Category Archives: Education

New Resources to Support Sustainability Education

Written by: Marcel Bruyn, Strategic Learning

Sustainability is a cross-curriculum priority of the Australian Curriculum. Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life. The AC website states that: “Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.”

In Science: “… students appreciate that science provides the basis for decision-making in many areas of society and that these decisions can impact on the Earth system. They understand the importance of using science to predict possible effects of human and other activity and to develop management plans or alternative technologies that minimise these effects.”

Many Australians live in coastal areas and occupy catchments which supply waterways that empty into the ocean. So there is a direct link between healthy waterways and healthy marine environments, and for much of Queensland that includes coral reef environments.

Reef environment
Reef environment

The catchment and/or marine environments are an ideal foci for a school sustainability program. Here are links to excellent educational programs and resources to support the implementation of a sustainability program in your school:

Organisations and educational programs

  • Reef Guardian Schools – Great Barrier Marine Park Authority. The program encourages schools to commit to the protection and conservation of the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. The program helps to protect the Reef by promoting their ideas, initiatives and activities to communities to encourage all people to “do their bit to look after it!”. It focuses on: Curriculum offerings; Management of Resources; On-the-ground projects in your school and community and Education of the community. “
  • ReefED: online resources and activities from GBRMPA.
  • Australian Marine Environment Protection Association: AUSMEPA provides FREE educational resources on this website to help teachers plan and undertake a unit of work about key marine environmental issues, including climate change and storm water pollution.
  • Reef Check Australia: The Reef IQ Educational Program includes courses and workshops that allow students to undertake simulated coral reef surveys in the classroom.
  • Marine Education Society of Australasia.
  • Ocean Life Education ‘Brings the Sea to You’ with fun marine education programs including live marine animals designed to inspire students of all ages to appreciate and take responsibility for the marine ecosystem.
  • The Global Learning Centre is a not-for-profit community organisation dedicated to supporting education for justice, peace and sustainability.
  • Healthy Waterways: An NGO that provides information and resources on water education in South East Queensland including: information, resources and games.
  • The Up a Dry Gully Schools Program challenges primary and secondary students to explore and understand how water must be safe, secure and sustainable for our future.
  • CSIRO: CarbonKids is an educational program that combines the latest in climate science with education in sustainability.
  • CSIRO Education, North Queensland: Eco-enigma – An environmental case study where the class becomes a scientific team preparing an environmental impact report. By measuring heavy metal levels in fish, analysing silt in a river etc, students find out who is responsible for the environmental health problems of Sunny Valley.
  • Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities: Australian water education resources.
Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum
Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum

Excursions

Local Government

Many local governments have resources and staff to support sustainability education. For example:

Queensland Museum Resources

The museum has a rich repository of authoritative information and resources, including online content, interactive learning objects, games and school loan kits.

  • Biodiscovery and the Great Barrier Reef: Biodiscovery is the quest for bioactive chemicals from living organisms. Investigate some of the factors affecting the survival of reef organisms and how human activities and climate change are having an impact on the reef.
  • Backyard Explorer: An invertebrate biodiversity audit resource kit that can support biohealth assessment component of a sustainability program.
  • The museum provides loan kits that support object-based learning. For example: Marine Life: Explore a variety of marine life and how they interact with their environment and each other. Investigate interactions between living things and suitability for a marine habitat.Content of the Marine Life Loan Kit available from the Queensland Museum

Reduce Reuse and Rethink: New QM Resource

                                                        Recycling and the Australian Curriculum

Teaching is characteristically a time poor occupation and no more so than in the modern classroom. In our efforts to deliver the entire curriculum (in a perfect classroom with well-behaved children who attend school nearly every day!), we need to be clever about maximising the potential of learning in each lesson. Specifically, we need to reduce the need for different activities to teach different subjects, reuse a context to build deeper understanding and rethink how we can better link classroom learning to real world situations. Recycling provides us with just such an opportunity.

Recycling can be used as a way of delivering several aspects of the Australian Curriculum for Science, Mathematics and English and for technology Essential Learnings for a number of year levels. In a nutshell, the recycling process fosters the understanding of the properties of materials, physical and chemical change, magnetism, measurement, labelling, human impact on the environment and other living things, systems, design and resources. The opportunities abound for inquiry and analytical processes and to see real world applications for the use and influence of science, maths and literacy.

Queensland Museum teachers have developed a new resource in conjunction with external recycling partners.  Recycling can be incorporated into a number of year levels, so we have not provided unit/ lesson plans but have instead provided the relevant curriculum links and the resources such as images and investigations which can be linked with existing planning. The resource includes images of recycling plants and processes which are not easily accessible to teachers and students and some investigation and activity ideas. We are just waiting for a content check from SIMS and the new resource will become available. It will be located in our learning resources/ resources/Australian Curriculum suite but we will notify you when the link is active.

Queensland Museum and Sciencentre would like to thank SIMS Metal Recyclers, Brisbane City Council, Moreton Bay Regional Council Waste Services, Christopher Trotter (Artist) and Visy for their enthusiastic support of our recent Science of Recycling exhibit.

It’s Taxon Time

Written by: Maryanne Venables, Strategic Learning

The “Zoo Animals” went into the tin with the blue lid, while my “Farm Animals” went in the tin with the green lid. The animal kingdom, as I knew it, lived under my bed in Streets ice-cream tins. All were classified, according to contexts developed from the songs, books and experiences of a four-year old. Fast forward to 2012 and, as a Museum Educator, I am delighted to be sharing the topic of Animal Classification with the next generation of biologists, taxonomists or collectors.

Queensland Museum has re-launched Animal Classification into our range of school programs. Bookings are now being taken for Yr 3-7* classes to experience a value-added program to enrich your Museum visit

If the  concept of Animal Classification makes you numb, let us please change your mind. School programs are delivered by the Museum Learning team, using real collections to elicit real experiences. This is a valuable option in an increasingly virtual world.

Students can interact with real museum specimens

This program primarily responds to Science Understanding descriptors in Australian Curriculum: Science for Yrs 3 and 7, but also addresses Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills for Yrs 3-7.

So how does classification apply to our lives? You don’t even need to be a collector to use it. We find classification systems everywhere – from libraries to supermarkets. Things that are in some way similar are arranged together for comprehension and convenience.

So how does animal classification apply to our lives? Animals are grouped as part of the process that describes or identifies them down to an individual species. This helps us effectively communicate information about them. Understanding characteristics of a particular species or group can affect our health and welfare, economic growth and ability to effectively manage the conservation of our wildlife.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has shared the virtues of the dung beetle since the CSIRO introduced several species to Australia in the late 1960s. The objective was to manage a bi-product of grazing and its impact on fly control (the bi-product that wasn’t destined for our taste buds or footwear). Selected species were introduced to a number of Australian climates and ecosystems resulting in a biological control success story. Our approx 350-400 species of native dung beetle evolved to mostly feed on the smaller, drier, fibrous dung pellets of marsupials.

The hard-working Honeybee

Other examples of genus-specific relationships are applied in agriculture (both in pollination and pest management). According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Honeybees add an estimated $4 – 6 billion to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, annually.

Further examples of identified animal groups have supported medical research. Studies of Tammar Wallaby and other marsupial forms of milk have provided medical researchers with a template for investigating antimicrobial compounds, potentially resistant to “superbugs”.

Examples of animals helping humans can be ‘reciprocated’ in conservation campaigns. Most Queenslanders are aware of the plight of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Distribution once extended south to the Victorian border. By the 1980s, a drastically reduced population was reportedly (without the advanced surveying methods in use, today) around 35 wombats. A remnant population in Epping Forest National Park (South-West of Mackay, Queensland) was recognised as the last chance to protect this species. Since then, wombat numbers have been carefully monitored and protected, reaching around 138 today. In 2009, the colony was deemed at risk should an environmental disaster such as fire or flood affect the region. To mitigate this, the decision was made to establish a second breeding colony 600km south at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (near St George, Queensland). Recent reports (May 2012) indicate this second population is stable with the current “snout count” at seven females, three males and three joeys in good condition.

The Northern-Hairy-Nosed wombat is critically endangered

A smaller cousin, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat has maintained a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’, although recent reports suggest it, too is affected by similar threats.  These include reduced/replaced food plants and possibly toxins from introduced weeds. Relationships determined by the classification of animals can help us to make informed decisions. Are we prepared to learn from the past to determine the future?

The Animal Classification theme is supported by a range of Queensland Museum exhibitions and resources.

* Please note:  Secondary school, teachers can also select a Biodiversity and Classification program, which can be tailored to your unit of work by prior arrangement.

Science Principles in Traditional Aboriginal Australia

During traditional times, Aboriginal people showed an ingenious mastery of physics to create hunting equipment and labour-saving tools.  They demonstrated knowledge of chemistry, held a deep understanding of biology through powerful observation and using all the senses to predict and hypothesis.  Additionally, they were competent at testing through trial and error, making adaptations and retesting to achieve a final result.   Aboriginal people were experts at reading signs signalling seasonal changes and life cycles.  They understood that the entire environment around them was intertwined and depended on careful stewardship of their custodial area to survive and thrive.

Traditional knowledge held by Aboriginal people demonstrated an ingenious mastery and deep understanding of Biology and Chemistry. From generations of knowledge passed down orally, they invented labour-saving tools and techniques aimed at making food gathering easier. The rainforest people knew how to make multiple uses of plants such as the buttress roots of the fig tree, lawyer cane, seeds, palms and vines.

Traditional aboriginal shields were developed using a variety of scientific properties including strength and flexibility

For example, they were able to understand that grinding toxic seeds on the morah stone would break down cell membranes and when put in running water the toxins would leach out.   They discovered that heating up toxic seeds would also break down cell membranes and remove the poison.  The Aboriginal people of the rainforest invented the bicornual basket to act as a sieve for the ground seeds.  They knew that placing the basket in running water, loaded with the ground seeds, the toxins would leach out. The cleverly woven basket could stay for days at a time in the water without disintegrating because of the vine’s strength.  These baskets made from lawyer cane, Calamus caryotoides, which is a prickly climbing vine were ergonomically designed to endure and withstand many functions.

The rainforest is a veritable supermarket, abundant in plant and animal food sources. Aboriginal people of the rainforest used their spearthrowers, firesticks, morah stones, nutstones, bicornual baskets and ooyurka stones to make hunting and the preparation of food easier.

The spear thrower (also called a woomera) is used with a spear. It acts as a lever to project the spear with force and speed.  This enabled the thrower to increase the spear’s trajectory over a longer distance.

The morah stone was designed to grate or grind down toxic seeds in preparation for leaching.  A push and pull motion was used on the stone with the topstone as it broke down the seed on the morah stone

The bicornual basket has an ergonomical design. The Aboriginal people of the rainforest designed it to fit securely and comfortably on their back whilst the handle part is hung from the forehead.  From this position, the basket user could carry a controlled weight easily while having their hands free.

The t-shaped ooyurka stone was designed as a scraper and was used with a push and pull motion to remove seed residue from the morah stone. It was also used to make a groove in a stone axe head and could be bound easily with twine.

Ooyurka stones were shaped to enable an efficient “pull and push’ motion

The nut stone was designed to make cracking open the hard exterior of nuts easier. The grooves etched in the nutstone allowed less force to be exerted.

Firesticks usually consisted of two long drill sticks and a case that protected the drill parts. The firemaker would use friction between the two drill sticks to make heat and a fire would result.

The Rainforest people built strong shelters made with lawyer cane, fan palm leaves, blady grass, rushes and barks.  Knowledge of tight weaving and thatching handed down through generations gave them the skills to waterproof their shelters against heavy tropical rains. Inside the shelters the people kept their precious shields, swords, baskets, axes, firesticks, ochre, boomerangs. Outside sat morah stones and nut-stones.  For many generations this lifestyle was maintained.

Without this deep scientific knowledge and understanding, Aboriginal people would not have survived for thousands of years.

Does size matter? Misidentification of, and assumptions about, the world’s largest lizard

Humans are fascinated by extremes; just consider the popularity of the Guinness Book of Records. It’s also reflected by our fascination with huge dinosaurs; think Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus. So it is not surprising that claims that ‘giant predatory lizards 11m long once roamed Ancient Australia’ would garner attention and intrigue. In fact the lizard was appropriately given the scientific name, Megalania, meaning ‘giant ripper’. But the search for the true size and nature of this giant reptile, reveals a story of misidentification, opposing ideas, inexact science and false assumptions.

Megalania skull replica
Megalania skull replica

The story begins in the 19th Century, with a large number of fossils of a particular type being uncovered by land owners and naturalists. The size of the bones and teeth indicated that the animal was large. Many perceived the fossils to be of a dinosaur and others classified them as crocodilian. It was never dreamt of at the time that they could been the remains of a gigantic lizard (the Komodo dragon was unknown to science at that time). However, as fragments were combined and examined more closely, it gradually became clear that these were the remains of a giant extinct lizard living during the late Pleistocene, approximately 30,000-180,000 years ago.

Well actually, it wasn’t that clear. In fact the science was decidedly murky. Many of the remains were incorrectly labelled for a long time, and were actually the bones of giant land tortoises, giant flightless birds or even giant marsupials. The opposite also occurred, with many bones identified as belonging to these groups, actually being those of Megalania. Debate among palaeontologists over these matters ruffled a few feathers.

But the debate really got heated around the issue of the size of Megalania. Early estimates inferred a length of 3 m, but over time, the body length increased to 9, 10 and even 11 m—stupendously big for a lizard. It was almost as if a competition was being held: “my Megalania is bigger than yours”.

Estimated sizes of the extant monitor lizards Komodo dragon and Perentie, compared to different estimated sizes of the "Megalania" (Varanus prisca).
Estimated sizes of the extant monitor lizards Komodo dragon and Perentie, compared to different estimated sizes of the “Megalania” (Varanus prisca).

The variation in size estimates arises from assumptions that have to be made, largely due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence. For example:

  • The ratio of claw length to body length from living goannas was applied to the fossil claws of Megalania. The only problem was that it is later discovered they were giant flightless bird claws – not Megalania.
  • Determining the head length from skull remains, and then using the head-to-body length ratio of a lace monitor (alive today) to calculate a length of around 7-10 m. However, further research has identified that the ratio is much smaller in komodos and Megalania, so the size was a massive overestimate.

The confusion of the Megalania story intrigued Queensland Museum palaeontologist and Snr. Curator Geosciences, Dr.Scott Hocknull. He recognised that as a key predatory animal, gaining an accurate understanding of it’s biology is essential in understanding the ecology of prehistoric Australia. So Scott travelled the country and even overseas to examine every Megalania fossil he could find.  Meticulous measurements of the remains, and comparison with living goanna species, has helped test many of the assumptions previously made, and identified a total body length of between 5 and 6 m. This still makes it the largest lizard to have ever lived.

Snr. Curator Geosciences, Scott Hocknull, describes some fo the features of a Megalania skull.
Snr. Curator Geosciences, Scott Hocknull, describes some of the features of a Megalania skull replica.

This situation is a prime example of one of the AC: Science learning descriptors within the strand ‘Science as a Human Endeavour’.  ‘Scientific understanding, including models and theories, are contestable and are refined over time through a process of review by the scientific community’ (Yr 9). Science is not always exact, assumptions are made and formulas applied. Scientists are also human and can become attached to particular theories.

So should scientists assume anything? It’s not a very rigorous and reliable methodology is it?  Assumptions are an inescapable and integral part of scientific research. In almost all cases when not everything is known about an object or topic, assumptions simply have to be made. The challenge is to minimise the number of assumptions, and when made, to ensure they are as valid as possible. Scientific investigation in one sense is all about testing assumptions and theories—by different people, using different approaches and as new evidence and material becomes available.

Palaeontology is one area of science particularly susceptible to forming assumptions due to the fragmentary nature and scarcity of evidence. Uncovering a single bed of fossils can overturn theories held for decades. In fact, this is just what is occurring at the moment with the discovery of an enormous fossil bed at South Walker Creek. Scott and his team from QM are investigating this site, and early results indicate that it will substantially expand and change our understanding of Ancient Australian megafauna, including our very own mega-lizard.

Teaching kids to be scientifically discriminative

It’s the school holidays in Queensland and the seconded teachers at QM are taking a well-earned break. This provides me with an opportunity to pen a few words whilst our teaching experts are away!

Coral Reef damage in neigbouring Indonesia

Science has been at the forefront of local news lately, particularly in relation to conservation issues. The Courier Mail had a headline Reef at Risk blazed across the front page on 21st June highlighting a United Nations report declaring Australia’s failure to properly protect the  World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR).  Scientists have reiterated their concerns at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium held at Cairns. Dredging in close proximity to the GBR is a contentious issue.

The day before on the inside pages of the Courier Mail, the headline declared, “Red List shows world biodiversity in crisis as animals and plants vanish”The article referred to the declaration made prior to the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio that, of 63,837 species assessed, 31% (19,817) are threatened with extinction. 2000 of the species listed live in Australian habitats. Queensland’s northern hairy-nosed wombat, mahogany gliders and cassowaries are among the animals whose numbers in the wild have been reduced to vulnerable levels.  

The Northern-Hairy-Nosed wombat is critically endangered

Happily, the news is not all bad on the conservation front as the Australian federal government announced in June the creation of a very large network of marine reserves. Perhaps mindful of presenting a balanced picture about successful conservation efforts, on 29th June the Courier Mail showed photos of a newborn Sumatran rhino calf born in Way Kambas National Park in Lampung, Indonesia.  Andatu, as he was named, was only the fifth calf born in captivity; there are estimated to be fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos in the wild. Video footage of the baby rhino can be viewed from this link as Reuters syndicated this good news story around the world.

Andatu – a rare Sumatran Rhino calf born in captivity

A question posed in my mind about this concentrated and contrasting coverage of local and international conservation matters is how should we go about sharing and discussing the implications of these stories with our children, as parents or teachers, in a balanced and non-biased way? Many children and young people have a passion for animals and are keenly aware of, and participants in, local initiatives such as litter collection around our parks and creeks and caring for injured wildlife. Their sources of information about conservation issues are likely to be gleaned from social media, ABC3 and the Discovery Channel as well as news digests tailored for young people.

So how do we teach kids to be scientifically discriminative about what they read and hear from secondary sources? At what stage do school students begin to understand that the adult world is full of contrasting viewpoints based on a similar set of facts or events?  The term discriminative is defined as being “capable of making fine distinctions and expressing careful judgment.”  We would argue that many students form an ability to discriminate right from wrong, and weigh up fact from fiction, and rhetoric from reality, far earlier than they are given credit for.

Interestingly the new Australian Curriculum for English which is being trialled in QLD this year has several references to developing  discriminatory reading skills from an early age. For example, under sub-strand “Texts in Context”, Year 3 children should be able to “identify the point of view in a text and suggest alternative points of view”. And under the literature and content sub-strand, Year 4 students should be able to “make connections between the ways different authors represent similar storylines.”

A close scrutiny of ACARA’s Australian Curriculum: Science document reveals similar discriminatory expectations, albeit at a higher level. For example, under Science Inquiry Skills, Year 9 and 10 students should be able to “evaluate conclusions, including identifying sources of uncertainty and possible alternative explanations.

Science and conservation news is an ideal “real world’ information source for children and young people to develop their knowledge and understanding as well as powers of discrimination. And this approach is not new.  As a young teacher, I vividly recall facilitating several enjoyable and highly engaging lessons which were based around a courtroom setting. The class was split into two, character roles were assigned and the “defence and prosecution” were expected to present different views and interpretations of the evidence. Young children love role play and dressing up; the research the children undertook (with the help of parents) in presenting their case was deep and impressive.

Many children are capable of weighing up the merits of a debate

There is plenty of current (and often politically controversial) material in the news that lends itself to debate and raising student’s awareness of the complex, inter-weaving nature of science and conservation issues. For example, exploring the United Nation’s concern about protection of the GBR versus the federal and state government’s need for mining revenue and plans for QLD port and rail expansion; the protection of old-world growth forests in Tasmania advocated by conservationists versus the need to generate new forestry and wood processing jobs in a state with high unemployment.

As a conversational stimulus around the kitchen table or in your classroom, I wonder whether the world-wide depiction of a cute newborn Sumatran rhino is designed primarily to make the general population “feel better” about our efforts to ameliorate the alarming depletion of the world’s endangered wildlife and their habitats?  To discuss.

But I eat lots of carrots!

Image of Quentin the Quoll
Quentin the Quoll talks about nocturnal animals

Did your mum ever tell you to eat lots of carrots because they would help you to see better in the dark? Whilst carrots and other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables will help to prevent certain eye ailments, to see really well at night you actually need special eyes.

Like other nocturnal animals, Quentin the Quoll was able to find food and evade prey even on the darkest of nights. In fact before the disappearance of dinosaurs, most land mammals were nocturnal since dinosaurs were their main predators. Today there is more of a balance but animals such as owls, possums, gliders, many frogs, bats, wombats, koalas, phascogales, many wallabies and geckoes are but a few of the Australian animals that still use the cover of night to survive.

So how do nocturnal animals see so well in the dark?                  Eye of Tawny Frogmouth chick

Of course there are variations in eye features across different animals but scientists have discovered some common characteristics. The most obvious one is eye and pupil size. Some animals like owls, frogs and geckos have eyes that take up a much larger percentage of their skull compared with diurnal (daytime active) animals. Their large eyes and pupils give them large lenses and therefore bigger retinas so that they maximise the amount of ambient light they collect. However, larger eyes means reduced space for each eye to move within the skull, so these nocturnal animals have developed the ability to rotate their necks way past their shoulders to compensate.

Sugar glider

As well as eye size, nocturnal animals have retinas which are filled with rods, the eye cells which detect low light levels. They often have few or no cones which are the eye cells responsible for detecting bright light and colour. Again this helps to maximise the amount of light being collected but as a result, nocturnal animals are thought to have little colour vision and things probably look blurry.

Consequently, nocturnal animals also rely on their senses of smell and hearing.

One final common characteristic in nocturnal eyes is a thick, reflective membrane directly beneath the retina. This membrane, called the tapetum lucidum, collects and resends light back to the retina a second time, giving the rods another chance to absorb the image information. This also explains why some nocturnal animals’ eyes seem to glow in the dark when a light is shined on them. Cats too have nocturnal glow in the dark eyes, which explains why they are such a threat to wildlife at night.

Image of the Graceful Treefrog
Graceful Treefrog

The purpose of this blog is two fold. Firstly, it is hoped that this information will support the delivery of the Australian Curriculum: Science. It is most directly linked to the Year 5 Science Understandings (Biological sciences — Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment) and Science as a Human Endeavour (Use and influence — scientific knowledge is used to inform personal and community decisions). However, it is also a real life example of the Year 5 Science Understandings (Physical sciences — Light from a source forms shadows and can be absorbed, reflected and refracted) and will provide teacher background information for Science Understandings in Year 1(Earth and space sciences — Observable changes occur in the sky and landscape) and Year 3 (Biological sciences — Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features…)

The second purpose is to make you aware of a new Queensland Museum digital resource called Squawks in the night. It is a slide show designed specifically for Early Years learners, with simple text that relates directly to the photos and a few animal calls. The resource is located on the Queensland Museum website via the following link.

http://southbank.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/~/media/Documents/Learning%20resources/QM/Resources/Kids%20collection/squawks-in-the-night.ppt

We welcome any feedback or requests for particular topic discussions/resources. Please contact QM teachers 07 3842 9835.