Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Illustrations of practice

Two-way science at Watiyawanu Kuula: collecting, identifying a classifying local plants and how they survive


Mt Liebig School is a Northern Territory government school located in a remote community 325 km west of Alice Springs on the traditional lands of the Pintupi-Luritja people. It has an enrolment of 60 students, of whom 100% are Aboriginal.

The school is participating in CSIRO's Science Pathways for Indigenous Communities Indigenous STEM Education Project, through the Tangentyere Council and funded by the BHP foundation. Students learn science that links Aboriginal ecological knowledge through on-Country and classroom projects to the Australian Curriculum: Science. This approach to teaching is referred to as Two-way Science and provides a context for delivering the Australian Curriculum: Science 

In this illustration, Years 3 to 6 students learn to recognise plants from a number of habitats near their community. They learn the Luritja names and traditional uses of these plants. They learn that the plants can be grouped in particular ways, and that Western science and Luritja ecological knowledge groupings are different. Students learn how to collect and label pressed specimens of plants for an herbarium and begin to understand how plant adaptations have helped them survive in their environment.

At Mt Liebig, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures CCP is integral to everything they do. For the purposes of the teaching and learning that takes place in this illustration, the following Organising Ideas are the main focus:

OI3: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have holistic belief systems and are spiritually and intellectually connected to the land, sea, sky and waterways.

OI5: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples’ ways of life are uniquely expressed through ways of being, knowing, thinking and doing.

The following information identifies the various activities in the school’s learning program. Each of the activities (in bold) relates to a relevant General Capability/ies followed by the key idea/s.

Intercultural Understanding

Students learning the names of plants in both languages

Interacting and emphasising | Communicate across cultures

  • recognise there are similarities and differences in the ways people communicate, both within and across cultural groups (Level 3)
  • identify factors that contribute to understanding in intercultural communication and discuss some strategies to avoid misunderstanding (Level 4)

Critical and Creative thinking

Students exploring the plants in the local area

Inquiring - identifying, exploring, and organising information and ideas | Identify and clarify information and ideas

  • identify main ideas and select and clarify information from a range of sources (Level 3)
  • identify and clarify relevant information and prioritise ideas (Level 4)

Students sorting the plants back in the classroom

Analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures | Draw conclusions and design a course of action

  • draw on prior knowledge and use evidence when choosing a course of action or drawing a conclusion (Level 3)
  • scrutinise ideas or concepts, test conclusions and modify actions when designing a course of action (Level 4)

The following information provides the relevant Content Description/s (in italics) followed by the Elaboration/s (in blue) from the Australian Curriculum: Science. Some connect across Year levels.


Science understanding

Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features and can be distinguished from non-living things (ACSSU044) | Investigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ systems of classifying living things and how these systems differ from those used by contemporary science | recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ use of observable features to group living things (Year 3)

Living things depend on each other and the environment to survive (ACSSU073) | Recognising how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples perceive themselves as being an integral part of the environment (Year 4)

Natural and processed materials have a range of physical properties that can influence their use (ACSSU074) | Considering how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples use natural materials for different purposes, such as tools, clothing and shelter, based on their properties (Year 4) | considering how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of natural materials informs the preparation of effective, vibrant and long-lasting paints (Year 4)

Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment (ACSSU043) | Investigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of the adaptations of certain species and how those adaptations can be exploited (Year 5)

The growth and survival of living things are affected by physical conditions of their environment (ACSSU094) | Investigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge and understanding of the physical conditions necessary for the survival of certain plants and animals in the environment (Year 6)

Classification helps organise the diverse group of organisms (ACSSU111) | Investigating classification systems used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how they differ with respect to approach and purpose from those used by contemporary science (Year 7)

Science inquiry skills

Represent and communicate observations, ideas and findings using formal and informal representations (ACSIS060) | Consulting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ representations of living things as evidenced and communicated through formal and informal sharing of information (Year 3) | Acknowledging and exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ways of communicating information about anatomical features of organisms (Year 3)

Identify, plan and apply the elements of scientific investigations to answer questions and solve problems using equipment and materials safely and identifying potential risks (ACSIS086) | Consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to guide the planning of scientific investigations, considering potential risks for field investigations (Year 5)

Science as a human endeavour

Science involves making predictions and describing patterns and relationships (ACSHE061) | Considering how scientific practices such as sorting, classification and estimation are used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in everyday life (Year 4)

Scientific knowledge is used to solve problems and inform personal and community decisions (ACSHE083) | Investigating how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ traditional ecological and zoological knowledge informs sustainable harvesting practices of certain species, such as dugongs and turtles (Year 5)

  1. How can Aboriginal peoples’ interaction with the environment, such as through ecological practices, provide real world, hands-on experiences for students? How could this be applied/adapted to, for example, urban schools?
  2. How are the teachers connecting ‘bush’ learning with classroom learning?
  3. This illustration of practice demonstrates learning with Aboriginal students. In what ways could non-Indigenous students benefit from this type of learning?
  1. Two-way science plants unit
  2. Mt Liebig worksheets
  3. Yara Watiya Tjutatjarra – plant activities
  4. CSIRO Science Pathways for Indigenous Communities: https://www.csiro.au/en/Education/Programs/Indigenous-STEM/Science-Pathways
  5. CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project: https://www.csiro.au/en/Education/Programs/Indigenous-STEM. (Science Pathways for Indigenous Communities is part of the broader CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project delivered by CSIRO and funded by the BHP Foundation.)

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