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Teaching Ideas
“Exploring Sawfish” - Ideas for Studies of Society and Environment

Identifying problems

Activities linked to grade levels 6 - 10

Revisit students’ understanding as a starting point for investigating water issues affecting the sawfish and the marine environment in which it lives. Draw a ‘cause and effect’ flow chart to show the issue and its effects.

For example:

Discharge of untreated or partly treated sewage increases nutrients in the water Abnormal algal blooms smother sea grass. Other species of algae can smother pneumatophores of mangroves and kill them.

Oil spills


Sea birds are poisoned or smothered by oil

Tidal wetlands become polluted, killing fauna

Industrial wastes Accumulate pollutants in plants, shellfish and food chains, killing fauna

Waste & litter Sea birds, fish and plants affected; marine animals become entangled

Give groups of students an issue that affects the sea, coast, marine and tidal plants, animals or sawfish

Share understanding

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

As a class, suggest ways we can ensure people look after the sea. Students could:

• Contribute a class article for the school newsletter (5 – 10)
• Prepare a display of special places and features of the sea and invite other classes and/or parents to view it and ask questions (6 – 10)
• Speak to other classes about the use and care of the sea (6 – 10)
• Make a poster to advertise the use and care of places. (5 – 10)

Get involved in Water watch

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Waterwatch is a national community-based water-quality monitoring program that encourages community groups to regularly monitor the quality of water in their local waterways. Using information gathered from this program, encourage groups of students to develop community action plans to help overcome any of the problems they may find. Form a Waterwatch group, and design a water sampling and monitoring program.

Problems and solutions

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Encourage groups to choose one local issue associated with the long term future of the sawfish and other threatened species that live in Australian waters. These might include:

Solid waste recreation over-fishing
Sewage vegetation removal agricultural chemical run off Pollution heavy metals pesticides
Oil pollution industrial wastes

List possible solutions to each problem and the reasons students think something should be done about them. Discuss what the class could do.
Suggestions might include:

• Raising public awareness by speaking at a school assembly, writing an article for the school newsletter, or writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper;
• Developing an action chart to show how students and their families can act appropriately when visiting marine areas;
• Writing to Members of Parliament at the State or National levels about coastal and marine issues that concern them;
• Encouraging care givers to cover trailers and secure things that could be blown away while being transported e.g. rubbish being taken to the landfill or transfer station;
• Raising community awareness about fixing oil and radiator leaks and washing cars where the suds soak into the ground rather than running into the drain;
• Sweeping local street gutters and composting to prevent leaf litter contaminating our storm water and entering coastal waters;
• Raising community awareness of the two separate systems which carry water away from homes (i.e. wastewater and storm water systems), and empowering them to dispose of things correctly;
• Putting litter in the bin and cleaning up after dogs;
• Raising community awareness about dry sweeping driveways, mopping up oil spills and putting waste in a bin;
• Being “green” consumers when shopping and thinking about the effects of purchases on our coastal and marine environment; and
• Supporting others to make informed decisions about what can, and cannot, be disposed of safely at home.

Get involved

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Join the Marine and Coastal Community Network or Threatened Species Network. Become involved in activities to conserve and manage the marine and coastal areas. Alternatively, investigate involvement in the MESA Coasts and Marine Schools Project. See


Activities linked to grade levels P - 10

Ask students to complete a self–assessment and reflection activity using the following questions:

• What is the most important thing I have learned about the species living in marine areas? (P – 10)
• What is the one thing I have learned about myself and how I might treat marine environments? (5 – 10)
• What can I do at home to protect places these and the animals that live within them? (P –10)
• What would I still like to find out about the sawfish and similar threatened species? (P –10)
• With which piece of my work am I most satisfied? Why? (5 – 10)

Identifying emerging issues

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Following a period of reflection, students could engage in group discussions about how to deal with unresolved questions, and initiate a further investigation.

Setting a task

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Explain to the class that in groups their task is prepare either a multi-media presentation, a report or a brochure which conveys detailed information about the:

• Current use;
• Distribution;
• Biodiversity;
• Future uses; and the
• Management of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and coastal zones.

Futures perspectives

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Students in groups discuss and record why they think it is important to find out about the sawfish, both now and in the future. Ask these questions:

• Why do you think this study could help you in the future?
• What patterns can you see when you look at how the sawfish has been impacted on now and in the past?
• Do you think the sawfish will live sustainably in the future?

Introduce the concept of sustainable management. In groups, students consider one or all of the following questions, and prepare an ‘effects wheel’ to illustrate their preliminary thoughts about the issue:

• If we find a balance between meeting our present needs for resources while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment for the benefit of future generations, what might this mean for the future?
• If technology enables us to access the sea more easily, what might this mean for the animals within it and their surroundings?
• Discuss how to put a monetary ‘value’ on the resources and services provided by the marine environment.
• If we impact on vast areas of sea globally, what are the implications for feeding and breeding areas for fish and crustaceans, or the world’s climate?

Groups report back to the class and record their findings for later class work. Students then compare ideas, identifying similarities and differences, and discussing differences of opinion.

How and why have sawfish numbers changed?

Activities linked to grade levels 5 - 10

Working in small groups, students describe how and why the sawfish numbers have changed over time.

Students discuss some of the possible reasons for of the reduction of Queensland’s sawfish, for example loss of habitat and the effect on water quality.

Opinion poll

Activities linked to grade levels 6 - 10

Students develop a survey to gauge the opinions of Australians about the sawfish. Survey questions could relate to issues such as:

• The value of sawfish;
• Whether respondents have seen a sawfish;
• What people like or dislike about sawfish;
• Why (and/or whether) they think these species are important for their lifestyle or economy;
• Suggestions about initiatives they would like to see happen related to the survival of sawfish (which could include ‘no human activity’);
• Marine management priorities respondents believe should be implemented;
• People they believe should be responsible for undertaking these initiatives and for looking after the sawfish in the future; and
• What could be done to protect sawfish?

Opinion poll analysis

Activities linked to grade levels 6 - 10

Groups of students analyse the results of their opinion poll. They collate responses to each question and decide how best to present findings, using tables, bar or pie diagrams, graphs, charts or lists.

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