: Managing pollution

  • Use the EPA website to compare regulatory frameworks regarding the emissions of a range of pollutants.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an experiment to determine:
    • the minimum concentration of chlorine bleach that will inhibit 50% of the germination of alfalfa seeds
    • whether formulations for natural pesticides are equally effective on different pest species
  • Product, process or system development: Discuss the role of critical and creative thinking in generating solutions to real-world issues related to pollution; for example, a student solution to the local community issue of contaminated water. Refer to ‘Student combines sugar and shells to filter contaminated water.
  • A town meeting is being held in Mount Isa to discuss the sulfur dioxide emissions from the Mount Isa Mines. In small groups that represent different stakeholders (for example, local residents, council members, health professionals, mine workers, environmental groups, Traditional Owners, and scientists), consider scientific data and their own values, priorities and concerns regarding the emissions of the pollutant. Come together as a group and discuss whether regulatory frameworks are adequate (if not, how should they be changed?), as well as options for control and treatment. Try to come to an agreement between stakeholders. Teacher or selected student should chair the class discussion between stakeholder groups. Refer to the Glencore website.
  • Create an infographic to visually summarise a new technology that reduces pollution; include statistics/data from a reliable source presented in two or more different formats (for example, pie chart, map, frequency histogram, table); include a labelled diagram of the technology, clear and obvious ‘take home’ messages, and citations for all sources of information. New technologies could include: plug-in hybrid cars, gasification, fuel cells, biofuels, or carbon sequestration.
  • Product, process or system development: Design a water purification system to produce fresh water from polluted water; determine the modifications that would be necessary to supply water for one person or for a family for a month.
  • Debate the topic: ‘Is pollution inevitable?’
  • Explore a variety of water filtration techniques used by Indigenous peoples around the world to obtain clean water via a UNESCO paper.
    • Use the examples to design and conduct experiments to compare the effectiveness of different filtration techniques.
    • Discuss how remote Indigenous communities rely on observation and trial-and-error in determining appropriate materials to use for particular purposes and in solving environmental challenges, such as having access to potable water.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform an experiment to test the effectiveness of different methods for cleaning up oil spills or the effects of oil spills; for example, responding to questions such as:
    • How can oil be removed most effectively from bird feathers?
    • Are different types of oils equally difficult to remove from bird feathers or when floating on water?
    • Can oil floating on a pond or dam be removed in the same way as oil spilled at sea?
    • Does the salt in seawater affect how well an oil spill can be removed?
    • Is oil spilled on water easier to remove than oil seeping into soils?
    • Do different soils and rocks absorb oil to different degrees, and do they require different removal techniques?
  • Comment on Ha-Joon Chang’s quote from 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (2010): ‘People “over-produce” pollution because they are not paying for the costs of dealing with it’. Explain how the quote relates to the sustainability principle of ‘user pays’. How do other sustainability principles, such as efficiency of resource use, intragenerational equity and intergenerational equity, relate to the quote?
  • Simulation: Use online simulation programs to investigate pollution; for example, the one at Go-Lab.
  • Fieldwork: Organise a field trip to a recycling plant (for example, sewage, polymers, metal, household refuse) and summarise processes using a graphic organiser.
  • Explore the impacts of pollutants on health; for example, issues related to providing clean water and soil for remote Indigenous communities – PFAS levels in Katherine, NT; heavy metals in Borroloola, NT; and microbial contamination of water in the outer Torres Strait Island. Use The University of Queensland School of Public Health website.
  • Literature review: Select a pollution based ‘theme’ or ‘issue’ that can be investigated across the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and/or biosphere, and present an integrated response to the theme or issue; for example, a theme related to emissions released from the use of cars as transport may involve investigating the overarching question: ‘Should car-free days become compulsory?’ ‘How clean is bioethanol?’ ‘What dangers do underground oil tank leakages pose?’ ‘Why does lead-acid battery recycling pose an environmental threat?’ Results from the pollution investigations can be used to construct and communicate a response to the overarching question.
  • View the images and description of the World Heritage listed Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and discuss the Gunditjmara peoples’ creation, manipulation and modification of local hydrological regimes and ecological systems. Refer to the UNESCO website page.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Use a problem-based learning approach to investigate a selected environmental question related to pollution. (Detailed example 2)
  • Case study: Explore the effects of light pollution on the survival of the Bogong moth and the consequential effects for survival of the endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum, including how technology and stakeholder priorities are being applied to address the issue of decreasing population numbers for these two species. The following resources provide useful background information:
  • Investigate health standards for buildings, regulations for the construction of new buildings and methods to retrofit or otherwise improve structures in existing buildings to reduce their negative impact on human health; for example, the use of materials that do not contain volatile organic compounds, and the use of biological air and water filters.
  • Literature review: Specific technologies that were originally used in space exploration are now being applied to manage pollution-related challenges on Earth. Research one application of a space technology that is now being used to manage an environmental issue on Earth, for example: the use of robotic arms used in space shuttle missions in cleaning up hazardous substances, servicing nuclear power plants, repairing pipelines on the ocean floor or mining in areas that are too inhospitable for humans; or the use of technologies developed for space travel being redeployed in water purification and waste treatment on Earth.
  • Case study: Access case studies on air pollution (for example on the Aeroqiual website) and discuss how new technologies can be used to manage pollution and improve health outcomes for people and the environment.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example 1

Controlled experiment: How does the dosage of a pollutant affect germination of radish seeds?

Aim

To investigate the effect of changing dosages of a non-bioaccumulating water-borne chemical pollutant on the germination capacity of radish seeds.

Introduction

A controlled experiment is an important methodology, often used to generate quantitative data. Students imagine that they are toxicologists and conduct an experiment to investigate the effect of varying the dosage of a non-bioaccumulating water-borne chemical pollutant added to radish seeds (or other fast germinating seeds such as mung beans, cress, white mustard).

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Prior learning

Students should be familiar with the following concepts and skills prior to undertaking the activity:
  • outlining the general steps involved in undertaking controlled experiments
  • defining the term ‘water-borne pollutant’ and listing some examples
  • examining chemical components / structure / characteristics of the selected chemical for the investigation
  • mapping the geographic location/s of sources, dispersal, sinks of the selected chemical
  • hypothesising under which conditions the selected chemical could be classed as a pollutant
  • identifying potential sources of the selected chemical (for example, industrial waste, sewage and waste water, mining activities, burning of fossil fuels, agricultural waste including fertilisers and animal waste, urban development including landfill)
  • completing / reviewing a safety data sheet (SDS) for using the selected chemical in a school laboratory
  • sourcing acceptable limits of chemicals based on toxicological studies, including expressing these limits as a dosage
  • researching how toxicity tests enable toxicologists to learn about responses of living organisms to doses of chemicals (dose-response relationships).

Preparation:

  • Technical support prepares relatively concentrated stock solutions of selected chemical ‘pollutant’ (for example, solid chemicals could be dissolved to approximately 50% w/v in water).
  • Safe, easily available chemicals to select from could include: ethanoic acid, acetone, methanol, ethanol, laundry detergent, disinfectant/household all-purpose cleaner, shampoo, plant food, salt, window cleaner.
  • 2.5 mL volumes of various concentrations of the chemical are supplied for the class (for example, 0%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, 35%). Each group of students selects any five variations in concentration for their experiment; ideally one of these should be a zero concentration of the chemical to act as a control sample.
  • Depending on the class size, replicates of each sample could be set up; students could average the data obtained as part of their analysis.
  • In addition, each student group also requires: seeds soaked overnight in water in the dark, paper towels/cotton wool pads to provide a germination surface within the Petri dishes, five small Petri dishes with lids, a spoon, deionized water in spray bottles, indoor access to sunlight, magnifying glasses/digital camera with zoom.

Health, safety and ethical notes:

  • The chemicals selected are common household products. Standard laboratory safety measures should be followed.
  • There are no ethical issues.

Procedure:

  • Collect materials for their group including five different concentrations of the selected chemical ‘pollutant’.
  • Spray the bottom of the Petri dishes with a little water to help the cotton wool pads to stick.
  • Place a cotton wool pad into the base of each Petri dish.
  • Administer the different dosages of the selected chemical by pouring the 2.5 mL volumes of chosen concentrations onto the pads.
  • Using the spoon, carefully distribute about 20 pre-soaked seeds onto the pad.
  • Cover the Petri dishes with their lids and place in a warm, well-lit location.
  • Construct a table that best represents the results to be collected in the logbooks.
  • Lightly spray the seeds with water during the experiment as needed. The cotton wool pad should be just damp and not soaking.

Students could collect qualitative and quantitative data over multiple days, which may include: time measurements, measurements of root / shoot / root hair growth, % germination, photographs / time-lapse images, sketches.

If replicate samples are set up, then students could average the data collected.

Students could analyse the data by constructing a dose-response curve. If the experiment is continued until all the germinated seedlings die, then it may be possible to deduce an LD50 from interpolating the curve.

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

A series of four to six graded questions should be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  1. State: What are the dependent, independent and controlled variables in your investigation?
  2. Classify: Is your selected chemical ‘pollutant’ coming from a point source or diffuse source? Define these terms as part of your response.
  3. Analyse: At what dosage does your selected chemical become toxic to the seeds? Define this term as part of your answer.
  4. Evaluate: What are some limitations to the experimental method that prevented you from collecting more accurate and reliable data?
  5. Propose: What are some improvements you could make to the experimental method that addresses the limitation you have identified?

Teaching notes

Radish seeds will require about three to four days to germinate. The experiment could be set up on a Monday and then monitored mid-week and end of week for percentage germination. Students may opt to monitor their seeds daily. Seeds can be considered ungerminated after eight days of no growth. If students are collecting data about growth rates then sufficient data can be obtained over about a seven-day period following germination.

The following learning activities could be used as a follow-up to the investigation:

  • justifying whether environmental sources of pollutants are point or non-point sources
  • describing the method/s of dispersal of air- or water-borne pollutants in general and therefore qualitatively estimating the risk / likelihood of pollutants coming in contact with plants in particular environments
  • describing how plants take in and use water / dissolved minerals as seeds and comparing with seedlings and established plants
  • describing treatment options including options for managing incidents that contribute to significant discharge of the selected chemical, minimising future / ongoing exposure of plants to the selected chemical
  • classifying treatment options as to whether they control / manage the chemical at the point or non-point source level.

Extension of detailed example

Another useful analytical tool for monitoring water toxicity is to measure the survival rate of water fleas (Daphnia magna) as the test organism. These invertebrates are highly sensitive to toxic substances, have short generation times, multiply very rapidly, easily acclimatise in laboratory condition, can be grown in a small space and can be measured easily and in a relatively short period using a compound light microscope.

Specific considerations

A note of caution: this experiment uses live invertebrates and some students may be sensitive about this. Acute toxicity is determined by death or immobility of the Daphnia within 48 hours of exposure to the ‘pollutant’.

About 40 Daphnia will be required for each class group in order to set up five concentrations of the selected chemical ‘pollutant’ – prepared as per instructions in the detailed example above. The Daphnia can be sourced from Southern Biological.

Procedure:

  • Add 2.5 mL of different concentrations of the selected chemical to 500 mL glass beakers. All glassware must be previously scrubbed with a non-phosphate detergent. Label the beakers appropriately.
  • Add 500 mL tap water to each beaker and swirl gently to mix.
  • By viewing freshly obtained Daphnia under a stereomicroscope, a large plastic pipette is used to transfer eight Daphnia into each glass beaker containing different concentrations of chemical.
  • Maintain all Daphnia cultures at 8 °C (± 2 °C) with 16 hours per day of daylight for about 24 hours.
  • Construct a table that best represents the results collected in logbooks.
  • By viewing Daphnia under a stereomicroscope, all eight Daphnia from one of the test beakers should be captured using a large plastic pipette and placed into a small petri dish containing 10 mL of the beaker solution.
  • Count the number of Daphnia that are: alive, dead, immobilised.
  • Return all eight of the Daphnia to their original beaker.
  • Culture the Daphnia for a further approximately 24 hours and then repeat the counting procedure.
  • To view one of the live Daphnia using a compound light microscope, use a large plastic pipette to transfer one Daphnia along with a small drop of beaker solution onto a clean microscope slide. A cover slip is not needed and only a small amount of water is needed on the slide or it will easily swim out of your field of view. Examine at x4 and x10 magnification. The Daphnia are nearly transparent so the diaphragm (iris) may need to be adjusted to obtain a clear view. Return the Daphnia to its original beaker.

View US EPA protocols for bioassays using Daphnia

 


Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example 2

Problem-based learning to address an environmental question related to pollution

Aim

To use a problem-based learning approach to investigate a selected environmental question related to pollution.

Introduction

Students work in small groups to undertake an in-depth inquiry into a question of interest to each relating to pollution and propose a possible solution or create, compose or produce a product for an authentic audience.

Teaching notes

A problem-based learning approach begins with a fairly open-ended question, which is ideally provocative and engaging so that it grabs students’ interest. Students investigate and refine this question and generate possible solutions, learning relevant content during the process. They then apply their learning in creative ways to present a solution or product to an identified audience.  Students may advocate for a policy or solution, teach something to others, or develop a strategy or product in response to the question. They then practise their communication skills in presenting, sharing or promoting their final ideas to an appropriate audience.

Each student-centred project is broken down into three main stages, which can overlap within the time frame:

  • inquire / discover / research
  • create / compose / produce
  • present / share / promote

A specific question relating to pollution should be developed by each student group for investigation. A manageable way to tackle this is to:

  • undertake the investigation after students have completed learning activities related to different examples of pollutants
  • present a generic question such as ‘How can pollution be managed?’ to the whole class
  • initiate a class brainstorming activity to generate specific pollutants of interest; teachers may provide general categories of pollutants such as those that are generated in a particular Earth sphere (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere), recognising that the pollutant will most likely affect multiple spheres or may present a series of case studies from which students choose a preferred option
  • organise students into groups based on an interest in the same pollutant
  • facilitate group work so that students:
    • refine the research question so that it is specific to their selected pollutant
    • research the environmental science concepts associated with the investigation question. Research findings should be recorded in students’ logbooks and may include information about the pollutant related to: sources; chemical and physical properties; movement through the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere; measurement and monitoring; effects on living things and the environment, including toxicity; treatment and management options related to effects, including new technologies; social, economic, legal and ethical implications relevant to pollution management options.
    • develop credible solutions in response to the investigation question
    • test the merit of their ideas and select a preferred option
    • develop a product as a response to the investigation question (for example, a strategy for community action, the proposed introduction of an amended or new legislation, a presentation to a school group or the local council, a brochure for community education purposes, a theoretical design for a new environmental pollution management device, or a physical product for pollution management such as a water or air filter).
  • arrange that each student group presents proposed ideas to the rest of the class to get feedback, prior to developing their final product.

The contribution of each student within any group can be accounted for by using self- and peer-assessment questionnaires and assessing developmental work in their logbooks.

Approximate time frames are proposed for each stage.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Preparation:

  • Students may need assistance in deconstructing the investigation question.
  • Teachers could also discuss the necessary skills required to work well in a group, including perseverance and a positive attitude.

Health and safety notes:

There are no specific health and safety concerns associated with this activity.

Procedure:

Stage 1: inquire / discover / research

Lesson 1 plus some out-of-class time

Students:
  • Consider a general question posed by the teacher to identify an investigation question (IQ) that interests them personally – ideally making their personal interest in it explicit by recording initial ideas in their logbook.
  • Form teams of three to four people all with some interest in the same IQ. The teacher may facilitate this.
  • As a team, brainstorm what each student knows and doesn’t know about the problem / investigation question. What specific questions do they need to investigate further? Each student should keep evidence of the process in their logbooks.
  • Consider how the IQ impacts on people and places; research, identify and describe relevant national or global geographic location/s and specific community groups. What specific questions do they need to investigate further? Students need to keep evidence of the process in their logbooks and remember to keep a record of where they sourced the information in case they need to return to it later.

Lesson 2 plus some out-of-class time

Students:
  • Review the selected IQ and reframe/rewrite it if it is necessary to include specific parameters (such as particular pollutant, place, stakeholders, time frame, season etc.).
  • Nominate valid sources, such as agencies, organisations or professionals in the field, who might be able to supply information to help answer the specific questions identified that require further investigation.
  • Collect as much information as possible on the IQ by dividing up these tasks to individuals within the group. Don’t forget to agree on a timeline for completion. This might include using methods such as: online/library research, surveys, interviews, photo and video documentation, experimental data, and meeting with a variety of experts with different viewpoints. As students research, it is critical they collect sufficient information that allows them to explain arguments for and against different stakeholders’ points of view. Each student should keep and share a careful log of their research – dates, times, sources, observations, summaries etc.

Lesson 3

Students:
  • As a group analyse the evidence collated during their individual research. This may involve creating charts, graphs and other visual representations to understand their data and findings.

Stage 2: create / compose / produce

Lesson 4 plus some out-of-class time

Students:
  • Decide, based on the research, what specific product / solution the group would like to create that addresses the IQ. The task is to make public a strong, convincing argument to a real /authentic audience. Does the group want to build a model, design a website, plan a community event, improve an existing project / program, initiate an action-oriented campaign, make a persuasive presentation to relevant stakeholders? Or something else?
  • Identify all the steps required to make this stage happen.
  • Make contact with the real / authentic audience and present them with a very brief description of the intended product / solution and the rationale/s for the inquiry into the IQ. Keep evidence of contact in the logbooks.

Lesson 5 plus some out-of-class time

Students:
  • Create the product/solution and collect evidence of the process.

Stage 3: present / share / promote

Lesson 6 plus some out-of-class time

Students:
  • Present the product / solution to class peers for initial review. The teacher and randomly selected class peers complete an assessment questionnaire (based on provided criteria in an assessment rubric). Complete self- and team peer-assessment questionnaires.
  • Deliver the product / solution to the real / authentic audience. Collect evidence of the process. Randomly selected audience members complete assessment questionnaires.

Lesson 7

Student groups reflect on their communication and compare with the reflections of others in the class.

Unit 2 - Area of Study 2: How can we manage food and water security to sustain Earth’s systems?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to compare the advantages and limitations of different agricultural systems for achieving regional and global food security, evaluate the use of ecological footprint analysis for assessing future food and/or water security, and recommend and justify a range of options for improving food and/or water security for a nominated region.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Sustainable food systems

  • Discuss the factors that influence food production and crop yields, and the role that science and technology play in meeting food security challenges, by watching ‘Food security in Australia’ a on the ABC website. Students reflect on their views about food security by responding to the questions in the resource.
  • Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two soil carbon building practices, for example:
  • Literature review: Research how the Gunditjmara Peoples built their eel traps at Budj Bim. Work in groups to investigate a question of interest, for example: How do the Gunditjmara Peoples’ designs compare with other designs for eel traps? How have eel populations changed over time at Budj Bim? Is eel farming a sustainable practice today?
  • Participate in an intra-school or inter-school ‘My Veggie Garden Rules’ competition involving the negotiation of high temperatures, limited water supply and small plots of arid soil to produce the greatest quantity and quality of an edible crop.
  • Discuss the economic advantages of monoculture, both on farms and in forestry operations.
  • Explore how monocultural practices can lead to environmental degradation, and use the internet to research different solutions.
  • Literature review: Research contemporary developments in methods for growing crops in inhospitable conditions; for example, growing tomatoes using sun and seawater​. Identify how Earth’s spheres are involved in sustaining the cropping system.
  • Watch the video Future of Food and research proposed future food options, for example, ted.com and ABC; create a table to summarise ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for a selected future food option in terms of environmental impacts and sustainability principles of intragenerational equity, intergenerational equity and efficiency of resource use.
  • Fieldwork: Interview two farmers, one who uses a conventional agricultural system and the other who uses an organic monoculture system, using questions that will elicit the farmers’ understanding of the differences between these two types of farming systems, the pros and cons of each and/or the reasons they use their farming system. Develop an analytical comparison in the form of a report between the farmers’ interview responses and research conducted on the two systems by identifying similarities and differences. Use in-text citations in the report and generate a reference list. It is recommended to research first, then write five to six open-ended questions for the farmers. Work as a class, in groups or independently to interview the farmers, but each student should write their own report.
  • Watch the 2019 documentary film 2040 and use the example of regenerative agriculture to compare monoculture agricultural systems to polyculture agricultural systems by making a Plus, Minus, Indifferent table.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and undertake an experiment to investigate the use of organic versus non-organic fertilisers on the germination of seeds, or the growth rate of seedlings of a plant used for human consumption.
  • Fieldwork: conduct a survey to determine attitudes to organic farming and how people define ‘organic’ farming. Classify responses into ‘opinions’, ‘anecdotes’ or ‘facts’, and as ‘scientific knowledge’ or ‘non-scientific knowledge’.
  • Fieldwork: survey or interview consumers at a supermarket or a fruit and vegetable store to determine whether they have a preference for foods grown using conventional farming methods or organic foods, and why. Questions may be structured to identify whether they prefer one or the other type of food, and to investigate reasons for their choice; for example, is their choice based on freshness, cost, health benefits, preference for residue-free foods, environmental concern, quality of food in terms of taste, and/or supporting local farmers. Present findings in graphical form. Seek permission from potential survey respondents prior to surveying or interviewing them.
  • Research and explain the theory behind 'companion planting'. Investigate and report on the veracity of companion planting claims; for example, planting tomatoes and basil together to repel flies.
  • Correlational study: Investigate whether there is a relationship between income, gender, age group, type of employment or level of education, and the purchase of organic foods or conventionally-grown foods. Seek permission from potential survey respondents prior to surveying or interviewing them.
  • Carry out an ‘Options Diamond’ creative thinking routine to firstly identify the trade-offs between using conventional monoculture and organic monoculture agricultural systems, and then to brainstorm possible compromise options and integrated options. Data comparing some environmental impacts of organic and conventional agriculture can be found on the Our World in Data website.

Key knowledge: Maintaining food and water security

  • What we perceive as healthy and nutritious food can be influenced by factors including family, friends, location, advertising, emotions, time, religion. What we value can influence our food choices; for example, if we value ‘being healthy’ we would not choose to eat six doughnuts every night after dinner. Common techniques used in advertising include:
    • catchy jingles and repetition of slogans to create familiarity with the product
    • celebrity or expert endorsement, to boost the credibility of the product
    • endorsement of the product by an association that allows its logo to be used
    • use of key words, music and images to appeal to various emotions and desires, concerns and fears (these are called emotional or persuasive appeals).
    Students bring to class a selection of food advertisements collected from magazines and product packaging of a range of foods; they group them into similar food types and discuss the packaging, advertisements in terms of the emotive language used, the appeal to the audience, and health benefits claimed.
  • Work in small groups to create a food security campaign at each of the following scales: international campaigns, national campaigns, local action. Use the Oxfam Australia website to support this task.
  • Case study: Discuss how partnerships can be set up to achieve increased food security; for example, developing a reliable, safe and secure supply of ultra-premium Wagyu beef by introducing innovative, artesian micro-farming methods. Refer to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.
  • Literature review: Read key findings for the ‘Feeding a hungry nation’ report or ‘Hard to swallow: How climate change is affecting Australian food’. How do the summaries compare? Use these, additional research and your own ideas to then generate a concept map with ‘Food Security’ in the centre. Identify issues we need to address with regards to food security. Select three issues identified and for each discuss with a partner how we can address that issue to improve our food security. The full report is available at the Climate Council.
  • Controlled experiment: Consider the impacts of climate change on food security by designing and performing an experiment to test the germination rate of a grain Australia grows and relies on as a food source (such as wheat or rice) in different temperatures or amounts of water.
  • Literature review: Research two video clips or articles related to food security and associated strategies and new technologies, and summarise the main points.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Introduce students to the concept of a carbon footprint by conducting a short carbon footprint quiz and considering the strengths and limitations of quizzes as a method of data generation.
  • Consider the concept of ‘human-driven water stress’ and how water security may be impacted; for example, refer to the meta-data research, ‘Effects of human-driven water stress on river ecosystems’ on the Nature website.
  • As a class, make a list of all the things you would need to consider if calculating your ecological footprint. In small groups, rank these in order of what you think would contribute most to your ecological footprint to the least. Compare with other groups. In your group, make a table to identify the use and limitations of ecological footprint analysis, in terms of the sustainability principles of intragenerational equity and the efficient use of resources.
  • What are the similarities and differences between a carbon footprint calculator and an ecological footprint calculator? Discuss reasons why these calculators cannot be accurate.
  • Simulation: Read the BBC news article ‘Climate change food calculator: What's your diet's carbon footprint?’ and explore the impacts of your food choices using the interactive calculator. Complete a ‘Think, Pair, Share’ activity to identify the type of foods you consume, the impact they may be having on Earth’s four spheres and if it is sustainable to consume them in the quantities you currently are. If not sustainable, what should you limit your consumption amount to and what other food could you substitute it with?
  • Simulation: Calculate your ecological footprint using an online calculator. Were your results surprising? Brainstorm with a group which elements would be most likely to increase your ecological footprint the most and which the least? Which elements of the calculator are cultural behaviours? Are they likely to change? How could they change?
  • Read articles about ‘food miles’, for example, Food miles: myth or fact?, Do food miles really matter? and Eating the Earth – food miles. Discuss questions such as: Do you think the argument against the ‘food miles’ campaign is solid or simplistic? Why do you think the food miles campaign has not gained much traction in Australia? Do you think it would work against Australia’s own food industry – a major exporter of food – and economy?
  • Watch the YouTube video Future Food Menu of 2050 and summarise the different food options in a table. Include information in your table that explains how these options can be described as being ‘sustainable’ in terms of an ecological footprint. Include in the table: political enablers in adopting food selection changes; barriers or threats to uptake; unknown aspects of the effects of adopting the food selection changes.
  • Evaluate the environmental impact of two foods in terms of the geographical sources of ingredients, ‘food miles’, carbon footprint; for example, data relating to GHG emissions, soil acidification, eutrophication, and land use with respect to cow’s milk and soy milk, which can be found on the University of Oxford website. Using the original article summarise the various environmental impact mitigation strategies that can be implemented by food industry producers and consumers.
  • Watch the YouTube video from Landline: Water Footprints and Food Manufacturing to consider the use of a water calculator. Discuss the difficulties in generating water footprint data and whether it should be mandated that food products are labelled with information about carbon footprints and water footprints.
  • Investigate ecological footprints of: major global diet types; food choices of rural and city-dwelling residents; household wastes.
  • Compare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous responses to seasonal food availability; for example, the use of seasonal calendars and astronomy to identify when different foods are available (for example, the position of the Emu Constellation in the sky as an indicator of when emu eggs are available); refrigeration to prolong the life of foods; use of hothouses to grow seasonal fruits and vegetables all year round; and importing of foods not available locally from overseas (for example, oranges form California, USA). Useful resources as background information include ‘Seasonal foods and Aboriginal astromony’ and Science Comma.
  • Literature review: Investigate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander methods of converting toxic plants into edible food products.
  • Discuss how and why the demands by environmentally conscious consumers affect the types of foods grown by farmers.
  • Literature review: Research information about plant-based alternative meat products: provide examples of statements that are scientific and those that are non-scientific; provide examples of statements that show the difference between being opinions, anecdotes and evidence; explain why meat-free alternatives may be considered to be more ‘environmentally friendly’ than meat; determine the degree to which there consensus that eating meat-free alternatives is more sustainable than eating meat.
  • Analyse ways in which societal needs or demands have influenced scientific endeavours related to food security; for example, the development of drought-resistant and pest-resistant crops to address the rising global need for food.
  • The use of ethanol and other biofuels in motor vehicles as a replacement for conventional fossil-based fuels reduces greenhouse emissions, but diverting crops from food production to fuel production can increase prices and decrease the supply of food, thereby affecting food security. Conduct a class discussion to develop criteria that could be used to make decisions about how crops are used. Refer to the sustainability principles of intragenerational equity and the efficient use of resources.
  • Use data loggers to monitor water use: collect, analyse and compare data through the Schools Water Efficiency Program (SWEP).
  • Fieldwork: Conduct a water audit at school and/or home. Graph and explain the water usage data. In groups, discuss ways of improving water-use efficiency and, where possible, implement the changes.
  • Work through the ‘Water use and efficiency: Sustainability action steps’ to problem-solve real water issues.
  • Classification and identification: How food is grown, processed, and transported significantly impacts the environment. Informed consumers can hold industries accountable to reduce food loss and waste and call for more sustainable production. Compare and contrast various food labelling claims from around the world, for example: Students work in pairs to design and produce a mockup of their own template for food labelling, based on their preferred ideas after researching and reading about others’ suggested designs and comparing ideas with their partner.
  • Work in groups to read the targets and indicators associated with Goals 2 and 6 of the United Nations Sustainability Goals and develop a set of possible actions that could be undertaken by individuals, communities and governments to achieve the targets.
  • Access resources related to the International Food Chain Reaction Game. Work in groups to explore the scenarios posed during the game, and summarise the findings; relate the findings to actions that can be taken in Australia to improve food security. Refer to online resources for example, the game outline.
  • View the short dramatisation related to outcomes from the International Food Chain Reaction Game and work in groups to discuss possible future local scenarios related to food security.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Carbon footprint quiz

Aim

To introduce students to the concept of a carbon footprint and to consider the strengths and limitations of quizzes for data generation.

Key science skills

  • process quantitative data using appropriate mathematical relationships and units, including calculations of ratios
  • identify incomplete data.

Teacher background information

A carbon footprint, also called a CO2 footprint, is the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced as a result of an individual's actions over a set period of time – usually over the period of a year. Carbon footprints are reported as a unit mass per unit time; for example, it has been estimated that the average Australian has a carbon footprint of about 15 tonnes (or 15,000 kilograms) per year. As well as carbon footprints being calculated for individuals, calculations can also be applied to products, communities, companies and countries.

Carbon footprints take account of both direct actions by individuals (such as buying and cooking food, using electronic devices and recycling habits) and indirect actions (such as those involving the production processes undertaken by industries to produce goods for people living in a country).

Procedure

  • Introduce students to the concept of a carbon footprint by asking them to individually complete the carbon footprint quiz below. For each question, unless otherwise directed, students should choose the best alternative, or use ratio and proportion to calculate an annual carbon footprint in response to the question.

Table 1 Carbon footprint quiz

A four-column table for recording responses to a carbon footprint quiz, showing showing the question, possible response, approximate annual CO2 footprint (kg per year) and student scores.
QuestionPossible responsesApproximate annual CO2 footprint
(kg per year)
Student score

How do you travel to and from school?

Walk

0

 

Bicycle

0

Bus

59.4

Car pooling

208.2

Car

505.8

Where is your food cooked?

Home cooked food

285.3

 

Purchased fast food

2,185.4

What type of food do you eat?

Vegetables/fruit

69.4

 

Bread

165.1

Meat

292.1

Do you turn off lights when you leave a room?

Yes

60.3

 

No

121.6

Do you unplug appliances/chargers when not in use?

Yes

4.1

 

No

8.2

How do you dry your clothes?

Hang on a line to dry

0

 

Use a dryer

340.2

Do you turn off the water when you brush your teeth?

Yes

15.4

 

No

124.3

Do you turn off the TV when you are not watching it?

Yes

23.2

 

No

63.5

Do you turn off your video game system or computer when you are not using it?

Yes

13.2

 

No

40.8

Do you recycle…
(choose each that apply)

…glass?

–3.2

 

…magazines?

–6.8

 

…plastic?

–8.6

 

…aluminium and steel cans?

–39.0

 

…newspapers?

–40.8

 

TOTAL

 

  • Compare the relative contributions of different actions to the calculation of a carbon footprint. Why would some actions contribute more than others to a carbon footprint? Why are the carbon footprint values in the third column only approximations?
  • Discuss the concept of ‘incomplete data’ with reference to:
    • a comparison of students’ calculated carbon footprints with the Australian average of 15 tonnes per year
    • only 10 questions having been asked in the survey; what other questions could have been included in the survey so that a more accurate carbon footprint could be determined?
  • Ask students to reflect on realistic personal actions they could take to reduce their individual carbon footprints, and to recalculate ‘carbon savings’ that could be made based on proposed future actions to reduce carbon footprints.
  • Reflect on the strengths and limitations of short quizzes as methods for generating data and drawing conclusions from the data.
    • What conclusions could be drawn from the data generated from the carbon footprint quiz?
    • What were the limitations of the carbon footprint quiz in terms of drawing conclusions from the data?
  • Significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions are generated as a result of producing and transporting food. Explore the concept of ‘food miles’ in relation to the advantages and disadvantages of the suggestion that ‘people should only eat food that is grown close to home’.
  • Discuss the suggestion that ‘people should reduce beef and dairy intake’ and research how ‘artificial’ beef and dairy products may reduce the carbon footprint for individuals and communities.

Unit 2 - Area of Study 3: How do scientific endeavours contribute to minimising human impacts on Earth’s systems?

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate and explain how science can be applied to address the impacts of natural and human activities in the context of the management of a selected pollutant and / or the maintenance of food and / or water security.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Scientific evidence

  • Compare the difference between primary and secondary data, and consider how repeatability and reproducibility applies to each type of data.
  • In groups, investigate a selected case study. Each member of the group contributes a nominated newspaper item related to the case study in a class enviro e-newspaper (for example, letter to the editor, a report of pollution solutions in the case study, survey results from a public opinion poll related to an aspect of the case study, environmental cartoon, interviews with stakeholders).
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Case study: The class explores a single, local case study related to the management of air, water or soil pollution through a Question and Answer panel role-play. Stakeholders are nominated, who communicate responses orally and then different stakeholders are nominated to respond in written form.
  • Find an example of an opinion, anecdote and evidence with regards to water scarcity in a given location.
  • Use the science buddies website to design and review investigations.
  • Fieldwork: Generate field data for three environmental indicators within a local ecosystem. Compare data generated with geographically comparable water quality data collected (for example, by Melbourne Water). Account for differences in data generated. Identify possible limitations of data generation methodology and/or method, and suggest realistic improvements to your methodology and/or method.
  • Design and conduct experiments to determine:
    • the minimum concentration of chlorine that will inhibit 50% of the growth of alfalfa seeds
    • how chemical water pollution affects plant growth
    • the factors that affect the pH of water in a local waterway
    • whether pesticides are equally effective on different types of pests.
    Present your experiment as a scientific poster, ensuring correct referencing.

Key knowledge: Science communication

  • Compare and rank scientific investigation posters considering the correct use of key terms, use of appropriate scientific terminology, conventions and representation. These can be past student work (names removed and consent given) or found online.
  • Explore the Pollution.org website and discuss how the range of data has been presented. What are the benefits and limitations of presenting it this way? Can you think of any improvements?
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Case study: How should a pollutant be managed?

The communication of the findings of an investigation of a case study involving the management of a selected pollutant builds on knowledge and skills developed in Unit 2 Area of Study 1. The focus is on students being able to communicate a response to a selected case study. Teachers must consider the management logistics of the investigation, taking into account number of students, whether a local or broader issue will be investigated, student interest in particular case studies, whether all students will investigate the same issue and the format for the response. The following questions require consideration:

  • How will the case study for investigation be selected?
  • To whom will students be expected to communicate?
  • What form will the communication take?
  • To what extent will students work on their case study inside and outside the class, and how can work completed outside the class be authenticated?
  • To what extent will students work independently? Collaboratively?

Aim

To communicate a justified response to an issue involving the management of a selected pollutant.

Introduction

Students role-play a Q&A panel type discussion to examine the possible implications (benefits and limitations) for stakeholders affected by management options of a selected pollutant. Initially each student will assume the role of one stakeholder in one case study and become part of the panel-type discussion. This is followed by each student selecting a different stakeholder and writing a media communication (approximately 500 words on two sides of A4 paper) from their perspective; for example, a newspaper article; a TV ad script; blog entries over period of time.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Preparation:

  • Students should have discussed examples of ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ oral and written communication techniques and practices.
  • Case studies should be pre-selected by the teacher that relate to a specific pollutant occurring in a particular location.
  • Depending on the class size, teachers may select two case studies (and therefore two panels) per class.
  • Information in a case study could be presented to students as a series of ‘fact sheets’, in addition to details about the sources of information. This will allow students to conduct further research as required.
  • Students become panel members that represent stakeholder interests (students select the names of stakeholders at random ‘from a hat’) for example: local resident with young family; local government representative; lawyer; environmental scientist; site worker from company contracted to carry out treatment of pollution; medical professional; Traditional Owner; environmental activist; philanthropist.

Health, safety and ethical notes:

  • Students should be respectful of others and their opinions at all times.
  • Students should be reminded that this activity is simply a role-play and the comments made do not necessary reflect the attitudes of the individual speakers.

Procedure

Lesson 1: In this lesson students consider general information about the pollution management case study; put themselves in the role of one stakeholder and present their position; construct a question they would like addressed by a discussion panel; prepare possible responses to these questions from their perspective as one stakeholder.

Students:

  • Read through the ‘fact sheets’ relating to the pollution management case studies
  • In the logbook, jot down any initial questions about the case study
  • Select at random the name of a stakeholder relevant to the case study
  • Spend 10 minutes brainstorming the likely perspective of the stakeholder towards the issue of management of pollution in the selected area. Students may discuss their ideas with peers and the teacher. Students need to consider the likely values and priorities as well as the biases (feelings, opinions, prejudices) that their stakeholder may have for this issue and write these into the logbook.
  • Present a 20-second oral summary of the stakeholder to the class; for example: ‘My name is X and I am a farmer in the local area. The pollutant affects my crops and causes lower growth rates. This means that I am unable to sell as much of my product and so I earn less money for my family.’
  • On a slip of paper, construct one question that they would like addressed by someone relating to this case study. Students may suggest which stakeholder they would like to primarily respond to their question. The question should be well thought out so as to give as much insight as possble into the management of this pollutant at this location. Students may use the following lists of question terms to assist them –
    1. Who/What/Where/When/Why/How…?
    2. …would/could/should/is/are/might/will/was/were…?
  • Submit the question to the teacher, who will photocopy all slips onto a single sheet of paper, collate them and then distribute them to the relevant discussion panel.
  • Now working with the other members of the panel, discuss the questions that have been submitted and write notes into the logbook detailing the response to these questions from the perspective of a stakeholder. Include as much scientific data as possible in the responses. Students may need to conduct additional internet research to develop responses.

Lesson 2: Students role-play the perspective of one stakeholder as part of a panel discussion. They may use any notes already written in the logbook and may also make additional notes in the logbook during the class.

Lesson 3: Students write a media communication in the logbook from the perspective of a different stakeholder from that role-played in the panel discussion. They may choose to write a newspaper article, TV ad script, blog entries over a period of time or another type of written media communication. By the end of this lesson students will submit approximately 500 words on  two sides of A4 paper. They may use any notes from the logbook.

The media communication should identify/highlight the:

  • specific scientific concept/s being communicated
  • likely target audience
  • scientific data used to justify position of the stakeholder.

Students will be assessed with respect to:

  • accuracy of scientific information
  • clarity of explanations
  • appropriateness for purpose and audience.

Additional teaching notes: Sample case studies

Contamination of Australian Groundwater Systems with Nitrate

Google ‘contamination of Australian groundwater systems with nitrate’ (pdf)

Case studies referenced:

  • Effluent disposal – Western Treatment Plant, Werribee, Victoria
  • Septic tank study – Nepean Peninsula, Victoria
  • Septic tank study – Venus Bay and Sandy Point, Victoria
  • Septic tank study – Benalla, Victoria

Air quality in Australia

Google 'Brooklyn industrial precinct EPA Victoria' or visit the EPA Victoria website and search for 'Brooklyn industrial precinct'. Also search for ' Clayton South, Clarinda, and Dingley Village odours'

Case studies referenced:

  • Brooklyn Industrial Precinct – Western suburbs, Melbourne Landfills – Clayton and Dingley, Melbourne

Landfill pollution in Melbourne

Case studies referenced:

Unit 3: How can biodiversity and development be sustained?

Unit 3 - Area of Study 1: Why is maintaining biodiversity worth a sustained effort?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to explain the importance of Earth’s biodiversity and how it has changed over time, analyse the threats to biodiversity, and evaluate management strategies to maintain biodiversity in the context of one selected threatened endemic species.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Importance of biodiversity

  • Classification and identification: Discuss the definition and categories of biodiversity and their significance to ecosystem functioning and human survival.
  • Complete a PMI (plus, minus, indifferent) organiser on the relative values of preserving an individual species versus its gene pool versus the ecosystem/s in which it lives (i.e. a 3 x 3 matrix).
  • Classification and identification: Look at a photo of an ecosystem. Working with a partner, list the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem as well as the systems, processes and cycles within it. Considering this list, brainstorm and write ways in which human health and wellbeing depends on this healthy ecosystem; for example, what services does the ecosystem provide? Discuss ideas as a class; then categorise these services into provisioning services, regulating services, supporting services or cultural services.
  • Classification and identification: Access photographs of Australian landscape art (such as Albert Namatjira’s Kangaroo in landscape, 1937, or Arthur Streeton’s Sunlight Sweet, Coogee, 1891), or use students’ photographs of landscapes to compare the value of ecosystems for all living things and the benefit of ecosystem services for humans. Students can complete the following activities.
    • List the ecological communities in the paintings or photographs (including those that may not be visible but can be inferred from the pictures) and explain how the organisms in the communities interact (students may identify photosynthetic relationships, consumer-producer relationships, and food chain relationships).
    • Look at the paintings or photographs in terms of the value of the ecological community to humans (students may identify various renewable services). Add ideas to a three-circle Venn diagram with the labels ‘provisioning services’, ‘cultural services’ and ‘regulating / supporting services’.
    • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of viewing ecosystem services based on their worth to humans.
    • Give specific examples of how ecosystem services would be affected if ecosystems were degraded; for example, by climate change. Annotate the paintings or photographs, or explain how the paintings or photographs would look different.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and undertake an experiment to compare photosynthetic rates of different plants in providing supporting services for ecosystems.
  • Consider the following perspective, and discuss in terms of ecosystems as a source of renewable services that impact on human health and wellbeing, and in relation to the interconnectedness of Earth’s four systems: ‘A key part of the spiritual relationship that Aboriginal people have with the land is based upon the idea of connection; connection between plants and animals, the non-living elements, weather, seasons and cycles, soil, water. This is the basis of all ecological thinking upon which healthy biodiversity is dependent.’ (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)
  • Case study: In 2014, there were 2104 plants with an assessment of ‘critically endangered’ (compared with 1998 levels of 909). A species of Himalayan yew tree, Taxus contorta, is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug used to treat human cancers. The tree is reported to be on the brink of extinction due to over-harvesting for medicinal use and collection for fuel and has seen its conservation status change from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ on the IUCN’s annual ‘red list’ of threatened species.
    • Critical thinking: Should yew trees be harvested for food and fuel?
    • Creative thinking: Develop and assess alternate strategies for ensuring renewability of the Himalayan yew tree.
    • Ethical capability: How can decisions be made about who or what to ‘save’? People with cancer? Young people with cancer? Old people with cancer? Yew trees? The living things in ecosystems dependent on yew trees? Local inhabitants who need fuel to cook and to keep warm?
    • Sustainability: How do decisions about who or what is saved link to the sustainability principles of intergenerational equity and intra-generational equity?
  • Investigate ecosystems that provide cultural services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; for example Uluru, the Tarra Bulga National Park and the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Compare the concept and definitions of ‘country’ in these ecosystems as an explanation of what a ‘cultural service’ is.
  • Discuss cultural services in terms of the conflicts that may arise for different stakeholders who place different degrees of importance on aesthetic values, recreational benefits and sense of place; for example, in determining whether the leisure pursuit of rock-climbing should be banned in places where rock art has been found. Refer to the ABC news article ‘Grampians National Park becomes battleground as rock climbers banned to protect Aboriginal art’.
  • Case study: Discuss the importance of ecosystems as sources of renewable services in terms of opportunities and threats:
  • Working in groups of three, each student uses a different methodology (fieldwork, controlled experiment and correlational study) to develop an appropriate method to answer the question, ‘Is there a relationship between being in the environment and wellbeing?’. Compare findings from the different methodologies: is one methodology more valid than others?
  • Literature review: Investigate the role of moulds in ecosystem functioning and their importance in medicine.
  • Literature review: Create an infographic to visually represent the ecosystem services provided by a particular ecosystem subtype (for example, tropical rainforest, coral reef, inland wetlands, mangrove swamps, and freshwater lake) including statistics / data from a reliable source. Present it in two or more different formats (for example, pie chart, map, frequency histogram, and table). Include clear and obvious ‘take home’ messages and citations for all sources of information (for example, references to information about the water cycle or carbon sequestration).

Key knowledge: Biodiversity changes over time

  • Modelling: As a class, use the fossil record to create a timeline which can be hung around the classroom, identifying significant mass extinctions and periods of rapid species diversification. Discuss in groups, then as a class, whether the fossil record is based on opinion, anecdote or evidence.
  • Literature review: Examine data and describe patterns for change in temperature and CO2 concentrations over geological time, and compare with mass extinction events as evidenced through the fossil record. A helpful resource that includes sample graphed data from the paleobiology database is located on the Great Barrier reef marine park authority website.
  • Imagine that you work for WIRES (Wildlife Rescue) and are required to produce a flyer for the public of a chosen location, detailing how fires can influence ecosystem diversity and the rate of species extinction in that location.
  • Utilise the Atlas of Living Australia to identify a species and / or view and download data on the species within your local area, over a period of time. Graph the data appropriately and discuss possible reasons, or propose hypotheses, for the observed trends. Discuss further data that would be required to support your reasons or hypotheses.
  • Choose a biodiversity hotspot from the global list.
    • Make a summary poster to outline: the important habitat/s and important species present (including endemic species); natural changes that have influenced the formation of this hotspot; the renewable services this hotspot provides; and the conservation programs in place to maintain and preserve the location.
    • Discuss whether focusing on biodiversity hotspots is the ‘key’ to preserving biodiversity.
  • Simulation: Model the spread of fires using online simulators, for example: AAAS and Science Learning Hub.
  • Watch the ABC Catalyst episode ‘Earth on Fire’ about the rise of mega-fires and discuss the relationships between fire and biodiversity.
  • Use the resources at the UCAR Center for Science Education to explore El Niño’s impacts on biodiversity.
  • Simulation: Investigate changes predicted to occur on an island over time using virtual biology simulations. Search online for 'Virtual Biology Lab'.
  • Examine the relationship between fire and herbivore activity. Discuss to what extent this real-world experiment can be classified as a ‘controlled experiment’ or whether it is better classified as ‘fieldwork’; are there overlaps between controlled experiments and fieldwork in environmental science investigations?

Key knowledge: Assessing changes in species diversity

  • Fieldwork: Use a number of fieldwork techniques (for example, quadrats, transects, sampling) to assess biodiversity in the school or at a site in the local environment:
    • assess the biodiversity of that environment in a variety of measures, such as number of species, species richness, species evenness, species diversity and endemism. Use Simpson’s Index of Diversity to analyse the data collected. Discuss which technique and which measure of biodiversity was the most appropriate, justifying your response. Are there any other techniques, measures or indices you could have used that may have been more appropriate for the location?
  • Use Cool Australia’s ‘Mangrove Watch’ scientific investigation lesson plans.
  • Explain the effects of varying sample sizes in obtaining valid data.
  • Fieldwork: Use Simpson’s Index of Diversity to investigate and compare the species diversity of three similar ecosystems that have different levels of human impact. Considering your results, does Simpson’s Index of Diversity provide a good measure of biodiversity?
  • Modelling: Measure the species’ richness and species’ abundance of a model ecosystem (jars of randomly mixed dried beans; for example, dark kidney beans, light kidney beans, navy beans, dried yellow peas, dried green peas). Follow up by using data collected to introduce various diversity indices. Practise calculating diversity indices using further data collected from a virtual biology model – Google 'Virtual Biology Lab'.
  • Correlational study: Investigate the biodiversity of ants in different ecosystems, for example the Ant Biology project at Education.com and compare measurements of biodiversity using species richness and Simpson’s Index of Diversity. What relationships or patterns can be seen in the data?
  • Produce, process or system development: Formulate and test various natural ant baits.
  • Use the IUCN Red List to find an example of a species for each conservation category and state why it was given this status, considering the changes in availability of suitable habitat, geographic distribution and population size. Review the threats and conservation strategies and justify whether you think the conservation status of each species is likely to change or not.
  • Classification and identification: Discuss the differences between the following conservation categories: extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, and least concern.
  • Use the Atlas of Living Australia to view and download data on species within your local area, over a period of time. Graph the data appropriately and discuss reasons for the observed trends.

Key knowledge: Threats to biodiversity

  • Access the ABC Catalyst episode ‘Are we killing our koalas’ to explore how habitat loss, climate change and bushfires are threatening koala population numbers, and the conservation strategies being applied to address these threats.
  • Watch the ABC Catalyst episode ‘Micro-Plastics’ and use this to discuss the difference between bioaccumulation and biomagnification, and how micro-plastics are a human-induced threat to biodiversity.
  • Watch the video ‘The case for optimism on climate change: Al Gore’ and summarise the main points by completing the following table on the threats of climate change:
    A six-column table to record primary and secondary threats for each of biodiversity, society and the economy.
    Biodiversity Society Economy
    Primary Threats Secondary Threats Primary Threats

    Secondary Threats

    Primary Threats

    Secondary Threats

  • Fieldwork: Collect biodiversity data relating to specific habitats within the school grounds by carrying out a BioBlitz / biodiversity scavenger hunt using two different sampling methods; then:
    • establish a class blog page or start a new mapping project in iNaturalist or the GreatNatureProject to document results
    • collect and post digital photographs and identify habitats and species using field guides or online databases such as the one at Encyclopaedia for Life.

    Extend this activity by evaluating the advantages and limitations of the sampling methods used and/or classifying each organism identified as: demonstrating genetic variation within a population; being a threatened or introduced species; demonstrating predation; being an example of reproductive isolation; being a pollinator; or being a dispersal agent.

  • Provide real-life examples of how the following act as threats to biodiversity: habitat loss and over-exploitation; inbreeding due to small population size; loss of pollinators, dispersal agents, host species or symbionts; bioaccumulation and biomagnification; climate change; disease and competition from introduced species.
  • Simulation: Model how competition for natural resources between two species can affect population growth using an online simulator. Search online for 'Virtual Biology Lab'.
  • Analyse population data collected for a marine species over time (for example, orange roughy, scallops, abalone, dugong) and explain the threats to its survival.

Key knowledge: Protection and restoration of biodiversity

  • Read the Eastern Barred Bandicoot Action Statement
    • Match the conservation strategies to the threats.
    • Determine a ‘+, -, indifferent’ evaluation for each of the conservation strategies. Justify whether each of these conservation strategies is viable to continue.
  • Literature review: Choose a species that is endangered in a state other than Victoria. Generate an action statement for this species, using citations throughout and a reference list at the end of your statement. The conservation strategies should be a combination of current conservation strategies as well as any viable, additional strategies you would recommend. Examples can be found on the Victoria State Government Environment, Land, Water and Planning website.
  • Generate primary and / or collate secondary data specific to a site to identify and assess the biodiversity of the environment. Identify the threats to biodiversity at the site and suggest a strategy to reduce the threatening process.
  • Case study: Explore different solutions to protecting and restoring biodiversity; for example, wildlife bridges. Explain why this may be an improved solution compared with underground tunnels that were previously constructed to encourage wildlife to cross major intersections safely.
  • Explore how biodiversity can be protected and restored through the creation of Indigenous protected areas (IPAs) to deliver environmental, socio-cultural and economic benefits for local Indigenous communities:
    • Use the interactive map to locate IPA projects around Australia.
    • Refer to the SVA report ‘Social Return on Investment analysis of the Birriliburu and Matuwa Kurrara Kurrara Indigenous Protected Areas’ which details stakeholder perspectives and environmental outcomes including successful reintroduction of bilbies into the wild, with sustainability visual representations on pages 26–28. Discuss project management strategies.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Develop a treatment plan for a selected endemic species. Work in teams to select a threatened endemic species and imagine being a member of the medical team at a ‘Biodiversity Hospital’ where threatened species are ‘patients’. Threats to their long-term survival are ‘diagnosed’ (assessed), ‘treatment plans’ (conservation strategies) are proposed, and ‘beds’ (resources) are prioritised and allocated depending on probability of extinction/conservation categories.
  • Fieldwork: Visit an organisation that is conserving biodiversity at a site and arrange a tour and presentation of their conservation strategy. Summarise the strategy and examine its successes, issues and level of effectiveness.
  • Visit websites such as Ecolinc, Environment Australia and World Wildlife Fund to research a program that is used to manage or conserve a species. Identify what level or unit of conservation is being addressed by the program (for example, is it conserving genetic diversity, population/s or the entire species?) and suggest why the conservation efforts are being concentrated at this level of conservation.
  • Discuss how indigenous fire practices are utilised to protect biodiversity within an ecosystem, for example, patch mosaic burning. Refer to Science Daily for a case study related to Indigenous fire practices protecting plant biodiversity in the Gibson Desert.
  • Fieldwork: Visit a site of remnant vegetation and collect data to analyse the significance of remnant vegetation and wildlife corridors in protecting biodiversity.
  • Debate whether farming GM monoculture crops is preferable to farming polyculture crops (or whether pesticides alongside wild type monoculture crops is preferable to farming polyculture crops) for maintaining and growing populations that also build species’ resilience to changes in the environment.
  • Discuss how scientific data is used in selected international, national, state and/or local legal treaties, agreements and / or regulatory frameworks that apply to the protection of threatened species. Comment on the scientific principles underlying each treaty, agreement and/or regulatory framework.
  • Conduct a ‘reverse debate’ where students work in pairs to debate which of the four value systems (anthropocentric, biocentric, ecocentric or technocentric) is the most important value system. Students must defend a side that is different from their own opinion.
  • Product, process or system development: Design, construct and test a shelter or home for a bird or insect. Generate data to provide information about how successful your construction has been in protecting living things.
  • Product, process or system development: Develop ideas for making your garden butterfly- or bee-friendly. Begin by considering the needs of butterflies or bees and their function in an ecosystem.
  • Examine the environmental practices used in Australia by Aboriginal peoples compared with non-Aborigines with respect to (for example) interaction with and dependence on Country, traditional knowledge and education, and cultural values.
  • Case study: Read the article ‘Great Australian Bight oil drilling’ on the ABC website. Considering biodiversity conservation, complete a ‘think, pair, share’ exercise to determine which sustainability principles the project is based on, and which value systems (anthropocentric, biocentric, ecocentric or technocentric) are involved in the project. Considering a cost-benefit analysis of social, economic and environmental impacts, justify whether this project should proceed.
  • Choose one specific threatened Australian species and consider how an El Nino event might impact the species. Consider food sources, competition for niches, conservation status, conservation management strategies, impact on other species. A useful resource is Conserving threatened species on the Victorian Government website.
  • Fieldwork: Use the Atlas of Living Australia to log sightings of a species students have seen and create maps to see the distributions of student/class sightings and all sightings. Instructions can  be found in the article ‘How to log a sighting’.
  • Imagine being employed by the Australian Minister for the Environment as part of a team planning Australia’s next national park. Research possible locations for the park, describe how this location could preserve the values and benefits of biodiversity, propose ways in which different stakeholders might be affected, examine challenges that might be encountered and recommend ways in which these could be addressed. Considering the location and species present, propose which relevant legal treaties, agreements and regulatory frameworks would apply in the National Park to protect threatened species.
  • Access the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and summarise a current protection program for a threatened species. Produce a pamphlet to support the protection of a less popular species that is under threat of extinction. Debate whether or not ‘cute’ species are more easily funded than ‘uglier’ species.
  • Case study: Consider how different stakeholder value systems affect decision-making related to city planning; for example, explore cities as Indigenous places at the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub.
  • View the video 'Way of the water lilies: Where science meets the billabong'. Fragment and discuss how ‘cross-cultural ecology’ provides a way for different stakeholders to work together in land management projects.
  • Case study: Explore the cultural importance of environmental science water management projects by considering factors that influence responsible decision-making and accessing the ‘Rivers, the veins of our Country’ report.
    Ten case studies include:
    • Water management of Gunbower Forest (Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners, Victoria)
    • Wetlands project (Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, South Australia)
    • Water conditions for basket weaving (Yorta Yorta Nation, Victoria)
    • Rehabilitation of a cultural site (Barengi Gadjin Land Council and Wotjobaluk Traditional Owners, Victoria)
    • Water release to restore river ecology (Taungurung Traditional Owners, Victoria)
    • Chowilla floodplain water – cultural heritage protection (First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region, South Australia).
    Discuss the sustainability principles associated with the management projects, and how different stakeholder perspectives are managed.
  • Fieldwork: In small groups, visit a local natural environment (for example, school garden, creek, parkland) and sketch the major biotic and abiotic components.
    • Identify one way in which the environment can be changed so that there is an improvement in biodiversity protection or restoration.
    • Explain how sustainability principles apply to your suggested improvement.
    • Nominate the stakeholders who would need to provide input as to whether the suggested improvement should go ahead.
    • Construct a survey or a set of short interview questions to find out what others think of your suggested improvement.
    • Consider any modifications that could be made to your planned improvement, based on others’ feedback.
  • Apply sustainability principles to guide planning in the design of a conservation program that will: ensure a viable future for a species or habitat; provide some economic benefit for the region; factor in implications of the conservation program on the ecosystem as a whole (for example, if conserving a species, how is a rise in numbers predicted to affect its habitat or other organisms such as predators, prey, symbionts?)
    • Present the proposal as a one-page A4 handout
    • Class votes on top three proposals to support, in principle.
  • Case study: Increased trade and cultural exchange has resulted in the accidental introduction of species into new habitats. For example, various sea creatures are often trapped within the ballast tanks in ships. These tanks are filled on departure with sea water from a departure port to improve the ship’s stability, and then discharged thousands of kilometres later on reaching a new destination port. The species dumped into the new ecosystem may significantly disrupt the existing food chains and food webs. Scientists have used biomimicry to solve the problem: by copying nature in human design, boats can be fitted with inflatable bladders using the same process that fish use to maintain balance underwater, using air instead of sea water.
    • Explain how the introduced species may have disrupted local food chains and food webs with reference to competition for food and shelter.
    • Identify how sustainability principles apply to the biomimicry solution used to address the issue of introduced species.
  • Consider threats to biodiversity on a global scale, for example, projects at Global Citizen. Select three projects of interest and explain how the six sustainability principles (conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity; efficiency of resource use; intergenerational equity; intragenerational equity; precautionary principle; and user pays principle) apply to each selected project.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Treatment plan for the conservation of a selected threatened endemic species

Introduction

Students imagine being a member of the medical team at a ‘Biodiversity Hospital’ where threatened native species are ‘patients’. After accessing a range of relevant resources, students ‘diagnose’ (assess) threats to the long-term survival of the species and prioritise and allocate ‘beds’ (resources) as determined by the probability of extinction/conservation categories. They present a treatment plan (conservation strategy/program) for ONE of the threatened species.

Science skills

This detailed example draws on the principles of PBL developed by the Buck Institute for Education.

Teachers identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • record and summarise both qualitative and quantitative data, including use of a logbook as an authentication of generated or collated data
  • organise and present data in useful and meaningful ways, including schematic diagrams, flow charts, tables, bar charts and line graphs.
  • use reasoning to construct scientific arguments, and to draw and justify conclusions consistent with evidence and relevant to the question under investigation.

Health, safety and ethical notes

Students should be respectful of others and their opinions at all times.

Prior learning

Students should be familiar with the following concepts and skills prior to undertaking the activity:

  • the importance of biodiversity
  • threats to biodiversity
  • strategies for protecting and restoring biodiversity.

Teacher notes

  • The activity could be completed after the introduction of sustainability principles relevant to biodiversity conservation.
  • If the activity is completed before the introduction of sustainability principles relevant to biodiversity conservation, then students could review the proposed conservation programs later in the semester and evaluate the degree to which they integrated sustainability principles.
  • The teacher may recommend a number of threatened native species for detailed investigation by the class (minimum of two species). Schools may elect to exclusively investigate species that have local significance or select some local species and some species threatened elsewhere in Australia. Schools are encouraged to develop learning activities that are as relevant as possible to their student cohort.
  • The activity may lead to an assessment task.
    • Primary data obtained from a field trip may be used for the task involving the ‘presentation of recommendations using evidence-based decision-making, including analysis and evaluation of primary data’. Students may use their logbooks to access relevant data or the teacher may produce a data set from collated student primary data, so that authentication issues do not arise.
    • Supplementary data that has been unseen by students could form the basis of the task; for example, providing students with longitudinal data related to population numbers, or the effectiveness of a particular management strategy, or the de-identified or theoretical results of a student investigation.
    • Supplementary information that has been unseen by students could form the basis of the task; for example, providing students with an alternative management strategy or solution that can be compared with a previously studied management strategy or solution. This could apply to the ‘designed or practical response to a real or theoretical environmental issue or challenge’, in particular.
    • Teachers may nominate specific sustainability principles and/or stakeholder perspectives that students should analyse with respect to management strategies for a selected threatened endemic species.
    • Teachers may scaffold the assessment task by providing a template that requires students to think about the Earth systems aspect of the management plans for threatened endemic species, for the assessment task that requires students to apply ‘Earth systems thinking in the evaluation of a response to an environmental scenario, case study, issue or challenge’.
    • Students should respond to assessment questions with respect to only ONE threatened species.

Procedure

Students:

  • Access relevant resources (see list of useful resources below) and construct brief summary notes for each species including: taxonomy, features, distribution (can be shaded onto a map template), habitat, conservation category / listing status under the EPBC Act, non-statutory listing status where relevant, conservation advice and / or recovery plans. Notes should be recorded in the students’ logbooks and dated. These notes may be collated into a table format.
  • Use the information collated to ‘diagnose’ (assess) threats to the long-term survival of the species and then prioritise and allocate ‘beds’ (resources) for the ‘Biodiversity Hospital’ as determined by the probability of extinction and/or conservation categories
  • Propose a rank order of species recommended for immediate conservation; this could be visualised by posting a note along a ‘conservation continuum’. Teachers should allow some time for class discussion at this point.
  • Design a ‘treatment plan’ (conservation strategy / program) for ONE threatened species of their choice that aims to:
    • promote a viable future for the species or its habitat
    • provide some economic benefit for the region
    • factor in implications on the ecosystem as a whole (for example, if conserving a species, how is a rise in numbers predicted to affect its habitat or other organisms such as predators, prey, symbionts?).
  • Briefly present proposed ‘treatment plan’ as a one-page A4 handout; this could be two-minute oral presentation.

Useful resources

Unit 3 - Area of Study 2: When is development sustainable?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to explain how sustainability principles relate to environmental management, analyse how stakeholder perspectives can influence environmental decision-making, and evaluate the effectiveness of environmental management strategies in a selected case study.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Case study overview

  • Considering the aims and strategies proposed for an environmental science case study, create a positives and negatives table (3 x 4 table) to consider each of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposal.

Key knowledge: Sustainability principles

  • Case study: Write a paragraph evaluating the environmental, economical and social considerations of the Western Treatment Plant and justify whether you think this project is a sustainable development or not.
  • Classification and identification: Locate various definitions of sustainable development (for example, the definition: ‘Sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To be sustainable, any use of resources needs to take account of the stock of resources and the impacts of its utilisation on the social, economic and political context of people today and in the future.’); copy each definition onto a piece of butcher’s paper; post up onto the classroom wall and identify similarities between definitions (in wording / intention) and annotate butcher’s paper; develop personal/class definition.
  • Classification and identification: Access UNESCO’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and explain how each goal aligns with the sustainability principles of: conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity; efficiency of resource use; intergenerational equity; intergenerational equity; precautionary principle; and user pays principle.
  • Access the education materials available from UNESCO related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, for example, the food sharing activity for Goal 1 ‘The World is not Equal. Is that Fair?’ to explore the principle of ‘equity’.
  • Classification and identification: Discuss whether or not a political dimension should be included in definitions of sustainable development.
  • Select one of the following questions as a Think-Pair-Share brainstorming activity: What would the local community / Australian society / human civilisation look like in the future if we were living sustainably?
  • Develop a brochure to promote a selected sustainable activity or hobby; for example, bush camping, building of a cubby house, basketball.
  • Create a communication that promotes a more sustainable approach to an activity, procedure, policy or designed space at your school.
  • Fieldwork: Use visual stimuli such as photographs to name and briefly describe development projects occurring within the local / broader community (for example, new / upgraded swimming pool, roadworks or new apartment block). Classify development using a three-circle Venn diagram showing whether each development project is primarily supporting environmental, social or economic needs and values. Further classify into bearable (indicated by where social / environmental intersect in Venn diagram), equitable (social / economic intersect) or viable (economic / environmental intersect). Identify some challenges faced by decision-makers due to competing interests of stakeholders for the selected development projects.
  • Watch the 2019 documentary film 2040 and consider the environmental, social and economical pros and cons of a community buying, selling and/or sharing electricity such as the example in the film. Working in small groups, propose another way in which energy could be effectively used in communities.
  • Select one sustainability principle to research. Make a poster and present an overview to the class which includes the following information: a definition of your principle; the importance of your principle; challenges in maintaining the principle; identification of three environmental science case studies where the principle is used and where stakeholders are involved, including stakeholder roles.
  • Classification and identification: Work in pairs to define each of the six sustainability principles and then complete a three-circle Venn diagram to classify each sustainability principle as relating mainly to the environment, the economy or society.
  • Propose a justified rank order / hierarchy of importance of sustainability principles.
  • Respond to question stems that relate sustainability principles to personal experiences; for example: When might it be important to follow [insert principle of sustainability] at school?; How is applying [insert principle of sustainability] relevant to me at home?; Where in the world are we already respecting [insert principle of sustainability]?; What project/s am I already aware of that need to be especially careful of incorporating [insert principle of sustainability]?
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Use sustainability principles to evaluate selected environmental science case studies.
  • Literature review: Research the impact of the human population on biodiversity and predict the effect on global biodiversity of a human population of 6 billion.
  • Product, process or system development: Develop a sustainability scale for personal, school, community, commercial or industrial use.
  • Debate whether any development can be considered truly 100 per cent sustainable.

Key knowledge: Environmental decision-making and management

  • Classification and identification: Compare the Victorian Government’s definition of ‘Circular Economy’ to that of two other definitions from organisations online. Discuss the similarities and differences between definitions. Draw a diagram to demonstrate your understanding of a circular economy.
  • Case study: With a partner, conduct a cost-benefit analysis on a selected environmental science case study. Consider environmental, economic and social aspects in the analysis. Forming groups or working as a class, share and further develop the analysis. Come to a conclusion as to whether the case study should proceed.
  • Explore learning modules based around the circular economy.
  • Case study: Select an environmental project undertaken by a business, an industry or a government agency, and use it to study its environmental risks and impacts, and how to reduce these risks and impacts. Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies implemented.
  • Case study: Provided with an environmental science case study and with the class divided into varying stakeholders (for example, local residents, council member, construction workers, environmental groups, farmers), discuss whether and how the project should proceed in order to meet the needs and concerns of the each stakeholder group, while meeting sustainability principles and regulatory frameworks. A student or teacher will need to chair whole group discussions to ensure each group has the opportunity to speak, respond and keep to required times.
  • Product, process or system development: Devise a new way of measuring human or industrial environmental impact other than ‘carbon footprint’.
  • Classification and identification: Discuss how definitions of ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecologically sustainable development’ are heavily reliant upon needs and interests of various stakeholders and that definitions may need to evolve / be adapted according to local contexts and specific development projects.

Key knowledge: Case study evaluation

  • Case study: Collate scientific data that provides evidence of an organisation’s environmental management strategies. Comment on how validity of the data has been demonstrated. Is there relevant historical data with which to compare this current data?
  • Research a waste minimisation plan / strategy produced by your local council . Create a concept map to demonstrate the impacts to, and interactions between, the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere that occur due to the implementation of the plan / strategy.
  • Explain how the following guidelines related to sustainable fishing that were provided in a Marine Stewardship Council brochure (April 2009) meet sustainability principles:
    • allows target fish populations to recover at healthy levels from past depletion
    • maintains and seeks to maximise the ecological health and abundance of marine fish
    • maintains the diversity and structure of the marine ecosystem on which it ultimately depends
    • conforms to all local, national and international laws and regulations.
  • Discuss whether carbon mitigation strategies that seek to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere are more or less sustainable than adaptation strategies that seek to help reduce the effects of carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Fieldwork: Survey a representative sample of your local community to ascertain the perceived advantages, disadvantages and effects of a completed local environmental science project and use appropriate graphical representations to report your findings.
  • Literature review: Research and evaluate contemporary developments in sustainable greenhouses; for example, the New Scientist article Growing tomatoes using sun and seawater. Use a flowchart to summarise the processes and identify how sustainability principles apply to the development.
  • Develop criteria to distinguish between strong and weak evidence and/or arguments in the evaluation of an environmental science project; for example, consider quantity and quality of evidence, reasonableness, logic, plausibility, complexity, coherence, emotional overlays, bias, clarity and balance.
  • Case study: Access the two-page summary of case studies related to the management of coastal cliff instability ‘Living with cliffs, Anglesea: case studies from Victoria’s south-west’ to discuss how solutions to management problems may be communicated to the community.
  • Case study: Explore the effectiveness of environmental management strategies implemented in relation to upholding sustainability principles by looking at a case study; for example, Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and the Gunditjmara peoples’ creation, manipulation and modification of local hydrological regimes and ecological systems at and environmental management.
  • Case study: Evaluate an environmental science project such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit in terms of the project aims, proposed strategies to address the environmental concerns, stakeholder involvement, and methods of monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of the project. Suggest other data that could be used to evaluate the project outcomes.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Evaluation of environmental science case studies in terms of sustainability principles

Introduction

Specific development project / environmental science case studies may be used to explore the sustainability principles included in the study design key knowledge. In addition, organisational aims and objectives can be examined and analysed in terms of their alignment to sustainability principles.

Science skills

Teachers identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • analyse and evaluate environmental science scenarios, case studies, issues and challenges using the sustainability principles of conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, efficiency of resource use, intergenerational equity, intragenerational equity, precautionary principle, and user pays principle
  • identify and explain when judgments or decisions associated with issues related to environmental science may be based on sociocultural, economic, political, legal and / or ethical factors and not solely on scientific evidence
  • use clear, coherent and concise expression to communicate to specific audiences and for specific purposes in appropriate scientific genres, including scientific reports and posters.

Health, safety and ethical notes

There are no specific health, safety and ethical considerations for this task.

Prior learning

Students should be familiar with the following concepts prior to undertaking the activity:

  • various definitions of sustainable development
  • range of development projects occurring within the local / broader community
  • environmental, social or economic needs and values relevant to these development projects
  • variety of stakeholders invested in development projects
  • description of the roles and values held by different stakeholders
  • examples of regulatory frameworks that might be applicable to the development projects.

Procedure

  • The teacher suggests a range of environmental case studies for the class to investigate (refer to useful resources listed below for examples of actual environmental case studies).
  • Students work in pairs or small groups to:
    • Prepare a brief outline of three case studies organised under suitable subheadings, for example: project title; location; short description; aims / objectives; rationale for selected location; current land use; assets/sensitivities of existing environment, such as flora, fauna, landscape; cultural heritage; key stages / steps in project; potential environmental effects of construction and operation; proposed mitigation strategies; roles of key stakeholders; sustainability principles relevant to project.
    • Determine whether the aims / objectives of any sustainable development project generally align with sustainability principles by constructing a matrix to match each aim / objective of the development project with one or more of the following sustainability principles: intergenerational equity, intragenerational equity, conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, user pays principle, efficiency of resource use; precautionary principle.
    • Select two of the sustainability principles and explain to what extent they have been fulfilled, identifying specific steps that have been proposed / implemented.
    • Select three stakeholders involved in the development project and explain how their values, knowledge and priorities impact on decision-making associated with the development project.
    • Briefly describe how any development project risks were assessed and managed.

Useful resource

Victorian State Government, Environment, Land, Water and Planning – Environment assessment

Use the ‘Completed projects’ tab to access information about completed environmental projects and the ‘Browse EES projects’ for environmental projects that are currently being assessed.

Teaching notes

  • This activity can be used as a basis for an assessment task, particularly the task requiring students to analyse and evaluate ‘a case study, secondary data or a media communication, with reference to sustainability principles and stakeholder perspectives’.
  • For an assessment task, the teacher could prepare one case study relating to a specific development project. The format of this task is to be decided by the teacher and could be, for example, a written response to a set of questions, a multimodal presentation or a structured report with subheadings that links some / all of the sustainability principles to the specific development project in the prepared case study under open-book test conditions. The task should be between 50 and 70 minutes for a written response or 10 minutes for a multimodal or oral presentation. The questions or subheadings could be selected / adapted from the preliminary activities described above. While the case study might be completely fictitious or founded on a real-life example of a development project, it must be significantly different from any of the case studies already discussed in class. Students should be informed that the formal assessment task would not relate specifically to any of the environmental case studies investigated in class but rather to the stakeholder perspectives in the case study and the underlying principles of sustainability.
  • Beth Conklin, Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University in the US, offers various considerations when teaching about sustainability issues including:
    • Investigating global environmental crises can overwhelm students when they consider the immensity of the problems humanity faces and the difficulties involved in coping with them. Teachers can engage students by discussing their definitions of happiness and a quality of life, and whether they necessarily correlate with high levels of consumption and resource use. Students should be informed of environmental policies or movements that have succeeded in mitigating pollution, conserving resources, or promoting ecological resiliency.
    • Providing opportunities for students to wrestle with empirical data for themselves, rather than supplying pre-digested analyses from secondary sources will enable students not only to grapple with methodological and theoretical issues of data analysis and presentation, but also to be empowered to approach environmental issues with greater insight.
    • Allowing time for group discussion can facilitate problem solving, debate, analysis, teamwork and reflection, which are crucial to developing the critical thinking and leadership skills that students need to face complex problems.

Adapted from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.

Unit 4: : How can climate change and the impacts of human energy use be managed?

Unit 4 - Area of Study 1: How can we respond to climate change?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse the major factors that affect Earth’s climate, explain how past and future climate variability can be measured and modelled, and evaluate options for managing climate change.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Major factors that affect Earth’s climate

  • Explore the concept of ‘Earth’s energy balance’ by:
    • viewing the animation on NASA’s Global Climate Change page
    • considering the quantitative information about  the percentage of energy from the Sun that is absorbed and reflected by Earth’s surface (land and oceans) and scattered, reflected and absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere (as discussed on the North Carolina Climate Office website
    • access Lesson 4, Climate: A balancing Act to explore factors that affect Earth’s energy balance, including an animation of a volcanic eruption.
  • Use a problem-based approach to investigate the effects that changes in the ozone layer would have on penguin populations by accessing information from The International Symposium on Environmental Issues (Sydney). In groups of three, with each taking on a role of a life scientist, a physical scientist or an Earth scientist, develop a response to the questions, ‘Is there a relationship between the ozone layer and phytoplankton?’ and ‘What effects would changes in the ozone layer have on Antarctica's penguin population?’ Groups may present their findings to a ‘symposium’.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and perform and experiment to determining which absorbs more heat – land or water.
  • Calculate absolute change (magnitude), percentage change and average rate of change in carbon dioxide concentrations during students’ time at secondary school (for example, approximately five years, from January 2015 to January 2020) using NASA data source.
  • Use NASA’s ‘Earth Math as a source of climate data analysis questions (relevant activities include: 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, with answer schemes provided).
  • Controlled experiment: Design an investigation to measure the albedo effect.
  • Controlled experiment: Formulate a hypothesis, make a prediction and plan an experiment to determine whether there is a relationship between the colour of a water bottle and the capacity of its contents to absorb heat.
  • Fieldwork: Design a procedure to investigate the factors that affect the levels of carbon dioxide in a selected location.
  • Simulation: Use an online interactive at NASA to learn about different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Using a map of Victoria or Australia (and surrounding ocean), identify significant areas where carbon sequestration is occurring. Document the type of sequestration, stating whether it is natural or artificial, and how effective it is.
  • Watch the 2019 documentary film 2040 and describe how the marine permaculture project could impact the carbon cycle. Create a summary table to identify the positive and negative impacts this project could have on each of Earth’s four spheres (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere).
  • Literature review: Research artificial processes for carbon sequestration and create a design for a carbon sequestration strategy.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an experiment to investigate the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and temperature.
    • As a small group, determine a question to investigate; write a hypothesis and aim; write a list of materials and a valid method; conduct the experiment and collate results.
    • Independently, write a background with intext citations; present results; write a discussion and conclusion; and provide a reference list (Harvard Style).
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an experiment to measure the rate of dissipation of heat energy from a system.
  • Perform experiments and undertake activities to gain an understanding of energy absorption, re-emission, radiation and dissipation that operate in the greenhouse effect, for example:
    • use of light box equipment and charts of electromagnetic radiation to show the composition of white light and the energy associated with different colours, and to show that the associated wavelength associated with a particular colour is inversely proportional to the energy
    • comparison of data that illustrates the wavelengths of solar energy and the effects of short and long wavelengths on absorption and re-emission
    • identification of energies and associated wavelengths of the emission spectral lines when metal salts are heated or in a mercury-cadmium or sodium lamp
    • investigation of the absorption and emission of heat energy by different materials and surfaces of the same material
    • comparison of the rise in temperature of the water inside metal cans painted different colours and subjected to heating by a 1000 W globe
    • measurement of the rise in temperature of samples of gases placed in direct sunlight or under a halogen lamp.
  • Explore options for the selection of trees that can absorb the most carbon, for example, read the article ‘What’s the greenest Christmas tree option? Real or fake?’ and discuss the selection of a Christmas tree in terms of carbon sequestration.
  • Product, process or system development: Work in small groups to design a feasible method of carbon sequestration.
    • Present proposals to the class outlining how they sequester carbon, including a diagram; when / where it would be most useful; benefits and disadvantages of the design; how it would impact the carbon cycle.
    • If possible, design and conduct an investigation to test each proposal.

Key knowledge: Understanding climate change

  • Case study: Access the seven case studies on NASA’s Global Climate Change website and discuss how each of Earth’s four systems (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are affected by atmospheric changes.
  • Literature review: Use the internet and print sources to collect four recent articles presented by the media (including two from scientific journals) about the enhanced greenhouse effect. Summarise the major points and compare and examine how scientific data is used to justify the information presented in the articles.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an experiment that models the natural and enhanced greenhouse effects. Use temperature logging to generate experimental data (three soft drink bottles placed in sunlight with temperature probe, first bottle containing dry air, second bottle with humid air, third bottle with carbon dioxide gas). Graph temperature data; calculate percentage change and average rate of change in temperature; outline limitations of experimental method and propose improvements for collecting more valid data. Evaluate how useful the experiment is for modelling the natural and enhanced greenhouse effects.
  • Review and graph data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC).
  • Observe data collected by the Cape Grim Air Monitoring Station in Tasmania of changes in greenhouse gas concentrations over time as detailed on the CSIRO website.
  • Read the article on the CarbonBrief website: ‘Why cement emissions matter for climate change’ and generate an annotated poster to demonstrate why cement production alters greenhouse gas concentrations, the impact production has on the enhanced greenhouse effect and our climate, and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Access BBC News to compare the advantages and disadvantages of he manufacture and use of concrete; interpret the provided data in terms of how scientific data is presented and validity of data; and discuss the sustainability of modified concrete products or alternatives to concretes, for example bio-concrete.
  • Identify the greenhouse gases and their capacity to retain heat; make comparative calculations to demonstrate the ability of greenhouses gases to retain heat.
  • Literature review: Research methods used for measuring past and present changes in the atmosphere. Find and analyse relevant data.
  • Correlational study: Discuss the question, ‘What factors affect changes in global average temperatures over time?’ and use the internet to explore any correlations. Discuss the nature of the evidence that is required to be able to provide a science-justified response to the question.
  • Correlational study: Use the internet to collate climate data to establish correlations between variables; for example, in responding to questions such as ‘Does distance from the sea impact on climate variation?’, ‘Do mountains affect climate?’, ‘Does distance from the equator impact on climate variation?’ and ‘How does the direction of the prevailing wind affect climate?’ In groups, report on a question of interest, and then report back to the class.
  • Examine various methods of climate observation and analysis by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Classify the data sources as ice core ‘proxy’ data (for example, natural processes that record changing climate conditions in the absence of actual data) or ‘actual’ data. Describe how ice core can be used to study climate change and outline limitations of using core data.
  • Simulation: use simulations to investigate climate concepts such as the greenhouse effect and global warming, including future predictions, at Virtual Labs.
  • Modelling: Analyse atmospheric gas concentration data sets from 800,000 BC until 2013 AD. Calculate the average rate of change from 800,000 BC until the start of actual data collection and from before the industrial revolution until today. Search online for 'Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases' and watch the video ‘Pumphandle 2014: History of atmospheric carbon dioxide. (animated graphs of global carbon dioxide concentrations). From the analysis, visualise changes in key indicators (for example, average global temperature, extent of sea ice, carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level) using NASA’s ‘Climate time machine’.
  • Simulation: Access the World Bank global climate science data to generate and investigate questions of interest related to climate science, including the ‘climate change knowledge portal’.
  • Controlled experiment: Access and conduct online experiments related to global warming.
  • Use data from the Bureau of Meteorology to compare at least two locations’ temperature, rainfall or solar radiation from different years (for example, 2019 and 1969). The website can ‘plot the data’ for you. Compare the graphs and consider the factors that may have contributed to the changes and the impacts the differences would have on each of the spheres.
  • Go to the Climate Change in Australia website and select a location on the map. Read the ‘Key Messages’ for that location on the right side of the screen and ‘Projected Summaries’ below the map. Discuss why the projections have different levels of confidence, how the levels are decided and which stakeholders would use this information.

Key knowledge: Managing climate change

  • Formulate a hypothesis relating to whether increased temperatures affect the reproduction rates of pest species and marine species. Design a possible investigation to test your hypothesis; make a prediction about expected results; undertake research on the internet to confirm what is already known about this relationship between the environment and living things.
  • Case study: Use case studies such as those on the Climate.gov website to explore how people are taking action to promote climate resilience.
  • Watch the video 'How does climate change may affect biodiversity?’ (also links to Unit 3) and create an interactive walk at your school to illustrate possible future scenarios related to the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.
  • Distinguish between the terms ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’ by watching the PBS Wisconsin video. Then use a climate change scenario to create a list of adaptation and mitigation responses; for example, 54 climate change-related impacts were identified at Morro Bay Estuary (USA) as outlined on the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Write a letter of appeal for urgent intervention and preventative action related to a specific geographic region facing negative impacts of atmospheric changes.
  • Construct a flow diagram (or re-sequence a mixed-up flow diagram) to link photosynthetic activity (plant growth cycle) with seasonal variation in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
  • Access the resources at: storymaps.arcguis.com to discuss how climate change has affected Little Penguin populations at Phillip Island.
  • Work individually or in small groups to research the context of one specific geographic region that is facing impacts of atmospheric changes.
  • Case study: Use case studies to illustrate adaptation strategies to climate change adopted by different European communities, considering how sustainability principles have been met and how stakeholders have contributed to developing solutions.
  • Read the article ‘Climate change impacts tuatara population’ and review data collected in the scientific report ‘Sex Ratio Bias and Extinction Risk in an Isolated Population of Tuatara’. Discuss the risks and opportunities for ecological systems associated with this. Another useful resource is an article at PLOS ONE.
  • Compare and contrast atmospheric carbon dioxide mitigation (seeks to reduce amount of carbon in atmosphere) versus adaptation (seeks to help reduce the effects of carbon in atmosphere) strategies for a selected geographic location. Provide a justified response as to which approach is most important for the selected geographic location.
  • Access a mitigation and / or adaptation strategy for a particular location (for example, refer to the Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050) and identify the sustainability principles that will be addressed by the nominated actions and priorities.
  • Use the Climate Change in Australia website to select a town and the site will then identify other locations whose current climate matches the future climate of your location in 2030, 2050 or 2090. Discuss the changes in rainfall and temperature and consider the impact this would have on the environment, society and economy of your chosen town. Consider adaptation strategies the town could implement to prepare for the predicted changes.
  • Source cartoons relating to climate change uncertainty and summarise the most frequent arguments presented by climate change sceptics. Speculate on reasons for their scepticism, distinguishing between ‘opinion’, ‘anecdote’ and ‘evidence’ in each argument. Discuss how the precautionary principle might be applied to climate change action.
  • Use a PMI (plus, minus, indifferent) graphic organiser to evaluate the roles / responsibilities of the media, scientists, celebrities in reporting climate change/promoting climate change action. On YouTube search for: Morgan Freeman climate change; Leonardo DiCaprio climate change; David Attenborough climate change.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

A letter of appeal for intervention and preventative action

Introduction

  • Students research a specific geographic region facing negative impacts of atmospheric changes. They collate their findings in an electronic format and use these to compose a letter to the General Secretary of the UN / G20 appealing for urgent intervention and preventative action.
  • Students should be encouraged to examine a context that interests them personally.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • analyse and evaluate environmental science scenarios, case studies, issues and challenges using the sustainability principles of conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, efficiency of resource use, intergenerational equity, intragenerational equity, precautionary principle, and user pays principle.
  • identify and analyse experimental data qualitatively, handling, where appropriate, concepts of: accuracy, precision, repeatability, reproducibility and validity of measurements; errors (random and systematic); and degree of confidence and certainty in data, including confidence ratings of climate projections.

Health, safety and ethical notes

There are no specific health, safety and ethical considerations for this task.

Prior learning

Students should be familiar with the following concepts prior to undertaking the activity:

  • structure of Earth’s atmosphere
  • natural and enhanced greenhouse effects
  • projected consequences and uncertainties of the enhanced greenhouse effect
  • sustainability principles.

Procedure

Stage 1

Students work individually or in small groups to research the context of one specific geographic region that is facing impacts of atmospheric changes. Research findings should be recorded in students’ logbooks, including dates when the information was accessed and all sources of information; and any information updates.

Questions to guide students’ research include:

  • Where is the selected region (in terms of country and continent) that is facing impacts of atmospheric changes?
  • Why is this region particularly vulnerable? What are the specific social, economic, environmental contexts of this region in recent history?
  • What are some of the predicted impacts in the near future on the four major Earth systems (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere), on the health of living things and on the environment; for example: changes in atmospheric / ocean temperature; rainfall patterns (drought / floods); changing access to potable water; melting ice packs; changes in ocean currents; habitat loss; plant, animal and human population displacement; release of trapped gases (for example, tundra methane); and social / political / economic challenges (including warfare).
  • What sequence of events is thought to link these impacts to atmospheric changes?
  • How confident are scientists that these impacts are actually caused by atmospheric changes? Are there any specific doubts about the cause/s of these impacts? What evidence has been collected? How reliable, accurate and valid is the evidence?
  • What are some immediate interventions that could be implemented to minimise these impacts?
  • Which two of these predicted impacts are most significant for this region?
  • What preventative action could be undertaken over the next 20 years to minimise one or more of these impacts?
  • What are scientists doing to address key uncertainties in our understanding of atmospheric changes?
  • Which two of the sustainability principles do you think are most relevant to addressing atmospheric changes? Are different sustainability principles more relevant if tackling only the predicted impacts of atmospheric changes and not their possible causes?

Stage 2

Students use their documented research to help construct a letter (guided by subheadings) to the General Secretary of the UN / G20. The letter should use evidence to put forward the case and appeal for immediate intervention and preventative action over the next 20 years to minimise one or more of the predicted impacts of atmospheric changes in the context of the selected geographic region.

Useful resources

Unit 4 - Area of Study 2: What might be a more sustainable mix of energy sources?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to compare the advantages and disadvantages of using a range of energy sources, and evaluate the suitability and impacts of their use in terms of upholding sustainability principles.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Comparison of different energy sources

  • Simulation: Access the ‘renew-a-bead game’ to explore timescales associated with the use of renewable and non-renewable energy sources.
  • Literature review: Read the following two conflicting articles on nuclear power: ‘Nuclear Power: a real option’ and ‘Nuclear power stations are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be’. Research characteristics of nuclear energy, then write your own persuasive article outlining the use of nuclear energy in Australia.
  • Classification and identification: Create an energy comparison table. Each energy source can be listed down the left side of the table, and can be compared in terms of: overall energy efficiency; classification as a renewable or non-renewable source; positives and negatives in terms of impacts on the environment, society and economy of accessing, extracting, processing, transporting and using the source.
  • Debate whether or not you think nuclear energy is/can potentially be a sustainable resource for Australia.
  • Classification and identification: Research the historical significance of an energy source such as whale oil and classify it as a ‘renewable’ or ‘non-renewable’ energy source.
  • Classification and identification: Work in groups to develop criteria for classification of an energy system as being sustainable, identifying the relevant sustainability principle that relates to each criterion; for example, equitable access to the resource relates to intragenerational equity; long-term availability refers to intergenerational equity; limited environmental impact refers to conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity.
  • Fieldwork: Design and undertake a microclimate investigation to identify areas of the school grounds that are particular sun traps or wind tunnels, and therefore would be suitable sites for solar panels or wind turbines. For example, test the intensity of sunlight by leaving cups of water in different locations for the duration of the lesson, and recording the temperature change or using a home-made anemometer to test wind strength. Use this data to suggest sites in the schoolgrounds that would be best to locate seating areas, a solar pizza oven, a swimming pool or a weather station.
  • Product, process or system development: Design and construct a toy or a working model or a device that uses an alternative energy source; for example, a ‘fan boat’, a solar-powered car, or a wind generator.
  • Controlled experiment: Investigate the relationship between an aspect of a wind turbine (for example, number, thickness or shape of blades) and the power that is generated.
  • Literature review: Use the internet to find the relative contributions to the enhanced greenhouse effect of renewable and non-renewable energy sources, including oil, coal, natural gas, coal seam gas and nuclear, biomass, biofuels, solar, hydro-electric, wind, tidal and geothermal. Prepare a poster to summarise findings.
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Evaluate two energy sources in a selected context.
  • Construct a table (row headings could include: relative environmental impacts such as wastes released; energy input required; remediation of land; relative costs of method per mass of raw fuel; technology/work skills required) to compare and contrast the environmental impact of different extraction methods for: uranium (in situ leaching versus open cut mining); or coal (open cut mining versus tunnelling).
  • Watch the TEDEd clip ‘Why can't we get power from waves?’ and then complete the ‘Think’ questions, followed by the ‘Dig Deeper’ and ‘Discuss’ sections.
  • Classification and identification: Categorise various energy sources as: renewable or non-renewable; fossil fuel or non-fossil fuel; and types of energy as kinetic or potential (including forms of energy such as mechanical, thermal and chemical).
  • Product, process or system development: Explore ideas related to the laws of thermodynamics by making solar pizza box ovens. In groups, make an oven using pizza boxes, aluminium foil, different coloured plastics and other readily available materials. The Home Science Tools website provides detailed guidelines. Compare ovens by measuring the internal temperature over a period of time on a sunny day, Debrief to consider factors that may improve the effictiveness and efficiency of a solar oven.
  • Literature review: Visit the CSIRO and ABC websites to investigate the variety of different energy sources that are used in Australia. Compare these with energy sources used internationally.
  • Modelling: Draw two versions of the carbon cycle, the first without human interference and the second with human interference. What similarities and differences do you notice? Write a list of consequences that have occurred or may occur due to the differences.
  • Simulation: Explore an online interactive of the carbon cycle and consider the impacts of burning large amounts of fossil fuels.
  • Watch, summarise and discuss the main points in the video – ‘300 years of fossil fuels in 300 seconds’.
  • Literature review: Use data from the World Bank website to compare the percentage of global fossil fuel use for Australia with any other countries you that interest you. What factors are contributing to our fossil fuel use? Should Australia be doing more to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels? Why? How?
  • Literature review: Use the internet to access data related to the amount of methane generated from various animal manures or from decomposing wastes in landfills. Research the environmental benefits of the use of anaerobic digestors to reduce methane emissions; for example, in processing animal manure on farms or in treating methane emissions generated in oxygen-free environments such as landfills. Discuss the sustainability principles that apply to the use of anaerobic digestors in addressing methane generation due to human activities such as farming and generation of wastes.
  • Construct a flow diagram that compares efficiencies in a solar heater or a wind generator.
  • Use simple experiments related to the first and second laws of thermodynamics (for example: ‘1st and 2nd Law Thermodynamics – Experiments and Explanations’) to begin to think about how these laws apply to environmental science scenarios and concepts, such as energy efficiency and global warming.
  • Draw an annotated diagram to demonstrate the extraction to use three different energy sources, identifying the first and second laws of thermodynamics in each. Write a summary statement comparing the three sources and identify which would be the most sustainable to use in a particular location.
  • Literature review: Work in groups to access information about how minerals and non-renewable energy resources are formed, identified, found, mined and used, for example Minerals and Energy. Summarise in the form of infographics or a set of PowerPoint slides for each resource.
  • Simulation: Use the UK-based simulation ‘My 2050 – Create your pathway to a low carbon UK by 2050’ to test possible solutions in creating a net zero emissions scenario for the future; discuss how the UK ambitions compare with possible Australian ambitions.

Key knowledge: Managing the impacts of human energy use

  • Debate the topic: ‘Complete mine site rehabilitation is just a nice idea’.
  • Watch the video ‘Mine Rehabilitation’  (LATELINE – Mackay Conservation Group) and discuss whether the rehabilitation processes are sufficient and how they could be improved.
  • Simulation: Explore energy security in terms of supply-versus-demand relationships using an online simulator such as Gov.uk.
  • Fieldwork: Investigate energy consumption and costs in students’ homes over a given period of time and suggest ways in which their homes could conserve energy.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an investigation to evaluate the effectiveness of various insulation materials and/or techniques associated with building materials; for example, straw, compacted earth, foam, blown cellulose, foil.
  • Compare the energy ratings and efficiency of different brands of selected household appliances (for example, kettles, washing machines, toasters, refrigerators) or of audio-visual equipment. Summarise findings in a table.
  • Fieldwork: Undertake an energy audit of your school and propose ways to improve energy efficiency.
  • Discuss to what degree supply of energy resources should exceed demand / need.
  • Develop a proposal for future energy use:
    • Part 1: You work for your local council and with a small team (working in a group), you have been asked to generate a proposal for future energy usage in your town/local area by building a sustainable future. You will need to have a good understanding of the current energy sources, usage and availability and consider what is working well, in addition to current and projected issues. The proposal must be achievable and have considered different stakeholder needs. It can then be presented to stakeholders (students in your class) including representatives from the council, local residents, power companies, businesses, investors, environmental groups and/or other relevant stakeholders for feedback.
    • Part 2: Your team reviews the feedback received and updates the proposal accordingly. The team then presents any updates to the proposal to the stakeholders.
  • Controlled experiment: Investigate how the type of window glazing (single, double, triple, UV filters) affects the degradation rate of a biodegradable plastic.
  • In groups, use a jigsaw method to compare the cost of electricity supply around the world in $AUD / kWh. Discuss possible reasons for differences. Relate costs of running a single incandescent light bulb in various countries for one hour to the price of a cup of coffee / 1 L milk / 1 kg rice (for example, refer to the NUMBEO website.)
  • Literature review: Use the internet to research ways in which different organisations (such as industries, businesses, schools, hospitals or households) use energy more efficiently. Compare the organisations. Is there consistency or are there significant differences? Discuss methods that could be used by organisations to reduce energy consumption.
  • Compare a standard incandescent globe with an energy-saving compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and an LED globe for lighting a classroom/home study or office with respect to: cost per bulb; electricity consumption (wattage); overall cost to use based on wattage and local electricity rates; output (lumen range); heat generated; and life span of bulb using second hand data. Evaluate which type of globe has overall lowest impact on the environment and society.
  • Construct a SWOT (strengths / weaknesses / opportunities / threats) chart to consider an increased shift towards using renewable energy resources in relation to a current technological development. (For example, refer to ‘Could our roofs become one big solar panel?’  or ‘Skyscrapers could soon generate their own power, thanks to see-through solar cells’.)
  • Product, process or system development: Design a ‘green roof’ for an urban building as one strategy to minimise heat transfer from a building.
  • Create a simple A4 visual summary / infographic of one strategy relating to energy recovery / cogeneration and emission control for coal (for example, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC); oxy-fuel combustion; lignite dewatering and drying; or Ultra Clean Coal (UCC )).
  • Simulation: Design your own sustainable house by making energy and material resources, as well as lifestyle, choices using this online interactive.
  • Product, process or system development: Design, construct and test a ‘pot-in-a-pot refrigerator’ (a device that keeps food cool using the principle of evaporative cooling and consisting of a pot placed inside a bigger pot with the space between them filled with a wet porous material) to achieve the best cooling effect.
  • Use an ‘Exit pass – Square, Circle, Triangle’ strategy to monitor student understanding of concepts related to energy; for example, after learning new information or following examination of case studies in energy use in society, ask students to write down (a) something they have learnt that is square with their values and priorities; (b) a question they have or an area that is circling in their minds, and (c) three new important points (one on each side of a triangle) that they will remember.
  • Role-play a Q&A panel type discussion to examine the possible implications (benefits and limitations) for stakeholders affected by development of a new site for mining an energy resource. Panel members could be stakeholder representatives including: local resident with young family; local government representative; lawyer; environmental scientist; site worker from company contracted to carry out works; Aboriginal elder; town planner; environmental activist; philanthropist.
  • Discuss the social and political implications of the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) philosophy relating to various mining remediation strategies.
  • Case study: Research the Adani Coal Mine website as well as other media and environmental websites. Determine which sustainability principles are being met by the project, which are not being met but could be, and which you do not think could be met. Considering this, do you think the project is or could be considered a sustainable project?
  • Simulation: Use the interactive ‘Design our Climate’ tool to investigate how different energy choices and mitigation strategies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Literature review: Find two media articles that discuss current energy technologies in Australia and/or how we can meet Australia’s energy needs. Using the VCE Environmental Science Study Design and work you have completed in class as a guide, annotate the articles by incorporating as many scientific concepts, definitions and your own ideas as possible. Working in groups, discuss your articles and comments, adding further annotations following these group discussions.
  • Literature review: Many consumers have been demanding more environmentally friendly vehicles as a result of unstable oil prices and the environmental impacts of motor vehicle emissions. Investigate and prepare a short media article to report on sustainable innovations in car manufacture; for example, the development of more fuel-efficient engines, hybrid vehicles and cars powered by electricity or other types of energy.
  • Discuss the impact of the energy needs of remote communities on innovations in the development of off-grid energy sources.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Evaluation of two energy sources in a selected context

Introduction

Students research and compare energy sources with respect to the societal, economic and environmental advantages and disadvantages of their use. They annotate graphic organisers to present their analysis of energy source data and evaluate the sustainability of their use in a selected geographical context.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task, for example:

  • analyse and evaluate environmental science scenarios, case studies, issues and challenges using the sustainability principles of conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, efficiency of resource use, intergenerational equity, intragenerational equity, precautionary principle, and user pays principle
  • evaluate data to determine the degree to which the evidence supports the aim of the investigation, and make recommendations, as appropriate, for modifying or extending the investigation
  • identify and explain when judgments or decisions associated with issues related to environmental science may be based on sociocultural, economic, political, legal and/or ethical factors and not solely on scientific evidence.

Health, safety and ethical notes

There are no specific health, safety and ethical considerations for this task.

Prior learning

Students should be familiar with the following concepts prior to undertaking the activity:

  • Definitions of renewable, non-renewable, fossil, non-fossil with respect to energy sources.
  • Sustainability principles relevant to energy production and use.

Procedure

Stage 1

Students analyse a range of energy source data. Points of comparison for energy sources might include data relating to:

  • global abundance
  • energy security onsiderations for Australia
  • land use impacts
  • cost to produce 1 kWh useable energy
  • air emissions of SO2, NOx
  • CO2 emissions from 1 kWh useable energy

Sample energy source data:

Stage 2

  • In small groups students research and summarise various geographical contexts that have ifferent energy needs with respect to (for example): demographics, topography, climate, transport networks, existing industries, and cultural considerations. Examples of geographic contexts include: an inland region of the Northern Territory, a coastal windswept town in Tasmania and a town on the west coast of Western Australia.
  • Teachers may prepare a graphic organiser or template for students to assist them in completing their analyses.

Stage 3

  • Students draw on their prior analysis of energy source data to classify the outcomes of using TWO self-nominated energy sources at ONE self-nominated geographical context as either causing a positive or negative impact (including unintended consequences). They do this by summarising the positive impacts onto green post-it notes and the negative impacts onto pink post-it notes.
  • Students then place the coloured post-it notes into a three-circle Venn diagram for each energy source to categorise each impact as economic, social and / or environmental. Some impacts may fall under more than one label and should be placed in the overlap regions on the Venn diagram. This allows students to semi-quantitatively evaluate the sustainability of using the two energy sources in a selected geographical context – generally the greater the number of green post-it notes, the more sustainable the energy source.
  • By considering the nature and number of positive and negative impacts of each energy source, students can position each energy source along a ‘sustainability continuum / scale’ template and so visually represent their evaluation.
    Not sustainable ←……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………→ Sustainable

  • Students compare, challenge and debate each other’s positioning of their energy sources on the ‘sustainability continuum/scale’.

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

A series of questions should be set for students to record in their logbook, for example:

  • Generalise: Where do renewable and non-renewable energy sources fall on the ‘sustainability continuum / scale’? Illustrate your response on the continuum/scale.
  • Infer: Are renewable energy source more sustainable than the non-renewable energy sources? Are fossil energy sources more sustainable than non-fossil energy sources? Which energy source is the most sustainable?
  • Speculate: Would seasonal differences have an impact on the choice of energy sources within the selected geographical context?
  • Relate: Describe one stakeholder likely to have a personal/professional investment in the outcomes of using energy sources at the nominated geographic location. What arguments might they put forward in support of the more sustainable energy source? What arguments might they have against using the more sustainable energy source?
  • Extend: What are the predicted global impacts of using the less sustainable energy source over short-, medium- and long-term time scales?

Teaching notes

  • For Stage 3 of this activity, students should be encouraged to examine a context that interests them personally.
  • Stage 3 of this activity could be adapted to form the basis of a formal assessment task:
  • Teachers may provide students with further data and information about the energy requirements for a location that has not been previously studied by students, and develop a task based on considering:
    • how Earth systems thinking can be used to evaluate impacts of different energy options, for the assessment task where students are required to apply ‘Earth systems thinking in the evaluation of a response to an environmental scenario, case study, issue or challenge’; teachers may scaffold the task by providing students with a graphic organiser or table to complete
    • the sustainability principles and stakeholder perspectives associated with the choice of energy options for the assessment task where students are required to analyse and evaluate ‘a case study, secondary data or a media communication, with reference to sustainability principles and stakeholder perspectives’.    
  • Teachers may provide students with a geographical context and a proposed solution to meet the location’s energy requirements, with students being required to evaluate the suitability of proposed solution in meeting the energy needs of the location for the assessment task that requires students to respond to a ‘designed or practical response to a real or theoretical environmental issue or challenge’. Students may be required to use criteria to undertake the evaluation; these may be provided by the teacher and/or developed by students.
  • Teachers may develop pre-assessment learning tasks that involve students collating data related to the school’s energy use, building on considering the energy requirements at a particular location. This can be used in the assessment task that requires students to present ‘recommendations using evidence-based decision-making, including analysis and evaluation of primary data’, with a focus on data analysis skills. Teachers may use / collate students’ data to produce a specific data set for analysis in the assessment task, so that authentication of student work does not become an issue.

Unit 4 - Area of Study 3: How is scientific inquiry used to investigate contemporary environmental challenges?

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to design and conduct a scientific investigation related to biodiversity, environmental management, climate change and / or energy use, and present an aim, methodology and method, results, discussion and a conclusion in a scientific poster.

Examples of learning activities

Key knowledge: Investigation design

  • Compare class observations of a single environmental science phenomenon or object and discuss why careful observation is important in scientific investigations. Comment on the quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) German poet, dramatist: ‘We see only what we know’.
  • Discuss the importance of developing investigable questions for scientific investigation in light of Albert Einstein’s quote that: ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning’, Robert Half’s quote that ‘Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers’ and Nancy Willard’s quote that ‘Sometimes questions are more important than the answers’.

Key knowledge: Scientific evidence

  • Comment, in terms of the nature of science, on Bill Gaede’s quote that ‘Science is not about making predictions or performing experiments. Science is about explaining.’
  • Crumple a sheet of paper in your hand to form a ‘clot’ approximating a sphere and measure its diameter. Collate class data to plot a histogram of clot diameters and account for the shape of the histogram. Identify and distinguish between sources of error and uncertainty. Use the results to discuss the concepts of repeatability and reproducibility; calculate the mean; discuss how the mean and spread of students’ results would be similar/different if the activity was undertaken by a different class. Explain why careful measurements are important in environmental science.
  • Use the Australian Citizen Science Association website to search for a relevant science investigation in your area. Become involved in the investigation or simply review and analyse the project as preparation for undertaking students’ own investigation. Working in groups, review the information and complete one or all of the following: practice writing sections of a scientific poster; generate or collate data for the investigation; communicate the investigation findings and the significance of the investigation to a partner using key scientific terminology and concepts specific to the selected scientific investigation.
  • Fieldwork: Design and conduct experiments that extend investigations related to environmental science field sampling methods, for example:
    • How does the sampling method within a 1 m2 quadrat (for example, random plot selection versus stratified plot selection) affect the determination of biodiversity using an index such as Simpson’s Index of Diversity?
    • How does the type of capture-recapture method used (for example, Lincoln-Peterson method or Jolly-Seber method) affect the estimation of population size in a natural environment?
    • Is the use of a transect line or a quadrat more appropriate for determining organism populations in a rocky shore system?
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    Correlational study: Use a coupled inquiry to investigate factors that affect the melting of an ice cube.
  • Controlled experiment: Develop hypotheses and design and conduct experiments to investigate threats to biodiversity, for example:
    • How does the concentration of acid (acid rain) affect the germination rate of radish seeds?
    • How does dilution of a herbicide affect its efficacy for deterring the growth of a common weed?
    • How does the concentration of salt (salinity of water) affect the growth of the common freshwater algae freshwater, Chlorella, as a potential source of biomass?
    • How does the concentration of salt affect the moisture content of soil as measured using a soil moisture probe (for example, Vernier)?
    • How does the concentration of yeast affect the quantity of carbon dioxide gas produced from fermentation of a sugar source?
    • How does changing the quantity of CO2 available affect the growth rate of a perennial plant?
  • Controlled experiment: Formulate a hypothesis and plan and undertake an investigation to determine how:
    • changing an abiotic factor (for example, light intensity, temperature, salinity) affects the sustainability of a closed ecological chamber (for example, a bottle ecosystem) as measured by the population size of a macroinvertebrate (for example, Daphnia magna)
    • the percentage of plant ground cover affects the turbidity of runoff water as an indicator of soil erosion
    • the type of composting system (for example, high versus low carbon-to-nitrogen ratio; pit versus above ground bin) affects the internal temperature of the compost as a measure of the composting time.
  • Controlled experiment: Formulate a hypothesis and plan and undertake an investigation related to the efficiency of three-tier worm bins / farms, for example:
    • How does the type of feedstuff (for example, food scraps, shredded paper, leaf litter) affect the efficiency of three-tier worm bins/farms (for example, as measured by mass of worm castings [vermicompost] produced or biomass of worms produced)?
    • How does the surface area of a three-tier worm bin / farm affect the efficiency (for example, as measured by mass of worm castings [vermicompost] produced or biomass of worms produced)?
  • Controlled experiment: Formulate a hypothesis and plan and undertake an investigation related to alternative energy sources, for example:
    • How does the colour of a water storage container affect the quantity of solar energy collected passively?
    • How does the percentage of cloud cover affect the efficiency of electricity generation by a photovoltaic system / panel?
    • How does the spacing / height of wind turbines at a modelled wind farm affect the efficiency of electricity generation?
    • How does changing the fuel source (for example, cardboard, leaves, dried grass) affect the time taken to boil a fixed volume of water in a Kelly Kettle?
  • Investigate and explain the formation of icicles.
  • Correlational study: Compare and document the process of freezing fresh water and seawater in a kitchen freezer.
  • Controlled experiment: Design and conduct an investigation to determine whether the type of salt (for example, rock, table, sea, iodised, kosher) affects the rate at which ice melts.
  • Investigate the phenomenon that when a layer of hot salt solution lies above a layer of cold water, the interface between the two layers becomes unstable and a structure resembling fingers develops in the fluid.
  • Controlled experiment: Investigate how different types of water-saving devices (for example, showerheads) affect the volume of water used during a fixed time period (for example, a three-minute shower).
  • Modelling: Use models to investigate how sustainability principles can be applied to house designs to better prepare for changes in physical conditions (for example, earthquakes, bushfires, landslides) or climatic conditions (for example, increased average temperatures or rainfall).
  • Controlled experiment: Formulate a hypothesis and conduct an investigation into the efficiency of two types of globes with respect to light emitted; for example, by recording light intensity at 30-cm intervals from a source using a light meter, or by measuring air temperature at, for example, five-minute intervals using a thermometer.

Key knowledge: Science communication

  • Comment, in terms of the importance of scientific communication, on Anthony Hewish’s quote: ‘I believe scientists have a duty to share the excitement and pleasure of their work with the general public, and I enjoy the challenge of presenting difficult ideas in an understandable way’.
  • Debate the topic: ‘It is more important, in presentations, to impress rather than to inform’.
  • Download and print prepared scientific posters (for example, from the University of Texas website) and work in groups using a provided set of criteria to evaluate investigation aims, methodologies, data presentation, conclusions and effectiveness of scientific communication for each poster.
  • Organise small group discussions in class to identify the strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement of a range of scientific posters; for example, those found at University of Texas website. Collate and reflect on class results and provided online evaluations to develop a set of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for constructing a scientific poster.
Example icon for advice for teachers

Detailed example

Coupled inquiry: what affects the melting of ice cubes

Introduction

Student-designed practical investigations may be facilitated through coupled inquiry where all students initially undertake the same guided inquiry and then develop a subsequent investigation based on their own further questions and within the scope of the school’s resources. This latter investigation can be used as the basis of the scientific poster for Unit 4 Area of Study 3. Student investigations may be based on content in Unit 3 and / or Unit 4.

This investigation is based on content in Unit 4 Area of Study 1 related to concepts including regional and global sea level rise, global ice coverage and impacts of the natural and enhanced greenhouse effects. The initial guided inquiry related to the melting of ice in fresh water and salt water has contextual applications in the study of oceanography and climate, including fresh water, ocean salinity, temperature gradients, heat transport and density-driven ocean currents.

Part A Guided inquiry: Does pure ice melt faster in fresh water or in salt water?

Students may work in small groups to undertake the inquiry but should record all observations (including measurements) in their own logbooks.

Materials

(per group of two to four students)

  • one clear plastic cup containing 200 mL room-temperature fresh water, labelled as fresh water
  • one clear plastic cup containing 200 mL room-temperature seawater, labelled as ‘seawater’
  • two ice cubes (simulating freshwater icebergs)
  • stopwatch / timer
  • (optional) liquid food dye delivered from a drop bottle or using a pipette

Method

  • Before starting the experiment, students individually make a justified prediction as to which ice cube will melt faster: the one in salt water or the one in fresh water.
  • Students discuss their hypotheses within their groups and decide on the hypothesis that seems most likely to be supported.
  • Students then place one ice cube into each of the two cups and start a stopwatch, noting the time taken for each of the ice cubes to melt completely.
  • (optional) A drop of food dye may be added on top of each of the ice cubes as they melt to observe the dispersion of the ‘melt water’.
  • (extension) The experiment could be repeated/extended using pre-coloured ice blocks.

Discussion questions

A set of questions that link the experiment to climate science concepts can be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  • How do the densities of fresh water and seawater compare?
  • What happens to the level of water in each cup as the ice melts? Explain your observations regarding the level of water in the cup as the ice melts.
  • What do your observations regarding the level of water in the cup as the ice melts tell you about the contribution to global sea level rise of melting floating ice?
  • What are the implications for life on Earth of the difference in density between ice, fresh water and seawater?

Teacher notes

  • To simulate typical open-ocean salinities, 35 g of salt may be added to a litre of water.
  • Although the activity involves understanding the concept of density, the experiment can be used as an introduction to the concept.
  • In this experiment:
    1. The ice cube in the fresh water dissolves faster than the ice cube in the seawater.
    2. Melt water from the ice cube in the fresh water sinks to the bottom of the cup while melt water from the ice cube in seawater remains as a layer at the surface of the water.

Part B Student-designed investigation

Following the guided inquiry, students work independently to develop their own questions as a result of their observations and findings. From their question, they should formulate a hypothesis and plan a course of action, within the scope of the resources at the school, to answer the question and that complies with relevant safety and ethical guidelines. Students should identify the environmental science concepts to which their investigation relates.

Possible questions for the student-designed investigation include:

  • How does the degree of salinity of water affect the rate of an ice block melting?
  • Does ice made from seawater melt faster in fresh water or seawater?
  • Under what conditions do icebergs form?
  • Under what conditions could ‘saltwater icebergs’ form?
  • How does temperature affect the melting of pure ice in seawater?
  • How does temperature affect the melting of pure ice in fresh water?
  • What is the fraction of air by volume in various frozen pure and impure water samples?
  • Does an increase in the carbon dioxide levels of seawater affect the rate at which pure ice melts?
  • How can the rate of dissolution of pure ice in seawater be slowed?
  • How does changing the pH of seawater affect the rate at which an ice block melts?

Students should not be permitted to proceed with proposed courses of action that are unsafe, not within the scope of the resources of the school, or unlikely to generate primary data that is suitable for analysis.

Results

All results should be recorded in student logbooks. Photographs of experimental set-ups and / or progression of results may also be recorded.

Discussion

The student analyses the results, considers the limitations of the investigation and how the investigation could be improved.

Conclusion

The student uses the generated data to respond to the investigation question asked.

Sample teaching plans