Outline of unit

The planet Earth is a dynamic system and the theory of plate tectonics was a major milestone in understanding the nature of this system and how it functions. The theory evolved as the work of many scientists was analysed. This unified nearly all the previously accumulated but disjointed geological data. Scientists use their understanding of the Earth to monitor and predict major tectonic events.

In this unit students will engage with learning objects, use models and simulations and analyse second-hand data to explore the structure of the Earth and to develop an understanding of the theory of plate tectonics. They will examine the evidence scientists gathered to develop the theory and consider the changes in science understanding that occurred during its development. Students will examine how tectonic events are monitored and how future events can be predicted. By simulating events that occur during an earthquake students will examine how scientists and engineers are designing structures to better withstand these catastrophic events.

Cross-curriculum priority

Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia 

Australian Curriculum content descriptions

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences 

The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement (ACSSU180

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Scientific understanding, including models and theories, are contestable and are refined over time through a process of review by the scientific community (ACSHE157)

Use and influence of science

People use scientific knowledge to evaluate whether they accept claims, explanations or predictions, and advances in science can affect people’s lives, including generating new career opportunities (ACSHE160

The values and needs of contemporary society can influence the focus of scientific research (ACSHE228

Science Inquiry Skills

Planning and conducting

Select and use appropriate equipment, including digital technologies, to systematically and accurately collect and record data (ACSIS166

Processing and analysing data and information

Analyse patterns and trends in data, including describing relationships between variables and identifying inconsistencies (ACSIS169

Use knowledge of scientific concepts to draw conclusions that are consistent with evidence (ACSIS170


Critically analyse the validity of information in secondary sources and evaluate the approaches used to solve problems (ACSIS172


Communicate scientific ideas and information for a particular purpose, including constructing evidence-based arguments and using appropriate scientific language, conventions and representations (ACSIS174

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). 


Achievement standard 

This lesson sequence provides opportunities to gather information about students’ achievement of specific components in the standards (which are bolded in the statements below).

By the end of Year 9, students explain chemical processes and natural radioactivity in terms of atoms and energy transfers and describe examples of important chemical reactions. They describe models of energy transfer and apply these to explain phenomena. They explain global features and events in terms of geological processes and timescales. They analyse how biological systems function and respond to external changes with reference to interdependencies, energy transfers and flows of matter. They describe social and technological factors that have influenced scientific developments and predict how future applications of science and technology may affect people’s lives.

Students design questions that can be investigated using a range of inquiry skills. They design methods that include the control and accurate measurement of variables and systematic collection of data and describe how they considered ethics and safety. They analyse trends in data , identify relationships between variables and reveal inconsistencies in results. They analyse their methods and the quality of their data, and explain specific actions to improve the quality of their evidence. They evaluate others’ methods and explanations from a scientific perspective and use appropriate language and representations when communicating their findings and ideas to specific audiences.

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). 


New Zealand, Bay of Plenty, steam and smoke from White Islands, © Paul Chesley/Getty; Earthquake damage in Christchurch, greenfluoro, CC BY 2.0; San Andreas Fault, California, © James P Blair/Getty; Molten lava flowing from volcano, Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy © Francesco Ruggeri/Getty.

Additional information for teachers


Background information (PDF, 915 KB)

Safety advice (Activities in this unit require basic safety precautions)

Materials and equipment (PDF, 663 KB)


Developing programs in science for gifted and talented students 
(Australian Science Innovations)