Teaching ideas and resources

Teaching Ideas

The word game Seasons Making fire
Fire management Bush tucker Activities with boomerangs
Indigenous geologists Playing a didgeridu Indigenous astronomers

The word game

Ask your students if they know any Aboriginal words. There may be a degree of difficulty, depending on where you live. It may be best to focus on animals in particular but there are many place names that have an Aboriginal origin. Once they have a list, they can be encouraged to use good dictionaries to see what the origin of the name is – some will have Aboriginal origins, e.g. kangaroo is an Aboriginal word but echidna comes from the Greek word for ‘spiny’. You may have to borrow some better dictionaries which indicate the origin of the words and there are dictionaries of Aboriginal words.


Give the students a copy of BLM1 and 3 copies of BLM2 each. Talk about the ways we describe time, comparing time going past fast, time dragging, events that repeat themselves, differing cycles of time (e.g. a year on Jupiter is about 12 Earth years). Students may be able to list some events which occur on a regular cycle, e.g. the seasons, their birthdays, the Olympics.

Discuss the representation of the seasons as cycles, as in BLM1. The top drawing is from an Aboriginal perspective while the bottom one is from a western perspective but influenced by the Aboriginal way of seeing the seasons. What do the two drawings have in common? What are the differences (beside the illustrations)?

Students then use BLM2 to complete these activities.

  1. In groups, list some of the events which occur on an annual cycle (you could include holidays, special events, birthdays etc). Draw up a circular calendar and show on it the seasons and other events which happen at the same time each year.
  2. Working in groups, brainstorm all the climate events that happen in your area and draw up a circular calendar. Discuss it with the class.
  3. Find the seasonal calendar for another Indigenous group (perhaps a local group) and copy it onto a circular calendar. (This information can be downloaded from the BOM Indigenous Weather Knowledge website.)

Download blackline masters from here.

Making fire

Students can undertake a series of activities on heat production by friction. You will need a piece of scrap from a wooden crate or pine (softwood) and a length of 10 mm dowel (hardwood). Use a drill to make a small depression in the softwood before starting.

Activity 1. Students try to produce heat by friction, by spinning the dowel between their hands with its end in the depression in the softwood (5 minutes). (You could demonstrate how the point of a drill gets hot when drilling into wood, and how wood can get burnt when you use a blunt drill.)

Activity 2. Use the same piece of softwood, rub the edge of a piece of hardwood across it (5 minutes).

Fire management

An issue regarding fire management which is being discussed as a result of the series of bad bushfires in the past ten years is whether national parks should be burnt on a regular basis to reduce the fuel load. Some people have even suggested that some national parks should be closed because of the danger of fire, because there is no effective management. Research this topic and have a discussion.

On a local level, many houses burn down because burning embers get caught in the gutters and can ignite leaf litter that accumulates there. Have a discussion about removing gutters from houses in fire-prone areas.

Bush tucker

Activities on bush tucker can vary with the type of location and the interest of the students. Some of the following activities are medium to long term.

  1. Some schools have set up bush tucker walks. This can be done with help from local Indigenous people who know the local plants and botanists or ecologists who know the scientific names of the plants. It is useful for students to see that there are two ways of understanding the same plants. Students can be involved in maintaining the bush tucker walk or preparing interpretive materials.

  2. Setting up a bush tucker walk is a long term commitment, and includes developing students’ skills in horticulture. Greening Australia and local Landcare groups can also give advice.

  3. Prepare a bush tucker meal. Kangaroo meat can be bought from many supermarkets and either barbecued or braised. Damper can be made from wheat flour. Sweet potato can be used as a yam. Depending on your location, you could include fish, yabbies, eels, emu, shellfish, crocodile or quail for meat. Other bush tucker foods could be purchased and included in the meal.

  4. Take a bush tucker excursion. Visit the botanic gardens or a national park and find out the kinds of plants which are native to the area. Many museums have displays of bush tucker plants as well as other Aboriginal displays.

  5. Macadamias have a very hard shell that’s difficult to crack. After reading about macadamias in the Australian Geographic, Warren Massey wrote that, “All macadamia nuts come with their own strike point clearly marked. If struck on the yellow dot, the shell will split in half neatly and the kernel can then be extracted in one piece.” Design an experiment to check Mr Massey’s statement.

  6. Get some macadamia nuts in their shells, as well as other nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans, brazil , hazelnuts). Have students experiment with ways of opening the nuts and order the nuts according to the ease of opening them.

  7. Students could undertake library research about bush tucker

Activities with boomerangs

  1. Cut a small boomerang from a piece of heavy cardboard, making sure the ends are rounded. Put it on a book, tipping the book slightly towards you, so that one end sticks out. Hit the end either with your finger or a pencil. The boomerang will whirl forward and up, then glide back toward you along the same path.

  1. Obtain some sticks of about the same length but different shapes across – round, square and rectangle. Get a ruler as well – they often have an airfoil shape. Go outside and throw them like you would throw a boomerang, and compare how the different shapes affects how they fly.
  2. Make a boomerang by joining two rulers at right angles, using an elastic band to hold them together. See how well it flies (it probably won’t come back). Experiment with the positioning of the two rulers – in the middle or at the end. Try using three (in a triangle) or more rulers.
  3. If you can get a boomerang, see whether you can make it fly. It could be a traditional boomerang or a plastic one. Usually when you buy a boomerang, it comes with some instructions (make sure it’s a returning boomerang). You will need lots of practice.

Indigenous geologists

  1. Describe the types of earth materials used by Aboriginal peoples. It would be useful to have some samples of the rocks which are used for making axes and spearheads, e.g. basalt, quartzite
  2. Students could also look at some of the materials used for painting, like kaolinite (white clay), hematite, limonite and goethite (ochres) and charcoal. Paints are made from the powdered mineral and an easy way of getting the powder is to use a streak plate. The streak of a mineral is actually the colour of the powder. (The samples of hematite available in most schools are usually metallic rather than the earthy variety used for red ochre. They should still have the same streak.)
  3. Get some samples of quartz and show how it breaks along smooth, sharp curves. This is called a conchoidal fracture and stone-knappers used this as they were deciding how to make or resharpen their stone tools. It also describes the way glass breaks.
  4. Get some samples of the mineral gypsum. Students should describe the mineral first. Then heat a small amount of it for about 2 minutes, either holding a piece in tongs in a blue Bunsen flame, or by leaving a piece on a wire gauze. They should then describe what’s left after it is heated. (The white powder produced is plaster of Paris and it will reset into plaster when a small amount of water is added.)
  5. Heat some limonite or goethite in a blue Bunsen flame and see what happens to the colour. (The colour should turn reddish, as water is driven off and the limonite is turned into hematite.)

Playing a didgeridu

You can try playing a real didgeridu or through a long cardboard tube or plastic pipe. To play it, blow air into the mouthpiece through vibrating lips. You have to blow continuously, and you can change the pitch of the sound by stretching or loosening your lips. You hold some air is in your cheeks. As you become experienced, you can top up the air in your cheeks by breathing through your nose. Some expert players can make a range of noises using the didgeridu, and some keep the rhythm by hitting the tube using a clap stick. Can you suggest what part of the orchestra a didgeridu would belong to?

Investigate ways of changing the pitch of a didgeridu by changing

Indigenous astronomers: Tchingal – the emu in the sky

The presence of Tchingal in the night sky is a constant reminder of the forces of good and evil and the ultimate triumph of ordinary people, with some help from the protector ancestors. This story is identified with the Boorong people of western Victoria and was retold to John Morieson. Download the Tchingal information sheet from here.

Teaching Resources

ABC Video (2001) Bush Mechanics: the series. (now available on DVD)

Aboriginal Australia (map), Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Australian Bureau of Meteorology. (2002). Indigenous weather knowledge. http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/.

Davis, Stephen. (1989). Man of all seasons. Sydney : Angus & Robertson Publishers.

Fleer, Marilyn. (1999). Children’s alternative views: Alternative to what? International Journal of Science Education, 21(2), 119-135.

Halling, Helen. (Ed.) (1999). From ochres to eel traps: Aboriginal science and technology resource guide for teachers. Canberra : Science Educators Association*ACT.

Horton, David. (Ed.). (1994). The encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia. Canberra : Aboriginal Studies Press. (Also available as a CD-ROM)

ICSU Study Group. (2002). Science and traditional knowledge. Report from the ICSU Study Group on Science and Traditional Knowledge. Accessed at http://www.icsu.org/Gestion/img/ICSU_DOC_DOWNLOAD/220_DD_FILE_Traitional_Knowledge_report.pdf.

Indigenous Science Network, www.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/network.html

Jones, Philip. (1995). Boomerang: Behind an Australian icon. Adelaide: Wakefield Press.

Linkson, Mark. (1999). Some issues in providing culturally appropriate science curriculum support for Indigenous students. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 45(1), 41-48.

Michie, Michael. (2002). Why Indigenous science should be included in the school science curriculum. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 48(2), 36-40.

Michie, Michael, Anlezark, Jane, & Uibo, Didamain. (1998). Beyond bush tucker: Implementing Indigenous perspectives through the science curriculum. www.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/bushtucker.html

Questacon (2003). Burarra gathering. http://burarra.questacon.edu.au/home.html.

Read, Theo, & Rose, Daryl. (2001). The Kormilda science project – the earth sciences with an Australian Indigenous perspective. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 47(2), 44-45.

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Education Service. (2004). Aboriginal Resources Trail teachers kit. http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/__data/page/97/ART.pdf.

Sharwood, Jennifer, & Kuhn, Monica. (Eds.) (2005). Science Edge, Book 3. Melbourne: Thomson Nelson.


New South Wales Board of Studies
Aboriginal Education research and curriculum resources can be downloaded from http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/aboriginal_research/index.html.
Integrated unit on Aboriginal technologies

South Australian Department of Education
http://www.aboriginaleducation.sa.edu.au/pages/Educators (look under Aboriginal perspectives, then Science)

UniServe Science http://science.uniserve.edu.au/
UniServe Science is a service of the University of Sydney College of Sciences and Technology, to help support the science curriculum in New South Wales schools. The following are links to indigenous science found in the Stage 4 and 5 areas of the curriculum. 
Native plants/bush tucker

Indigenous Science Network

Back to Engaging in Australian Indigenous Science Back to Areas of interest in Australian Indigenous Science Last updated: 25 June 2005