Evolution of Australian Biota Study Day - Sydney - Teacher Notes

The Evolution of Australian Biota Study Days are  for Year 11 Biology students.

Teacher Notes with essential information and background

These Study Days are a joint venture of the Australian Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust and Taronga Conservation Society Australia. Educators from these organisations have collaborated to produce activities that cover a large proportion of this Biology Syllabus topic.

Before your visit


  • You need to book your visit with the Australian Museum's Bookings Officer
    Excursion essentials  has information on booking, free teacher's pass and practical tips. 
  • Nine documents are posted to you:
        1. Teacher Notes (this information)
        2. Australian Museum educator-led session:
        3. Australian Museum self-guided session
        4. Taronga Zoomobile session
        5. Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney session
        6. Answers for Museum Educator-led session
        7. Answers for Museum self-guided session
        8. Answers for Garden session
        9. Answers for Zoomobile session.

Changes to the number of students booked and cancellations

  • Please note that if the number of students you have booked changes significantly (by a decrease or increase of 5 students or more) you need to advise our Bookings Officer as soon as possible.
  • Any significant reductions in number occurring within four weeks of your booked Study Day will be charged according to the number already booked as shown on your Booking Confirmation form (or faxed amendment).
  • Significant decreases are important to us so that other schools can be offered the opportunity to participate in this popular Study Day, and for staffing arrangements.
  • Significant additions are also important as your school may have been combined with another school in our bookings process and additional numbers may not be possible or may need additional staffing and resources to be pre-arranged.

Student supervision

  • Teachers are responsible for supervising their students. Large groups that are split across different sessions and/or different venues must have a supervisor for each group. (Our Bookings Officer can advise you on whether your group will be split.)
  • For every 10 secondary school students we provide free admission for one adult (teacher or other supervising adult).

Suggested pre-excursion activities

Our research indicates that students gain maximum benefit from their excursion if they have an overview of their program for the day.

Educators from the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney advise that before the excursion, students should:

  • become familiar with the super continent of Gondwana and the lands that were part of it 165million years ago;
  • read the information on ‘Gondwana Greening’ found at www.rbg.vic.gov.au concentrating on the information from Jurassic period to present;
  • revise the structure of flowers, including male and female reproductive parts.

Educators from Taronga Zoo advise that before the excursion, students should revise the following terms / concepts:

  • nocturnal, diurnal, crepuscular
  • behavioural, structural and physiological adaptations
  • ectothermic, endothermic
  • arid, temperate environments
  • arboreal, terrestrial
  • vertebrate animals - fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (monotremes, marsupials and placentals)


Please photocopy the appropriate sheets for all students and accompanying adults before your visit.

What to bring

Advise students to bring:

  • copies of the Student Activities for each student (Garden, Zoo and two Museum sets)
  • clipboards, pens, pencils
  • camera
  • hats and/or wet weather gear for outside activities at the Botanic Garden and for walking between the Garden and Museum
  • lunch, snacks, drinks (note – there is very little time for students to buy lunch).

Accompanying adults should also be provided with copies of the Answer Sheets, Student Activity Sheets, and these Teacher Notes.

Further questions

If you have any questions please phone the Australian Museum Bookings Office on (02) 9320 6163.


After your excursion - suggested post-visit activities

Educators from the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney suggest the following post-visit activities:

  • Students can conduct a survey of plants in their own school grounds or local park to note their adaptive features for pollination.
  • Using photographs from their record taking, students can accurately identify plants for themselves by navigating the Trust’s website at www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au  and the Plant Net database on http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au.
  • More useful information of known species (including correct spellings of names, and distributions) can be found on NSW Flora Online: http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/floraonline.htm  
  • Students can Google pictures of plants using Google Images. There are many good quality photos available for study purposes.
  • In depth information on the Wollemi Pine is available on the Botanic Gardens Trust’s website: www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
  • A useful reference book is The Greening of Gondwana by Mary White (Reed, French’s Forest. 1994).
  • Create a time line showing eras on a geological time scale with the evolution of plants and when they appeared.

Educators from the Australian Museum suggest the following post-visit activities:

  • Complete the post-visit questions provided in the Evolution, survival and extinction Student Activity Sheets.
  • Students can share the results of their investigations with the rest of the class
  • Students complete one allocated megafauna activity at the Museum and can share their investigations with the rest of the class (via a presentation or report) back at school.


On the day of your excursion

Start / finish times

  •  Please try to arrive 15 minutes early (at 9.15 am) to allow time for cloaking, administration and general group organisation prior to the session start at 9.30 am.
  • The teaching sessions finish at 2.30 pm, but if you have time, you are welcome to further explore the Museum or Garden afterwards.

Where to start

Check your Booking Confirmation Form to see if you are booked as Class A, B, C or D.

  • Classes A and B – start at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney;
  • Classes C and D – start at the Australian Museum.

Location map of Australian Museum and Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. 

Timetable of activities

The classes rotate through four one-hour sessions - two sessions at the Royal Botanic Garden and two at the Australian Museum. 

Note that schools with small student numbers will be combined with other schools for the Study Day sessions. We aim for approximately 24 students in each session.

Classes A and B
start at Royal Botanic Garden
  • Your two morning sessions
    are at the Botanic Gardens.
  • Gather at the Education Centre (see map).


lunch and walk
from the Garden to the Museum

then the Australian Museum
  • Your two afternoon sessions are at the Australian Museum.
Classes C and D
start at Australian Museum
  • Your two morning sessions
    are at the Australian Museum.
  • use the William St entrance if arriving before 9.30 am.


lunch and walk from the Museum to the Garden

then the Royal Botanic Garden
  • Your two afternoon sessions are at the Botanic Garden.
  • Gather at the Education Centre (see map).


Museum, Zoo or Gardens staff will meet you for each of the sessions.

  • Session 1 starts at 9.30 am (be at the venue by 9.15 am to be ready)
  • Session 2 starts at 10.30 am
  • Lunch starts at 11.30 am
  • Session 3 starts at 12.30 pm (be at the venue by 12.15 pm to be ready)
  • Session 4 starts at 1.30 pm


We recommend that students bring their lunch and eat it in Hyde Park or the Botanic Garden. Alternative locations can be provided in wet weather.

Student activities at the  Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Two sessions are conducted at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney:

  1. Evolution and Adaptation of Australian Natives – a session with a Botanic Garden educator.
  2. Zoomobile – a session with a Taronga Zoo educator.
Garden session: Evolution and adaptation of Australian natives

This session at the Botanic Garden focuses on the evolution and adaptations of Australian native plants.
The activities are student focused and hands on involving observation of actual plant fossils and examination of plant species growing in the Botanic Garden. Student participation and involvement in these activities provides information for completing the activity sheets on the topic.

Part 1: Biological evidence
In the Education Centre students study an animated presentation of continental plates moving over millions of years, showing how Australia was once part of Gondwana.They then examine fossil evidence of Glossopteris, flora found in Australia and other parts of Gondwana 200 million years ago.

Students then have the opportunity to measure and record observations comparing Australian conifers from the extinct to the extant. The extinct will be examined in fossils in the Education Centre.

Part 2: First hand investigation
Students visit areas of the Botanic Garden displaying Southern conifer forests and broadleaf rainforests. They record plants of these forests through first hand observation of their modern day relatives. This helps them appreciate the rise of early angiosperms and their success compared to gymnosperms.

In another first hand investigation students gather and present information about flowers of native species of angiosperms. They will identify features that are adaptations for wind, insect, bird and mammal pollination.

Zoo session: Evolution of Australian biota

The Taronga Zoomobile visits the Garden Education Centre allowing students to interact with live animals while learning about the adaptations and evolution of native Australian animals.

An educator leads the session and engages students in an interactive presentation and discussions on five main themes:

  • the rise of mammals and the early record of mammals in Gondwana;
  • kangaroo evolution from 55 million years ago through to present day including
  • reasons for their evolution, survival and extinction;
  • mechanisms for fertilisation and survival of young in the Salt Water Crocodile;
  • adaptations and species variation in Australian echidnas;
  • the changing ideas of scientists with reference to the Platypus.

Student activities at the Australian Museum

There are two sessions at the Australian Museum:

  1. Learning from Fossils – a session with a Museum educator.
  2. Evolution, extinction and survival – a self-guided session in the Surviving Australia exhibition.
Museum session: Learning from fossils

This session takes place in the Science Studio on Level 2 of the Museum. Students work in small groups of 4 - 5 students and conduct hands-on investigations. A Museum educator introduces the session and facilitates the group work.
The activities increase the students’ understanding of the applications and uses of biology while they work with real and cast fossil specimens and skeletal material of modern Australian animals.
There are five hands-on activities:

  1. The Diprotodon
  2. Short-faced kangaroos
  3. Mammal teeth
  4. Reconstructing animals from fossils
  5. Platypus evolution.

All students complete the Platypus evolution activity and one allocated megafauna activity. Students can later share their investigations with the rest of the class back at school.
Teachers should assist in facilitating the students’ learning and keeping them on task.

Museum session: Evolution, survival and extinction

This self-guided session is based in Surviving Australia, a semi-permanent exhibition located on Level 2. Within the exhibition, students focus on displays in the section Adapt or die: specialists over time.

The activities allow students to examine past Australian fauna and the contribution palaeontology makes to our understandings of past and future environments.
There are five activities:

  1. Meet the megafauna
  2. The vanishing megafauna – many died!
  3. The vanishing megafauna – some survived
  4. Investigating an extinct Australian animal
  5. The puzzle of the Platypus.

Teachers may choose to direct their students to complete either:

  • all five activities, or
  • only one or two allocated activities per group to later share back at school (allowing the students more time to explore the exhibitions).

To avoid overcrowding of the displays, teachers should ensure that their students work in small groups and organise each group to start with a different activity then rotate through the various activities. Note that not all activities take the same time to complete and some flexibility in the rotation between activities may be needed.

Syllabus links

 The Study Day is specifically designed for the Stage 6 Biology topic, 8.5 Evolution of Australian Biota.

  • The outcomes addressed in the Study Day are shown in the following excerpts from the Board of Studies NSW Biology Stage 6 Syllabus (2009 updated version).
  • The abbreviations (in bold) after each outcome match each of the four Study Day sessions to the outcomes they address.


RBG – indicates content in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney session.
Zoo – indicates content in the Taronga Zoo session.
AM (f) – indicates content in the Australian Museum fossils session, Learning from Fossils.
AM (ex) – indicates content in the Australian Museum exhibition session, Evolution, survival and extinction.
1–5 – numbers indicate specific activities that link to the outcome.

  Students learn to: Students:
1. Evidence for the rearrangement of crustal plates and continental drift indicates that Australia was once part of an ancient super continent.
  •  identify and describe evidence that supports the assertion that Australia was once part of a landmass called Gondwana, including:
    – matching continental margins
    – fossils in common on Gondwanan continents, including Glossopteris ... 
              AM (f) 5 
              AM (ex) 5

  • discuss current research into the evolutionary relationships between extinct species, including megafauna and extant Australian species. 
              AM (f) 1 & 5
              AM (ex) 4
  •  ... gather, process and analyse information from secondary sources and use available evidence to illustrate the changing ideas of scientists in the last 200 years about individual species such as the platypus as new information and technologies became available.
              AM (f) 5
              AM (ex) 5
2. The changes in Australian flora and fauna over millions of years have happened through evolution.
  • identify the relationship between variation within a species and the chances of survival of species when environmental change occurs. 

  • identify and describe evidence of changing environments in Australia over millions of years. 
              AM (ex) 1 & 3
  • gather information from secondary sources to describe some Australian fossils, where these fossils were found and use available evidence to explain how they contribute to the development of understanding about the evolution of species in Australia. 
              AM (f) 2 & 5
              AM (ex) 4 & 5

  • perform a first-hand investigation, gather information of named Australian fossil samples and use available evidence to identify similarities and differences between current and extinct Australian life forms. 
              AM (f) 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
              AM (ex) 3 & 5
3. Continuation of species has resulted, in part, from the reproductive adaptations that have evolved in Australian plants and animals.
  • describe some mechanisms found in Australian flora for:
    - pollination
    - seed dispersal
    - asexual reproduction
    with reference to local examples. 

  • describe some mechanisms found in Australian fauna to ensure:
    - fertilisation
    survival of the embryo and of the young after birth. 
4. A study of palaeontology and past environments increases our understanding of the possible future range of plants and animals.
  • explain the importance of the study of past environments in predicting the impact of human activity in present environments
              AM (f) 5


  • identify the ways in which palaeontology assists understanding of the factors that may determine distribution of flora and fauna in present and future environments. 
              AM (f) 5
              AM (ex) 5
  • gather, process and analyse information from secondary sources and use available evidence to propose reasons for the evolution, survival and extinction of species, with reference to specific Australian examples 
              AM (f) 1 & 5
              AM (ex) 3, 4 & 5



Beth Blaxland , Education Project Officer
Last Updated: