Structure of Biology

Structure of Biology


Biology is the study of the fascinating diversity of life as it has evolved and as it interacts and functions. Investigation of biological systems and their interactions, from cellular processes to ecosystem dynamics, has led to biological knowledge and understanding that enable us to explore and explain everyday observations, find solutions to biological issues, and understand the processes of biological continuity and change over time. There are four units:

  • Unit 1: Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life
  • Unit 2: Cells and multicellular organisms
  • Unit 3: Heredity and continuity of life
  • Unit 4: Maintaining the internal environment.

In Units 1 and 2, students build on prior learning to develop their understanding of relationships between structure and function in a range of biological systems, from ecosystems to single cells and multicellular organisms. In Unit 1, students analyse abiotic and biotic ecosystem components and their interactions, using classification systems for data collection, comparison and evaluation. In Unit 2, students investigate the interdependent components of the cell system and the multiple interacting systems in multicellular organisms.

In Units 3 and 4, students examine the continuity of biological systems and how they change over time in response to external factors. They examine and connect system interactions at the molecular level to system change at the organism and population levels. In Unit 3, students investigate mechanisms of heredity and the ways in which inheritance patterns can be explained, modelled and predicted; they connect these patterns to population dynamics and apply the theory of evolution by natural selection in order to examine changes in populations. In Unit 4, students investigate system change and continuity in response to changing external conditions and pathogens; they investigate homeostasis and the transmission and impact of infectious disease at cellular and organism levels; and they consider the factors that encourage or reduce the spread of infectious disease at the population level.

Each unit includes:

  • Unit descriptions – short descriptions of the purpose of and rationale for each unit
  • Learning outcomes – six to eight statements describing the learning expected as a result of studying the unit
  • Content descriptions – descriptions of the core content to be taught and learned, organised into three strands:
    • Science Inquiry Skills
    • Science as a Human Endeavour
    • Science Understanding (organised in sub-units).

Organisation of content

Science strand descriptions

The Australian Curriculum: Science has three interrelated strands: Science Inquiry Skills, Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Understanding. These strands are used to organise the Science learning area from Foundation to Year 12. In the senior secondary Science subjects, the three strands build on students’ learning in the F-10 Australian Curriculum: Science.

In the practice of science, the three strands are closely integrated: the work of scientists reflects the nature and development of science, is built around scientific inquiry, and seeks to respond to and influence society. Students’ experiences of school science should mirror this multifaceted view of science. To achieve this, the three strands of the Australian Curriculum: Science should be taught in an integrated way. The content descriptions for Science Inquiry Skills, Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Understanding have been written so that this integration is possible in each unit.

Science Inquiry Skills

Science inquiry involves identifying and posing questions; planning, conducting and reflecting on investigations; processing, analysing and interpreting data; and communicating findings. This strand is concerned with evaluating claims, investigating ideas, solving problems, reasoning, drawing valid conclusions, and developing evidence-based arguments.

Science investigations are activities in which ideas, predictions or hypotheses are tested and conclusions are drawn in response to a question or problem. Investigations can involve a range of activities, including experimental testing, field work, locating and using information sources, conducting surveys, and using modelling and simulations. The investigation design will depend on the context and subject of the investigation.

In science investigations, the collection and analysis of data to provide evidence plays a major role. This can involve collecting or extracting information and reorganising data in the form of tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, prose, keys, spreadsheets and databases. The analysis of data to identify and select evidence, and the communication of findings, involve the selection, construction and use of specific representations, including mathematical relationships, symbols and diagrams.

Through the senior secondary Science subjects, students will continue to develop generic science inquiry skills, building on the skills acquired in the F-10 Australian Curriculum: Science. These generic skills are described below and will be explicitly taught and assessed in each unit. In addition, each unit provides more specific skills to be taught within the generic science inquiry skills; these specific skills align with the Science Understanding and Science as a Human Endeavour content of the unit.

The generic science inquiry skills are:

  • Identifying, researching and constructing questions for investigation; proposing hypotheses; and predicting possible outcomes
  • Designing investigations, including the procedure/s to be followed, the materials required and the type and amount of primary and/or secondary data to be collected; conducting risk assessments; and considering ethical research
  • Conducting investigations, including using equipment and techniques safely, competently and methodically for the collection of valid and reliable data
  • Representing data in meaningful and useful ways; organising and analysing data to identify trends, patterns and relationships; recognising error, uncertainty and limitations in data; and selecting, synthesising and using evidence to construct and justify conclusions
  • Interpreting scientific and media texts and evaluating processes, claims and conclusions by considering the quality of available evidence; and using reasoning to construct scientific arguments
  • Selecting, constructing and using appropriate representations to communicate understanding, solve problems and make predictions
  • Communicating to specific audiences and for specific purposes using appropriate language, nomenclature, genres and modes.

The senior secondary Science subjects have been designed to accommodate, if appropriate, an extended scientific investigation within each pair of units. States and territories will determine whether there are any requirements related to an extended scientific investigation as part of their course materials.

Science as a Human Endeavour

Through science, we seek to improve our understanding and explanations of the natural world. The Science as a Human Endeavour strand highlights the development of science as a unique way of knowing and doing, and explores the use and influence of science in society.

As science involves the construction of explanations based on evidence, the development of science concepts, models and theories is dynamic and involves critique and uncertainty. Science concepts, models and theories are reviewed as their predictions and explanations are continually re-assessed through new evidence, often through the application of new technologies. This review process involves a diverse range of scientists working within an increasingly global community of practice and can involve the use of international conventions and activities such as peer review.

The use and influence of science are shaped by interactions between science and a wide range of social, economic, ethical and cultural factors. The application of science may provide great benefits to individuals, the community and the environment, but may also pose risks and have unintended consequences. As a result, decision making about socio-scientific issues often involves consideration of multiple lines of evidence and a range of stakeholder needs and values. As an ever-evolving body of knowledge, science frequently informs public debate, but is not always able to provide definitive answers.

Across the senior secondary Science subjects, the same set of Science as a Human Endeavour content descriptions is used for Units 1 and 2 of the subjects; and another set for Units 3 and 4. This consistent approach enables students to develop a rich appreciation of the complex ways in which science interacts with society, through the exploration of Science as a Human Endeavour concepts across the subjects and in multiple contexts.

‘Examples in context’ will be developed to illustrate possible contexts related to Science Understanding content, in which students could explore Science as a Human Endeavour concepts. These will be made available to complement the final online curriculum. Each Example in context will be aligned to the relevant sub-unit in Science Understanding and will include links to the relevant Science as a Human Endeavour content descriptions.

Science Understanding

Science understanding is evident when a person selects and integrates appropriate science concepts, models and theories to explain and predict phenomena, and applies those concepts, models and theories to new situations. Models in science can include diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, word-based analogies (including laws and principles) and computer simulations. Development of models involves selection of the aspects of the system/s to be included in the model, and thus models have inherent approximations, assumptions and limitations.

The Science Understanding content in each unit develops students’ understanding of the key concepts, models and theories that underpin the subject, and of the strengths and limitations of different models and theories for explaining and predicting complex phenomena.

Science Understanding can be developed through the selection of contexts that have relevance to and are engaging for students. The Australian Curriculum: Science has been designed to provide jurisdictions, schools and teachers with the flexibility to select contexts that meet the social, geographic and learning needs of their students.

Organisation of achievement standards

The Biology achievement standards are organised by two dimensions: ‘Biology Concepts, Models and Applications’, and ‘Biology Inquiry Skills’. They describe five levels of student achievement.

‘Biology Concepts, Models and Applications’ describes the knowledge and understanding students demonstrate with reference to the content of the Science Understanding and Science as a Human Endeavour strands of the curriculum. ‘Biology Inquiry Skills’ describes the skills students demonstrate when investigating the content developed through the strands of Science Understanding and Science as a Human Endeavour.

Senior secondary achievement standards have been written for each Australian Curriculum senior secondary subject. The achievement standards provide an indication of typical performance at five different levels (corresponding to grades A to E) following the completion of study of senior secondary Australian Curriculum content for a pair of units. They are broad statements of understanding and skills that are best read and understood in conjunction with the relevant unit content. They are structured to reflect key dimensions of the content of the relevant learning area. They will be eventually accompanied by illustrative and annotated samples of student work/ performance/ responses.

The achievement standards will be refined empirically through an analysis of samples of student work and responses to assessment tasks: they cannot be maintained a priori without reference to actual student performance. Inferences can be drawn about the quality of student learning on the basis of observable differences in the extent, complexity, sophistication and generality of the understanding and skills typically demonstrated by students in response to well-designed assessment activities and tasks.

In the short term, achievement standards will inform assessment processes used by curriculum, assessment and certifying authorities for course offerings based on senior secondary Australian Curriculum content.

ACARA has made reference to a common syntax (as a guide, not a rule) in constructing the achievement standards across the learning areas. The common syntax that has guided development is as follows:

  1. Given a specified context (as described in the curriculum content)
  2. With a defined level of consistency/accuracy (the assumption that each level describes what the student does well, competently, independently, consistently)
  3. Students perform a specified action (described through a verb)
  4. In relation to what is valued in the curriculum (specified as the object or subject)
  5. With a defined degree of sophistication, difficulty, complexity (described as an indication of quality)

Terms such as ‘analyse’ and ‘describe’ have been used to specify particular action but these can have everyday meanings that are quite general. ACARA has therefore associated these terms with specific meanings that are defined in the senior secondary achievement standards glossary and used precisely and consistently across subject areas.