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Illawarra Environmental Education Centre

Illawarra Environmental Education Centre

Telephone02 4237 6100


Adaptations of Living Things

Stage 3 Science and Technology


Blackbutt Reserve 

(Alternative sites are possible through consultation with the IEEC)

Program overview

This program focuses upon the adaptations of plants and animals that allow them to survive and thrive in the Blackbutt Forest. Students will be equipped with a field journal, allowing a range of measurements, results and observations to be collected for further examination and used back in the classroom to identify patterns and trends in gathered data.

In a race to find weeds, students participate in a scavenger hunt to collect weeds of the Blackbutt forest and then examine adaptations that weeds use to successfully invade. Students use ecological techniques to estimate numbers of weeds in an area. Fire is integral to many Australian ecosystems, so we use fire to explore how many Australian plant species use this phenomenon to spread their seed. The Grey Headed Flying Fox colony in the Blackbutt forest creek is the base for students making observations of the adaptations these fascinating animals use to survive in the Illawarra.

The adaptations that make one local animal the toughest creature on the planet are discussed and handheld microscopes used to observe the Moss Piglets of the Blackbutt Forest.


Key syllabus outcomes 

Science K-6 

  • ST3-1WS-S plans and conducts scientific investigations to answer testable questions, and collects and summarises data to communicate conclusions 
  • ST3-4LW-S examines how the environment affects the growth, survival and adaptation of living things


Inquiry and focus questions 

  • How do physical conditions affect the survival of living things?

  • How do the structural and behavioural features of living things support survival?

Learning experiences

Toughest animal on Earth

Students discuss animal adaptations and decide who is the toughest animal on Earth. They then design an animal that could survive all the extremes of our planet’s environments (and even space).

Using hand-held microscopes the students are introduced to the Moss Piglets of Blackbutt Forest. These Tardigrades are the toughest animals on the planet- and cute little critters too.

Bat Country 

The Grey Headed Flying Fox uses its fingers to fly. Students compare X-ray images of human arms and the wings of bats to see how the same bones can be used to grasp objects and fly through the air. Other adaptations of bats are observed by the students' senses of sight, hearing and smell!

Bushfires and seeds 

Many Australian plants have adapted to thrive in fire prone environments. Students observe how flame aids in the opening of Banksia cones to release seeds. Students investigate the adaptations the Banksia and other native plant seeds have for wind dispersal, first by observing how actual seeds fly, and then in a STEM activity that modifies models of seeds to improve their flight.

Counting Weeds 

Plants invade areas where they do not naturally occur, displacing other plants in a battle for space and resources. A weed therefore is a “plant out of place”. Students then use the same tools (quadrats) of professional ecologists to estimate the number of invasive weeds in an area.

Weed Appreciation

Weeds succeed due to the adaptations that allow them to colonise an area quickly, outcompete other plants, protect themselves from animals and distribute themselves with seeds or other adaptations. Students are introduced to some local weeds in the forest and then go on a scavenger hunt in a race to find local weeds and identify the adaptations that allow these weeds to thrive. 

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