About brittgow

I am a Science and Maths teacher at a small rural school in western Victoria, Australia. I live on a sheep property with my husband and two children, who also attend Hawkesdale P12 College. I am passionate about education for sustainability, indigenous flora and fauna and love teaching!

Conservation Careers at the Zoo

Kat Fox, Education officer at Melbourne Zoo, speaking to our students at “Conservation Careers”.

On Friday, twelve students from Year 9 and 10 had the opportunity to attend a special program in Melbourne, “Conservation Careers at the Zoo”. It was an early start, with a 5.30am train departure from Warrnambool, arriving at Southern Cross just after 9.00am. We arrived at the Zoo to hear from Kat Fox, an education officer, who explained her previous experiences to eventually get her present job, which included work at the Werribee Open Range Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary.

We also heard from Rachel Lowry, who has “the best job in the world’ as the Director of Wildlife and Conservation Science at Zoos Victoria. She is responsible for the different conservation programs, such as “Wipe for Wildlife” and “Don’t Palm us Off”. One of the challenges of her job is prioritizing funding for threatened species.  One of the most interesting speakers was Dr. Marissa Parrot, a reproductive biologist, who spoke about her role with managing the breeding programs, including the genetics of captive bred animals (did you know that domestic animals have a much smaller brain size than wild animals?). Other speakers included zookeeper Adrian Howard (Carnivore and Ungulate Precinct Manager), Fiona Ryan (Veterinary Nurse) and Andrew Eadon (Education Officer).

A common theme amongst all the guest speakers was the competitive nature of the field and the requirement to be passionate, flexible, persistent and willing to volunteer for various positions to demonstrate your commitment. A high VCE score to enable you to access your chosen course and excellent university marks are also valuable on a curriculum vitae. If you would like to do work experience at the Zoo in Year 11, you will need to apply this year. Forms are available for download from the Zoos Victoria website.

Nutrition and the Digestive System

Learning Intention: Students will know the five groups of nutrients and how they contribute to a healthy diet. They will investigate the composition of various foods using food testing experiments, including various bush foods from the school garden and beyond. They will compare the diet of people living in Australia 10,000 years ago with their own diet.

Success Criteria: Students will produce a poster, video or other artifact that demonstrates their understanding of nutrition today and in Australia’s past. Their product will explain the five nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals) and the foods in which these nutrients are found. The importance of fibre and water in the diet will also be discussed.

Links to AusVELS: “Multi-cellular organisms contain systems of organs that carry out specialised functions that enable them to survive and reproduce.”
“Energy appears in different forms including movement (kinetic energy), heat and potential energy, and causes change within systems.”
“Also, links to cross-curricular priorities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.”

This term we started a new topic of work – nutrition and the digestive system. We have discussed the five main nutrients and the importance of water and fibre in a healthy diet. We have also used the model human torso and watched videos to understand how the digestive system works. Mr John Pearce (@mrpbps on Twitter) has shared this wonderful hands-on “Tour of the Digestive System” that we may try too. Parts of Plants we Eat.

We will learn how energy is measured and the energy content of some different foods, using the nutritional information of food labels. Our next tasks will include using various tests to determine what nutrients make up different foods. We will do the following tests:

1.Brown paper or Emulsion test for fats and oils (lipids).
2.Iodine test for starch.
3.Benedict’s solution and heat for glucose (sugar).
4.Copper sulphate (10 drops) and sodium hydroxide (5 drops) for protein.

We will then collect some bush foods from the school garden and Apex Park and test those foods for starch, protein, sugars and lipids. You will then create a product that compares the diet of people in Australia 10,000 years ago to your diet. You may have heard of the “Paleo diet” (also called the “caveman” or “stone-age” diet). It consists mainly of fish, meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots and nuts and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, salt, sugar and processed oils. What would Bear Grylls survive on in the Australian Bush?

Some useful links:


Caring for Catchments

Last week, on World Environment Day, Hannah Cook from the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority visited our school with the Catchment Model Trailer. This is a 1.5 x 3.0m scale model of a catchment, showing the various environments that water passes through from the upper catchment to the oceans, including storm water drains, wetlands, agricultural and industrial areas. This opportunity allowed discussion about turbidity, erosion, effects of salinity, wildlife corridors and vegetation to provide habitat and protect stock from wind and weather.

This visit was a great way to kick start our “Caring for Catchments” projects in Years 7 and 8. Ten finalists will be chosen to present their projects (slideshows, models, videos, posters etc) that describe a strategy to protect and enhance our local environment. Some of the ideas that other participants have come up with include:

Photography contest (winning photos used in a calendar)
High School Solar Panels
Installation of new taps at the school
Green space development
Education and Awareness activities
Youth Nature Club
The Ripple Effect (A water conference for HS students)
Solar powered watering troughs for stock to keep animals away from river banks
Fencing off old remnant paddock trees
Garden to showcase native plants
River bank stabilisation project
Catchment model project
Ban the bottle Campaign (free bottles for students to reuse instead of buying bottled water)
Eco-friendly carwash soap (phosphate-free)
Children’s Activity book
Bat boxes and Bird Houses
‘The mystery of missing water’ (educational book series for grades 2-4)
Peace Garden
Caring for our Watershed kit and presentation
Recycling bins for school campus
Fishing line recycling containers @ stream edges
Proper disposal of mercury lamps
Biodiesel for the school bus
Riparian repair (revegetation works)
Rooftop gardens

What do you think are the most pressing problems we have in this district? What ideas have you got to improve our local environment?

Year 8 Energy Project

Macarthur Wind Farm – photo by Josh Gow

Over the next two weeks I would like you to research and produce a report on one of the following topics:

Sources of Electrical Energy – choose ONE of the following:

OR Alternative fuels for vehicles – choose one of the following:

  • Hydrogen
  • Hybrid
  • Biodiesel
  • Ethanol.

KNOW –  What do you already know about the topic?

WANT  – What do you want to know about the topic?

HOW – How are you going to find out more about your topic?

ACTION – What actions might result from your new learning?

QUESTIONS – What new questions might you have about the topic?

LEARN – What have you learnt about the topic?

Make sure you include HOW the source of energy or alternative vehicle works and the advantages and disadvantages it might have (at least three of each). What is preventing this technology from becoming more widespread? Please present your work as a poster, slideshow, video, or written report. You should include at least four sources of information (References) in a Bibliography. This work is due Thursday 12th June.

Simple Circuits

We have done several experiments over the past few weeks to learn more about how simple circuits work. You have created a circuit using just a battery, globe and two wires and then constructed your own switch to turn the globe on and off. You then constructed your own torch from two batteries, a globe, cardboard tube, wires, aluminium foil, drawing pins, paper clips and sticky tape. Many of you were able to operate your torch using just one hand – great work! Unfortunately, we were unable to create a circuit with enough voltage to allow a small LED globe to operate using lemons.

We then looked at series (one pathway for the current to flow) and parallel circuits (more than one pathway for the current to flow). We learnt about ammeters and voltmeters and how they are connected. An ammeter measures current in amperes and is connected in series. A voltmeter measures voltage in volts and is connected in parallel across the load (globe, buzzer or other device). Find out more about series and parallel circuits at BBC Bitesize. Ausgrid also has some good information about  series and parallel circuits.

There is an interesting article from ABC Science here: “In this universe, charge is everything” and here: “How electricity makes things work.”

Year 8’s are Electrifying!

Image Source

Learning Intention: Students will remember some of their experiences of electricity and be able to identify a

This week we are starting a new unit about Electricity. What do you know about electricity already? Most of you know what it feels like to get a shock from an electric fence and have felt a ‘static’ shock when opening a car door or getting off a trampoline. But what is it that you are feeling? We will demonstrate the use of a Van der Graaf generator in class.

The first task is to write a list from A to Z of the equipment that uses electricity to make it work. All these appliances use an electric current that flows from the source (a power station), through high voltage power lines, transformers, local power lines, to your home, into the appliance and back again. Any electrical appliance relies on a complete circuit of conductors that allows the flow of electrons. Those electrons are the negatively charged particles that are present outside all atoms, and in a coil of wire, with magnets, they can move.Find out more about electricity here:

Origin Energy – What is electricity?

Understanding Electricity from About.com

What is electricity? – YouTube video

Acids and Bases

Learning Intention:
Students will understand that the pH scale ranges from 1 (acid) to 7 (neutral) to 14 (basic). They will understand that acids release a hydrogen ion in solution and alkaline substances release an hydroxide ion. Substances can be tested using an acid-base indicator such as litmus paper or purple cabbage indicator. The colour change that occurs is another example of a chemical reaction.

Success Criteria:
Students will make an acid-base indicator by boiling red cabbage and straining the liquid. They will then test a range of household substances, including cleaning products, vinegar and lemon juice and determine whether they are acids or bases. Students will then use indicator paper to check their results and arrange the substances from low pH (most acidic) to high pH (most basic).

Our assessment for this unit of work will be a test on Thursday during period 5. Use Pages 76 and 77 of your textbook for revision. You may like to try this quiz at Quiz Revolution. These videos at How Stuff Works are also good revision for the test.

Seven Reactions that will fascinate your science class – Five of these reactions are chemical reactions (what are the indicators for a chemical reaction?) and two are physical changes. Which two are physical changes?

Sulfuric acid in sugar (video)  – What are the signs that this is a chemical reaction?

Sodium metal in water (video) – What are the signs that this is a chemical reaction?

Chemical Reactions – Rusting

Learning Intention: Students will understand that rusting is another type of chemical reaction, in which the products of the reaction are different to the reactants. They will also learn about the process of planning and conducting an experiment, devising an hypothesis and using a control with variables.

Success Criteria: Students will plan and conduct an experiment that tests an hypothesis about rusting.

You will be familiar with ‘rust’ as the orange/brown corrosion that affects some metals. Farmers, engineers, sailors and car-makers are all very aware of the economic impact of rusting. Rusting is a chemical reaction that occurs when metals are exposed to moisture and the air. How Stuff Works has a good article about rust – “How does rust work?”. Read pages 60 and 61 in your text book. Your task is to devise an experiment to investigate rusting. You may like to test the effect of the saltiness of water on the time taken for an iron nail to rust. You may like to test some methods that are used to reduce or prevent rusting. Follow these steps:

  1. Write an hypothesis – a theory about rusting that you want to test. For example, “The greater the concentration of salt, the quicker iron will rust.”
  2. What will be the ‘control’ and the ‘variable’ in your experiment?
  3. Write a list of materials and equipment that you will need to complete the test. Submit your list of requirements to me so we can be sure we have everything you will need.
  4. Formulate a method that describes exactly what you need to do – make sure someone else can use this method to repeat the experiment in exactly the same way you have done.
  5. In your method you need to include how you will record your results – will you measure mass, time, volume, temperature or some other factor/quantity?
  6. Undertake your experiment, recording your results.
  7. Include a discussion of your findings in your report. Were there any sources of error or unexpected results?
  8. Write a conclusion that refers to your original aim/hypothesis. Did you prove or disprove your hypothesis? Do you need to do further experimentation?

Making Paper from Grass


Paper made out of banana tree

You use stacks of paper every day but do you know how it’s made? Paper has been made since 105 AD in China, but other materials such as papyrus (in Egypt), parchment and vellum (various grades of mammal skin) were used in other parts of the world prior to this. Find out more about the history of paper at Wikipedia.

In Sri Lanka, a fair trade company is making paper from elephant pooh! In that country, humans are encroaching on elephant habitat, cutting down trees for fire wood and shooting and killing elephants that come looking for food. This company, “Mr. Ellie Pooh” aims to create employment and encourage villagers to see the elephants as an asset rather than a threat.

Compared to using virgin wood, paper made with 100% recycled content uses 44% less energy, produces 38% less greenhouse gas emissions, 41% less particulate emissions, 50% less wastewater, 49% less solid waste and — of course — 100% less wood.

This week we are making paper from grass in six steps:

  1. Cut the grass and grind it with the mortar and pestle
  2. Add caustic soda to release the cell contents
  3. Wash and rinse to remove chemicals and cell contents
  4. Add bleach and bring to the boil
  5. Wash and rinse to remove the bleach
  6. Form the paper

Which of these steps are physical changes and which are chemical changes?