Everything you need to know about the Science syllabus

The science syllabus underwent significant changes following the introduction of the Australian national curriculum in 2014. Ryan McKenzie has the rundown of everything you need to know about how these changes affected science teaching in Australia.
Science Syllabus

Why did the science syllabus change?

In 2010, the nationwide planning of the national Australian Curriculum - including changes to the science syllabus - began. The purpose of this standardised approach was to align the teaching standards of all states and territories in Australia by bringing consistency in relation to curriculum, assessment and reporting.

Prior to its implementation by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), each state and territory were responsible for the design and implementation of individual curriculums, which meant student learning and outcomes across the country were varied and incomparable.

The curriculum was introduced for Foundation to Year 10 from 2014 with each state and territory overseeing the implementation of the framework within their schools.

For example, in Queensland, the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) is responsible for this process and offers advice, guidelines and resources to support schools in regards to the curriculum.

Learn more:

The Science Syllabus: Foundation to Year 10

Within each strand of the curriculum for Foundation to Year 10 students, ACARA has described the rationale, aims and key ideas to be covered and provided a structure for teachers to follow.

It has been designed to give clear expectations and a simple overview to follow so that content can be delivered in a meaningful, direct and appropriate way.

The Australian science curriculum was simplified from previous state versions and divided into three interrelated strands of science - 

  1. Science understanding
  2. Science as a human endeavour
  3. Science enquiry

The way that these three strands connect underpins the national science curriculum. The rationale behind these strands is to develop the knowledge related to science through practical and inquiry-based experiences.

Rather than providing knowledge separately to conducting experiments, ACARA believes that this model increases engagement as well as knowledge and is the best way to expose students to science as a subject.

Along with amending the curriculum structure, the content of the science syllabus was also adjusted to better support the understanding of science. Within the science curriculum, students are exposed to content related to four sub-strands of science.

Biological sciences

Through this sub-strand, students are required to investigate and understand plants and animals and their interactions within ecosystems; body systems and life cycles; adaptations and characteristics and how these are inherited through generations; cell structure and function – and how cells are the basis of life.

Chemical sciences

Within this sub-strand of the science syllabus, students are concerned with understanding the composition and behaviour of substances.

Students must investigate the physical and chemical properties of substances through classification and experimentation; recognise that all substances are comprised of atoms, which are the building blocks of life and can be rearranged to form substances of different states; and the effect of energy transfers.

Earth and space sciences

As part of this strand, students must endeavour to understand the dynamic structure of the Earth as part of our solar system, which is part of a larger universe; how and why the Earth changes over time; orbits of the sun and moon and the effect this has on the Earth; timescales and evolution of Earth over time; and human activity and the effect on the atmosphere and beyond.

Physical sciences

The science syllabus focuses on physical science in two key aspects: forces and how they affect the behaviour of objects and how energy is and can be transferred and changed between forms.

Within this, students gain an understanding of all forces and motion as well as concepts of matter and energy.

The Science Syllabus: Senior school

Senior subjects and curriculum (Year 11 and 12) has been and is still under the mandate of individual states and territories.

It’s believed that a national senior curriculum will be implemented when the first cohort of students to have completed their entire schooling under the national curriculum reaches senior school. However, no plans have been put in place for this as of yet.

The Senior Curriculum in Queensland, for example, culminates in the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test, which is a multi-dimensional, standardised test that all students in Queensland take at the end of Year 12, which ranks them against their peers.

This test, along with students’ results from core senior subjects (mathematics, biology, history etc.), combine to give students their Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) and an Overall Position (OP). A student's OP is important for tertiary entry because universities require students to meet certain requirements in order to gain entrance to various courses.

Also, as part of senior schooling in Queensland, students have the choice to take a vocational education pathway.

The majority of schools in Queensland offer various certificate courses for students to complete (Certificate III in fitness or automotives etc.), these courses can be used as credit towards gaining the QCE and give students actual, industry experience in various trades prior to entering the workforce.

Both pathways, OP and vocational education, provide students with options moving out of senior school and into working/tertiary life, which is essential in today’s society.

Read more about Ryan's experience of teaching the national curriculum in his blog.

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