Year 7 Threatened species project

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Learning Intention: Students will understand that all living organisms have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment.

Success criteria: Students will complete a project, presented as a video, slideshow, poster or other multimedia artifact, that demonstrates their understanding of the structural, functional and behavioural characteristics of a chosen local, threatened animal species.

So far we have looked at a range of living organisms and the characteristics that we use to classify them. All organisms have structural and functional features and behaviors that assist them to survive. To get nutrition, avoid predators and undergo reproduction, all organisms have evolved over many generations to survive in their particular environment. Your task is to chose from one of the following species that lives in and around the Victorian Volcanic Plains and research the ways they have survived and what now threatens their survival:

  • Golden sun moth
  • Glenelg spiny crayfish
  • Red-tailed black cockatoo
  • White-bellied Sea-eagle
  • Orange bellied parrot
  • Brolga
  • Malleefowl
  • Helmeted honeyeater
  • Regent honeyeater
  • Corangamite skink
  • Growling Grass frog
  • Striped Legless Lizard
  • Grasslands earless dragon
  • Carpet python
  • Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby
  • Eastern Barred Bandicoot
  • Humpback Whale
  • Southern Right Whale

This page from the DSE has a list of the action statements for threatened species across Victoria. Download the document relevant to your choice of animal and make sure to note the following information for your project:

  • Structural features (Physical characteristics e.g. scales, fur or feathers? Fins or claws?)
  • Functional features (How does the animal work? Does it have any special ways of saving water, lying dormant over winter or saving energy?)
  • Behavioural features (What the animal does to find food, escape predators or find a mate and reproduce?)
  • Habitat (Where does it live? Underwater or on land? Desert or forest?)
  • Threats to it’s survival – Habitat destruction, Introduced species, Pollution, Over-harvesting?)

Creating a dichotomous key


Learning Intention: You will understand the purpose of and how to create and use a dichotomous key.

Success Criteria: You will create a key that identifies lollies from a mixed bag, using questions with only two possible answers.

A dichotomous key is a tool used by scientists (especially taxonomists) to identify and name organisms. It uses a series of ‘yes/no’ questions to classify an organism based on the presence or absence of particular features. The questions need to be objective, not subjective, such as “Does it have limbs?”; “Is it symmetrical?” or “Does it have feathers?”. Subjective questions depend on the perspective of the user, such as “Is it big?”; “Is it light in color?” “Does it have lots of legs?” – they are not good questions, because the answer depends on what you are comparing the organism with.

Your task today is to create a dichotomous key to identify a range of lollies. You could use characteristics such as color, shape, melting point, wrapper or symmetry. Remember, each question must have only two possible answers (yes/no or present/absent).

Year 7 Classification

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Learning Intention: You will understand the characteristics that are used to define living organisms and how they are classified into groups.

Success Criteria: You will remember the six characteristics used to define life, the names of the Five Kingdoms of living organisms and create a poster that demonstrates your understanding of how vertebrates are classified.

This week we started a new unit of work – “What is Life?” – and you have learned about the characteristics of living organisms:

  1. Made of cells and the products of cells
  2. Require oxygen and nutrients
  3. Produce wastes
  4. Move and grow
  5. Reproduce themselves
  6. Respond to stimuli (light, touch, sound, odour)

Complete the three circle Venn diagram with these characteristics. We have learnt why it is important to identify living organisms – so we can communicate with others about dangerous and useful species.

Now we are going to learn about why we classify living organisms into groups – we have discussed the Five Kingdoms of Living Organisms – Plants, Animals, Fungi, Protists and Bacteria. They are grouped according to common characteristics  – whether they can produce their own food or rely on other sources (autotrophs and heterotrophs), their cell type (single-celled or multicellular, with or without a cell wall, distinct nucleus and cell organelles or not) and how they reproduce (sexually or asexually).

Within each Kingdom there are smaller groups in a hierarchical, nested structure:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • species

A ‘species’ is a group of organisms with similar characteristics that can interbreed to produce fertile offspring. Modern scientists (taxonomists) use DNA evidence to classify organisms into groups. Museums and herbariums usually have a ‘type’ specimen that is an example of the particulate species.

Today we are going to investigate how invertebrates (animals without backbones) are classified. There are six main groups:

  1. Protozoans – microscopic animals that consist of only one cell (unicellular)  and live in water or as parasites inside other organisms.
  2. Coelenterates – soft, hollow-bodied  organisms that mostly live in the sea. They have only one body opening and no body organs. They have special stinging cells called ‘nematocysts’.
  3. Worms – soft-bodies animals that can be flat, round or threadlike. Some have segmented bodies.
  4. Molluscs – soft-bodied organisms, often with a protective shell.
  5. Echinoderms – marine animals with tough, spiny skin and radial symmetry.
  6. Arthropods – animals with an exoskeleton (hard cuticle), a segmented body and jointed limbs. They are divided into four groups mainly on the basis of how many legs.

Create a table with these six headings. Go to “Arthur’s Clip Art” and copy and paste the different invertebrate groups into the correct column of your table. So, for example, snails and slugs are molluscs; seastars and sea urchins are echinoderms; jellyfish and sea-anenomes are coelenterates. Email me your work as an attachment to brittgow(at)gmail(dot)com.

Next week we will learn about classifying vertebrates (animals with backbones). There are five classes of vertebrates: Amphibians, Birds, Mammals, Fish and Reptiles. Some of the characteristics used to classify these animals are:

  • Does it have fins, fur or scales?
  • Does it lay eggs or give birth to live young?
  • Can it maintain it’s own body temperature? (warm or cold-blooded)
  • Does it have gills or lungs?
  • Does it have mammary glands and feed it’s babies with milk?

There is one group of mammals that does not fit the pattern – a very ancient group that includes only two species of Australian native animals. Do you know what they are called?

Your homework is to create a poster that shows the characteristics of each of the five groups and a picture of at least one animal in each group (use clip-art, magazine pictures or draw your own).

Energy in = Energy out

Learning Intention: Students will understand how energy is measured and the energy content of some different foods. They will understand the process of respiration and how much energy is used during some common physical activities.

Success Criteria: You will calculate the amount of energy (in kilojoules) in 100g of some common packaged foods and compare those amounts with the energy use of daily activities. You will be able to describe the process of respiration and write the chemical equation that represents this reaction.


Year 9 Science: Energy of Life

Of all the sun’s energy that reaches the earth, less than 1% is utilised by plants for photosynthesis, which drives all the food chains and is the ultimate source of energy for almost all life on earth. Even fossil fuels are a form of energy that are created by sunlight converted to chemical energy by photosynthesis.

Learning Intention: Students will understand that ecosystems consist of communities of interdependent organisms and the abiotic components of the environment; matter and energy flow through these systems.

Success Criteria: You will be able to identify biotic and abiotic factors in a range of environments and describe the following cycles: water, carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen. You will be able to identify levels in food chains and draw food webs, showing how energy moves through these systems.

When you walk from a grassy paddock into the bush, what changes? When you walk from the edge of the ocean, up a rocky slope and into the sand dunes, what different micro-climates do you observe? On a smaller scale, your garden, a rock pool or a fish tank all have different factors that affect life. Draw up a table with two columns headed, abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living). Make a list under each heading with the factors that change in different environments.

Year 7 Science – What is Life?

This amazing creature has been drawn based on fossils and named Hatzegopteryx – it is thought to be one of the largest flying animals of all time! It had hollow bones,  which meant that it weighed only about one sixth of the weight of a giraffe.

Learning Intention: To understand that living organisms share some common characteristics, despite their diversity. The differences within and between groups helps us organize and classify organisms.

Success Criteria: You will be able to list five characteristics of living organisms, name the five Kingdoms that all living organisms are grouped into and the five classes of vertebrates. You will also be able to discuss why we organize living things into groups and how this system has changed over time.

There is an amazing diversity of life on the planet – and we have evidence of even stranger organisms that are now extinct. What do all living things have in common? Draw up a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles. Add a dog to one, a robot to another and fire to the third. What do these three things have in common? What is different?

We will discuss your answers and decide on the five characteristics of all living organisms. We will also create a dichotomous key using a variety of different sweets and lollies. A dichotomous key is a hierarchical, branching tool that is used to identify organisms.


Sheep’s Eye Dissection

Last week we dissected a sheep’s eyeball to learn about the structure and function of the eye.  Some of you have been working on a slideshow that demonstrates what you have learned about the eye. If you haven’t started on your slideshow you can follow this link to a Voicethread and comment on the photographs, “Sheep’s Eye Dissection”.

There was an interesting article this week about an African fruit that has ‘structural color’, instead of pigments, that give it the ‘brightest color in nature’. The Pollia condensata, or marble fruit, has no nutritional value, but is full of seeds and keeps it’s color for decades.

Hearing and Sound Waves

Photograph taken by Josh Gow at the Macarthur Wind Farm

Last week we learnt how the human eye can only detect a narrow band within the electromagnetic spectrum – what we know as visible light. Higher frequency waves are known as ultraviolet waves, X-rays and gamma rays, while lower frequency wavelengths are known as infrared waves, micro-waves and radio waves.

In a similar way, our ears can only detect part of the sound spectrum. Sound is composed of frequency expressed as hertz (Hz) and pressure expressed as  decibels (dB). This site has a simple description of what sound waves look like. Why is understanding about how sound works important? A local example is the controversy surrounding the potential health impacts of the Macarthur Wind Farm.

Since the introduction of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act in 2000 and the Renewable Energy Target Scheme in 2009, wind farms have become more prominent in Victoria. However, this has not been without controversy as some people claim that wind turbines can adversely impact the health of individuals living in close proximity. Concerns focus on infrasound noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines. “Infrasound noise” or “low frequency noise” refers to sound waves inaudible to the human ear (although this varies between individuals). ‘Low frequency noise’ is the term used to describe sound energy in the region below about 200Hz. The rumble of thunder and the throb of a diesel engine are both examples of sounds with most of their energy in this low frequency range.

‘Infrasound’ is also often used to describe sound energy in the region below 20Hz. Almost all noise in the environment has components in this region although they are of such a low level that they are not significant. Noise which has most of its energy in the ‘infrasound’ range is only significant if it is at a very high level, far above normal environmental levels.

Wind Turbine Syndrome(“WTS”) is an alleged condition proposed by pediatrician Dr Nina Pierpoint. She cites a range of physical sensations and effects (including sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia, irritability, loss of concentration, lack of memory, panic attacks, internal pulsation, and quivering) reported by people living close to wind turbines. Dr Pierpont’s assertions are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and have been heavily criticised by acoustic specialists. This article by the Drum on ABC claims that “this phenomenon has disturbing hallmarks of mass hysteria or psychogenic illness being whipped up by interests groups connected with climate change denial interests, some of whom have personal financial interests in fossil fuels.”

From the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council report – “Wind Turbines and Health” (July, 2012)

  • ‘There is no reliable evidence that infrasounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects’ (Berglund & Lindvall 1995).
  • Infrasound associated with modern wind turbines is not a source which will result in noise levels which may be injurious to the health of a wind farm neighbour (DTI, 2006).
  • Findings clearly show that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health (CanWEA, 2009).
  • Sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss or any other adverse health effects in humans. Subaudible, low frequency sounds and infrasound from wind turbines do not present a risk to human health (Colby, et al 2009).
  • The Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit (Ontario, Canada) reviewed the current literature regarding the known health impacts of wind turbines in order to make an evidence-based decision. Their report concluded that current evidence failed to demonstrate a health concern associated with wind turbines. ‘In summary, as long as the Ministry of Environment Guidelines for location criteria of wind farms are followed … there will be negligible adverse health impacts on Chatham-Kent citizens. Although opposition to wind farms on aesthetic grounds is a legitimate point of view, opposition to wind farms on the basis of potential adverse health consequences is not justified by the evidence’ (Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit, 2008).
  • Wind energy is associated with fewer health effects than other forms of traditional energy generation and in fact will have positive health benefits (WHO, 2004).
  • ‘There are, at present, very few published and scientifically-validated cases of an SACs of wind farm noise emission being problematic … the extent of reliable published material does not, at this stage, warrant inclusion of SACs … into the noise impact assessment planning stage (EPHC, 2009).
  • While a great deal of discussion about infrasound in connection with wind turbine generators exists in the media there is no verifiable evidence for infrasound and production by modern turbines (HGC Engineering, 2007).
  • There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines. (NHMRC, 2010)

National Health and Medical Research Council Public Statement

“Infrasound from Wind Turbines: Fact, Fiction or Deception?” Geoff Leventhall

What do you think the scientific evidence shows? What are the ‘placebo’ and ‘nocebo’ effects?

I spy with my little eye…….

Image source

Learning Intention: Students will understand the structure and function of the human eye and investigate how it works and some of it’s limitations.

Success criteria: Students will be able to draw and label a diagram of the eye and describe how it works. They will also be able to give a brief demonstration of an optical and visual phenomena.

This site, by Michael Bach, has not quite 100 different visual illusions for you to examine. The emphasis here is on relative novelty and interactivity, in combination with a scientific background. The National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety have a kids page with some very interesting examples of visual phenomena. There are some more you can try out at Optical Illusions 1,2,3.

Change blindness is a is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a change in a visual stimulus goes unnoticed by the observer. Here are some examples of change blindness. There are some more examples, using the “mud splash” phenomena here.

The following activities are sourced from the CSIRO “Science by Email” archives. They are all about sight and perception. I would like you to work in pairs to read the instructions, set up the experiment or demonstration and then explain it to the class.

1. Blind spot

2. Lasting color

3. Corner of your eye – peripheral vision

4. Coloured words – the “Stroop” effect

5. Look into your eye

6. How a filter works

7. Phantom eyelids

8. Are you predator or prey?

9. Persisting illusion

10. Pepper’s ghost (this one takes a bit longer to set up)

11. Make a mirage

12. Invisible coin

13. Why is the sky blue? Or pink?

14. Puzzling pendulum

Science Week – Energy Revolution 11th-19th August

Australian Science Teacher’s Association Science Week Booklet

Next week is Science Week across Australia and ASTA have produced an excellent, free resource with information and activities on the theme “Energy Revolution”. It includes sections on types of renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable homes, schools, transport and buildings. There are plenty of links to resources and practical activities for your classroom.

We have a few things happening at Hawkesdale to celebrate Science Week:

Monday 13th August (11.30am – 12.30pm): Games and Game Design: Skills needed for a career in games Quantum Victoria present “The Young Scientist and Engineer series” with Paul Taylor, a game designer, educator and software engineer. Click on this link for the Blackboard Collaborate session.

Tuesday 14th August (9.00 – 10.00am) Mags Lum (@ScientistMags on Twitter) is a chemist, metallurgist, photographer and writer. She writes a blog, “Philosophically Disturbed” and will be Skyping into our classroom to talk about “Science is a journey” with our year 9 class.

Wednesday 15th August (11.15am to 12.05pm) Catherine Anderson (@genegeek) is a molecular genetics specialist who writes at “Musings of a gene geek”  about science, DNA, genetics and more. She will be Skyping in to our Year 7 class with “Genetics 101, Why I love it and science career paths”. Catherine has written a great post about DNA on her blog, “What is DNA?”. Please leave a comment on her blog about what you found interesting about today’s session, if you might be considering science as a career and thanking her for her time today.

After our Skype sessions, please follow the links to Mags’ and Catherine’s blogs and add a comment – What did you find interesting, amusing, difficult to understand or strange? Did their talk make you think about a career in science?

On Monday 27th August (11.30am to 12.30pm): Quantum Victoria present “The Young Scientist and Engineer series” with Matt Bliss, a geologist studying the chemistry of volcanoes, who will be speaking about “The Earth as a Dynamic System”.