Fascinating Fossils Stage 5 - Teachers Notes

Students conduct a hands-on investigation to reconstruct animals from fossil vertebrae.


Megalania prisca

Creator: Anne Musser © Anne Musser

This is a session facilitated by a Museum educator that engages students in a hands-on investigation. Students use fossil material and comparisons with modern animals to interpret and reconstruct some extinct Australian animals.

Before your visit

Syllabus links

Excerpts from the NSW Board of Studies Science 7–10 Syllabus document are detailed below. They show the links between the Stage 5 syllabus content and the Fascinating Fossils activity.

Students learn about: Students learn to:
5.2 the nature and practice of science a) evaluate ... logical reasoning in ... carrying out investigations ...
e) use examples which show that scientists isolate a set of observations, identify trends and patterns and construct hypotheses or models to explain these
f) give examples that demonstrate the benefits and limitations of using models.
5.8.3 the theory of evolution and natural selection a) discuss evidence that present-day organisms have evolved from organisms in the distant past
5.9.4 natural events c) ... the fossil record ...
5.14 performing first-hand investigations a) follow the planned procedure when performing an investigation
b) use time and resources effectively
c) safely and efficiently ... manipulate identified equipment
d) record data using the appropriate units
e) demonstrate the use of safe and hygienic work practices ...
5.15 gathering first-hand information a) make and record observations and measurements accurately
5.16 gathering information from secondary sources c) extract information from ...resources
5.17 processing information a) collate information from a number of sources
b) distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information
c) check the reliability of gathered data and information by comparing them with observations or information from other sources
d) organise data ...
f) identify trends, patterns, relationships ...
5.18 presenting information d) use symbols to express relationships, including mathematical ones, and appropriate units for physical quantities
e) use ... tables ... to ... present information clearly and/or succinctly
5.19 thinking critically c) predict outcomes and generate plausible explanations directly related to observations made
d) make generalisations in relation to relevant ... observations ...
f) use models, including mathematical ones, to explain phenomena or make predictions.
5.21 the use of creativity and imagination a) seek evidence to support claims
b) evaluate evidence for reliability and validity.
5.22.2 working in teams e) set and work to realistic timelines and goals as a team
g) monitor progress of the team towards completion of a task

Pre-visit activities

To make the most of your visit to the exhibition we recommend that you prepare your students beforehand by:

  • introducing concepts related to:
    • what a fossil is,
    • extinction and that, over time, many Australian animals have become extinct,
    • what a vertebrate is,
    • the five types of vertebrates – fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals,
    • organisms are classified using physical features and those with similar features tend to be more closely related.
  • providing a context for the excursion to the Museum including the reasons for visiting the Museum, the tasks to be completed and the expected outcomes.


Please photocopy the following materials for each student:

The following materials should be photocopied for each supervising adult:

At the Australian Museum

This activity is led by a Museum educator. Students work in small groups to complete a hands-on investigation in a one hour session.

The activities allow students to explore the processes used by scientists to reconstruct and interpret animals from their fossil remains, while immersed in a stimulating specimen-rich environment.

Students compare the vertebrae of modern reptiles and mammals. They then identify two extinct reptiles and a mammal from fossil vertebrae and ultimately determine the approximate body sizes of these extinct Australian animals using comparisons with close living relatives.

Organisational tips

  • A Museum educator will introduce the session.
  • Students will be divided into small groups and each group will be allocated an Activity Box containing a similar set of specimens and information cards.
  • The Museum educator will facilitate the investigations.
  • Teachers should assist students where appropriate and ensure they remain on task.
  • After the session, teachers can guide students to the Surviving Australia exhibition and the Dinosaurs exhibition on Level 2 to view real fossils from a variety of extinct Australian animals. 


Ms Jen Cork , Online Manager (Acting)
Last Updated:

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