Left, Viki Kane with a Year 7 student looks through the Burning
Issues module. Right, Taminmin High school students south of Darwin
at the module’s launch in May.
Imagine you are 13 years old and have just joined
Dr John Woinarski’s scientific research team in Kakadu
National Park, to investigate what is happening to the northern
quoll. Or you are learning how pastoralists, park rangers and
Traditional Owners alleviate the risk of huge wildfires throughout
many parts of northern Australia. It’s all possible through
EnviroNorth, an interactive educational website.
some long-standing issues in sustainability and science education
in northern Australia. Although savanna ecosystems dominate the top
third of Australia, educational resources focus mainly on
rainforest and reef ecosystems. EnviroNorth helps redress the
balance so students from the Kimberley to the Top End and northern
Queensland can learn about the environments surrounding them.
Online learning also helps overcome the disadvantages these
students face: the areas in which they live are geographically
challenging, with huge distances, small populations and a large and
growing proportion of Indigenous youth.
Developed by a partnership between the Tropical Savannas CRC and
the NT Department of Employment, Education and Training (NT
DEET)—with significant input from teachers—the site is
now being used by a range of schools in the Northern Territory,
Queensland (particularly through the Primary
Connections1 science program), Western Australia
(including Katherine and the Kimberley Schools of the Air and the
EcoFire project, pg. 8) and as far afield as Tasmania.
Bushfires NT, who has also contributed to the Burning Issues
module, provided a helicopter—to the delight of
students— to douse the oval for the launch.
The site was launched in 2007 with three main sections:
interactive modules for students, comprehensive teacher support
materials, and the CRC’s Savanna
“The challenge was to provide a flexible, relevant and
engaging approach for students,” explained Julie Crough
(TS–CRC) who along with Louise Fogg (DEET), led the
development of the website and learning materials.
“We needed to develop resources that helped build capacity
for teachers about tropical savannas and related sustainability
issues as most new recruits to northern Australia arrive from
southern states,” she said.
Until EnviroNorth, there were no comprehensive online
learner-centred resources for schools focusing on one of the few
extensive natural areas remaining on earth—Australia’s
tropical savannas. The website’s interactive modules, Savanna
Walkabout and Burning Issues, aim to meet this need.
Designed for Years 7–9 students, the modules are based on
current research and education in Natural Resource Management and
Information Communication Technology. Each module has a series of
learning activities and tasks that integrate videos, audio,
animations, graphics and photos.
Free CD-ROMs of both modules have been distributed to all
schools in the Northern Territory and many schools in Queensland,
Western Australia and other jurisdictions.
“It was important that the resources were online to
provide access for all schools because nearly half the schools in
the NT (and in northern Australia) are in remote or very remote
areas,” said Julie. Teachers in remote schools requested the
extra option of CDs to overcome unreliable internet access.
Above is the the entry page to Indigenous fire management in the
Burning Issues module. Fire ranger Dean Yibarbuk guide students to
develop an understanding of key issues.
Savanna Walkabout focuses on the diversity of tropical savanna
environments. It also provides knowledge and ideas for ways that
students can get involved in conserving biodiversity.
Case studies, the work of researchers and Indigenous
perspectives are all integral to the modules. For example, Dr Linda
Ford tells the story of the impact of the weed mimosa on her
homeland on the Wagait floodplains south-west of Darwin and how the
Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu People (White Eagle People) managed to
control the weed. Based on this case study, students have the
opportunity to develop simple food webs based on mimosa’s
impact on native species, including Mak Mak bush tucker.
In the Meet the Researchers section, students can learn about
the ‘who, what, when, where, how and why’ of key issues
concerning biodiversity in the north and also experience the
passion and motivation of the researchers (Drs Sam Setterfield,
John Woinarski, Ben Hoffmann and Michael Douglas). In Join the
Researchers, Dr John Woinarski invites students to
‘join’ his research team and mentors them through
solving the problem of the northern quoll’s decline. The
learning experience enables students to use scientific research as
a model, to think critically and apply the skills they have
Burning Issues, the latest module in EnviroNorth offers north
Australian school students the opportunity, for the first time, to
learn about the bushfires they see around them in a detailed,
authoritative and stimulating format.
Jointly funded by Bushfires NT and TS-CRC, in partnership with
DEET, it challenges many myths and misunderstandings about fire and
why it must be managed for sustainability of people’s lives,
property and the environment.
The module begins in a fire manager’s most recognisable
vehicle: the helicopter. The student can move between campground,
visitor’s centre, an outback cinema and take a savanna walk,
to discover what various fire managers in northern Australia
The module also highlights some CRC-supported research and
management. One is the Flames computer simulation model, a tool
developed by researchers to explore the effects of fire on savanna
trees and grasses. Here, students can use a version of the model to
experiment with the knowledge they have gained in fire management
By choosing different fire frequencies and time frames, they can
simulate the effect of different fire regimes over various time
periods on stands of Darwin woolybutt and stringybark.
Periodically, researcher Dr Adam Liedloff appears and puts
pertinent questions to guide students to develop key
Another is the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project,
where students enter the module’s Outback Cinema to see how
traditional Indigenous fire management is helping to contain
greenhouse gas emissions.
They can see Indigenous fire managers at work and hear from
Aboriginal Elders, all guided by Dean Yibarbuk of the Manwurrk
Bushfire Rangers, who like Adam, guides and helps students to
understand and appreciate the value of restoring traditional
burning practices on country.
Burning Issues was developed in partnership with the
TS–CRC (Julie Crough), the NT Department of Employment,
Education and Training (Louise Fogg) and Bushfires NT (Leslee
Hills), working together with fire managers, researchers and
The website’s resources for teachers are
just as important as the interactive modules for their students.
Pictured are teachers from Darwin schools on a field trip with
scientist Ian Dixon, who is guiding them through the CRC’s
Tropical Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (TRARC). The TRARC
was developed for land managers and the manuals, score sheets and
field guides are all available online—making it an ideal
resource for teachers as well as those on the land. Numbers of
science teachers in northern Australia are few; EnviroNorth
provides both materials and information—all within curricula
frameworks—to help . Photo: Ian Dixon
How teachers use EnviroNorth
Teachers Viki Kane and Jenni Webber have taught Savanna Science
learning programs, based on Savanna Walkabout and EnviroNorth, for
Years 6–7, at Humpty Doo Primary School. Their integrated
programs culminated in tasks such as claymation films, where
students used webcams and scripted short films on conserving
“Our students thoroughly enjoyed the ability to get out
into the bush and investigate ecological and historical aspects of
the savanna,” said Viki. More recently, the two embarked on a
new integrated learning program, Living in Savannas at Taminmin
EnviroNorth’s modules are fully supported by teaching
materials with suggested learning plans, ideas on assessment and
curriculum links. Overarching understandings or ‘big
ideas’, understanding goals that identify what students
should know and do—the concepts, processes, skills and key
questions—all help to focus the teaching/learning program
towards the intended outcomes.
Jenni explains that the website has proved to be well-designed
for both teachers and students to use.
“It is unique in the fact that it teaches key
understandings and skills that provide a springboard for them to be
actively involved in conserving, maintaining and restoring
biodiversity in their local environment,” she says.
“Our students are aware that they are conducting real
investigations and that their results are helping us better
understand their local environment.”
As part of the school’s program, students also work with
practising scientists to learn skills that include the Tropical
Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition, see picture above.
Teacher training lecturers at Charles Darwin University have
incorporated various aspects of Savanna Walkabout into their units
as part of a pilot project, Mainstreaming Sustainability into
Pre-Service Teacher Education Across Australia, which is being
conducted by the Australian Research Institute in Education for
Julie and Louise are now working on the final two modules:
Cattle Country and Indigenous Caring for Country. They continue to
work with teachers and students to ensure the existing modules are
used as widely as possible.
Range of resources
EnviroNorth has three sections:
Teach Savannas supports classroom teaching and
provides learning materials related to the student modules (in
Learn Savannas) for the middle years (Years 7–9). It features
learning plans, suggestions for assessment and curriculum links.
Teachers can also use the CRC’s Tropical Rapid Appraisal of
Riparian Condition set of score sheets and notes for field
Learn Savannas features structured, interactive
modules, Savanna Walkabout and Burning Issues. Savanna Walkabout is
full of animation, engaging graphics and mini-movies that emphasise
not just the remarkable north Australian landscapes and wildlife
but also the people who manage and know the country. Burning Issues
offers north Australian school students the opportunity to learn
about the bushfires they see around them in a detailed,
authoritative and stimulating format.
Savanna Windows links students and teachers to an
educational version of the Savanna Explorer website with
information on the wildlife, landscapes, people and NRM issues of
the tropical savannas.
1. Primary Connections is a National program that promotes
linking science teaching with literacy to enrich learning for
2. ARIES’s core business is to undertake research that
informs policy and practice in Education for Sustainability across
a range of sectors including business and industry, school
education, community education, further and higher education.
Louise Fogg is education officer for Environmental Education for
Sustainability and the key collaborator for this joint project with
the NT Department of Employment, Education and Training.
Other key people include: Jenni Webber, Viki Kane, Peter Gifford
(Universal Head), Barbara White, Dr Peter Jacklyn, Leslee Hills,
Dean Yibarbuk, Dr Linda Ford, Dr Penny Wurm, Dr John Woinarski, Dr
Sam Setterfield, Dr Michael Douglas, Ian Dixon, Dr Christine Bach
and Dr Ben Hoffmann.