These activities are designed to activate students’ prior knowledge, develop critical thinking skills and establish an understanding of the key terms and concepts relating to Australia’s role in major scientific breakthroughs.

The activities will help students place Australian scientific achievements into a global context. Students will be asked to think about what drives scientific breakthroughs, how societal pressures can steer scientific direction, and what responsibilities come from being part of a great discovery. A collection of primary sources—oral recordings of eminent Australian scientists—have been selected to allow students to hear about their achievements firsthand and get an understanding of the people behind the discoveries.

Start by asking students to think about inventions and/or scientific advances. What does it take to find a solution to an unsolved problem? What does it take to build on an existing idea and make it better? What factors restrict scientific advancement?

Get students into groups. Give each group a deck of cards, some rubber bands, some small paper clips and some pencils. Tell the students their task is to build the tallest card tower that will support the greatest weight. For an added challenge, you could award a prize for the tallest tower, strongest tower, tower made using the least cards, etc.

This activity will see students take an old problem (building a tower from cards) and, using their existing knowledge, limited materials and lateral thinking, achieve new solutions.

Key terms:

  • science
  • endeavour
  • breakthrough
  • enlightened thinking
  • lateral thinking.

Background questions

  • What are some of the greatest innovations in human history? How do you define ‘great’?
  • ‘Humans have an innate desire to always improve things and control their surroundings.’ As a class, discuss the validity of this statement.
  • What do you think is meant by ‘enlightened thinking’?