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Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

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Telephone02 9816 1298

Ecosystem dynamics program

Teacher checklist


Buffalo Creek Reserve - 117 Pittwater Road, Hunters Hill.

Wallumedegal Country

Google map - Apple map

Bus access

Supply bus driver with Buffalo Creek Reserve bus information.

No bus entry into Buffalo Creek Reserve carpark.


2023 DoE $25 per student - GST free

2023 Non-gov school cost $35 per student - GST free, minimum charge $600

Risk assessment

Risk management plan

COVID-19 safety plan


View the video of the tracks and bushland sites visited on this excursion

Sugarloaf Point track


Participants will be bushwalking for up to 1km on rocky tracks with some uneven steps.

This excursion may not be suitable for people who have recently been unwell or who have significantly limited mobility.

Toilets are only available at the beginning and end of the day.

Please contact the centre to discuss the needs of participants with limited mobility.


Backpack, clipboards, pencil, pen, medication, plenty of food, water bottle, sunblock, wet weather gear, hat, sports uniform, sturdy shoes, mask. 

There are no shops near the study site.

Student devices

Students are required to bring their own mobile device for photography and data collection. They must have the Google Sheets app downloaded prior to the excursion.

Download Google sheets: Google Play - App Store

Please contact the centre if your school has a no-phone rule.

Essential viewing for students

Preparing for an excursion video

Fieldwork information and skills video playlist

Note: Watch these videos in the week before the excursion. Videos 7 - 11 are particularly useful.

Essential resources

Student worksheets

Student resource website

Supporting resources

Teacher programming folder with resources, quizzes, worksheets and assessment ideas.

Fact sheets for relevant animal and plant species.

Bin access

Bins are only available at the start and the end of the excursion. Students must take responsibility for their own waste at all times.

Medical or special needs

Notify Field of Mars staff prior to excursion. 

Students, staff and visitors must not attend if unwell, even with mild symptoms.

Extreme or wet weather

Days predicted to be above 35ºC, high winds, extreme bush fire danger and dust storms may result in the excursion being modified, postponed or cancelled.  Weather forecast


Cancellations with less than three school weeks' notice will incur a $500 administration fee. This does not apply to cancellations due to weather, fire danger or COVID-19 restrictions.

Suggested timetable

This suggested timetable is suitable for up to three classses.  Schools with four classes will need to split into three large groups.



9.45 - 10.15 Introduction - Inquiry questions, planning, toilets, distribute fieldwork equipment
  Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
10.00 - 10.55 Site 3 Site 2 Site 1
10.55 - 11.20 Recess - at site 4 or other pleasant bush site
11.20 - 12.15 Site 1 Site 3 Site 2
12.15 - 1.10 Site 2 Site 1 Site 3
1.10 - 1.40 Lunch - at Buffalo Creek Reserve or other site
1.40 - 2.00 Data analysis, problem solving revisiting inquiry questions
2.00 - 2.15 Conclusion and depart

Excursion outline:

On this excursion students undertake a journey through high-quality natural environments to access three main study sites. Along the way they engage with content from Modules 3 and 4 from the NESA Biology syllabus including:

  • Case studies of two native animal species and their ecological niches (including interactions, adaptations, evolutionary notes and population dynamics)

  • Rigorous, hands-on ecological surveys of the biotic and abiotic factors at two different forest sites. The data collected from these surveys then allows for a comparison of the sites which informs a habitat assessment for the two animal species mentioned above.

  • Analysis of human activities, environmental impacts, management and research priorities

  • Engaging, hands-on communication tasks that focus on animal adaptations, habitat, threats and management.

    All of the fieldwork activities have an explicit teaching focus on the syllabus skills for working scientifically. 

    The inquiry questions that guide the fieldwork plan are:

  • Why do some populations of native animal species thrive while other species' populations decline?
  • What fieldwork & analysis methodologies are needed for a valid and reliable habitat survey for the red-crowned toadlets and long-nosed bandicoots at Sugarloaf Hill?
  • How should the forest ecosystems at the Sugarloaf Hill be managed for maximum biodiversity in the future?

Activity details:

Sites 1 and 2 - Ecological surveys

Students work co-operatetively in groups of 3 or 4.
Each group has a bag full of quality fieldwork instruments and tools. Students use these to record quantitative and qualitative data for their site surveys of biotic and abiotic factors.

Biotic factors surveyed include: leaf litter invertebrate sampling, fauna evidence, leaf-litter coverage (using a sectioned quadrat) and identifying dominant plant types.

Soil factors surveyed include: soil texture, pH, moisture, colour and temperature.

Abiotic environmental factors surveyed are numerous and use instruments including hygrometers, compasses, clinometers, light meters and anemometers.

Students record their data and observations in two ways: first using their own worksheets and second using a shared online spreadsheet which they all access on their phones using the "Google sheets" app. This streamlines data collection, processing and analysis (and allows the teachers to spot and correct errors and suspicious data outliers as they occur)

As they work, the groups identify and discuss issues with the survey method's validity and data reliability. This discussion includes explicit examples of different types of error and bias and strategies to minimise these.

Note: To get the most out of these activities your students need to have watched these videos in the week before the excursion (videos 7 - 11 are particularly useful)

Site 3 - Case studies of native animals

Students will investigate the habitat and engage with the adaptations of two threatened species/populations that occur at the site - the long-nosed bandicoot and the red-crowned toadlet.

Students will use their own phones/devices to make a short, informative video about the ecological niche, adaptations and threats for the long-nosed bandicoot.

Site 4 (and bush tracks) - Ecosystem dynamics and human impacts

Throughout the day students will identify the relevant human activities and their associated environmental impacts (good and bad) occurring in and around the study sites.
Students learn to identify cause and effect relationships and then communicate these with a flowchart building activity.

Students are be coached on how to take the ideal photos on their own devices that enable them to best identify and communicate information relevant to the syllabus content and any assessment task the school may have.

Near the end of the excursion student groups consider and discuss information they have gathered and use this to make an initial comparison and assessment of the two study sites, specifically their suitability as habitat for the long-nosed bandicoot and red-crowned toadlet as well as future directions for land and ecosystem managers.


Teachers can easily use this excursion experience and data collected as the basis of an assessment task.

A range of sample assessment questions, tasks and marking rubrics are available by request.

Schools that are able to organise their students to collect their excursion data using the Google sheets spreadsheet app (instead of pen and paper) will find it much easier to assess their students' data processing and analysis skills.

Syllabus outcomes and content

Biology Stage 6 Syllabus (2017)

Working scientifically


A student:

  • develops and evaluates questions and hypotheses for scientific investigation BIO11/12-1

  • designs and evaluates investigations in order to obtain primary and secondary data and information BIO11/12-2

  • conducts investigations to collect valid and reliable primary and secondary data and information BIO11/12-3

  • selects and processes appropriate qualitative and quantitative data and information using a range of appropriate media BIO11/12-4

  • analyses and evaluates primary and secondary data and information BIO11/12-5

  • analyses ecosystem dynamics and the interrelationships of organisms within the ecosystem BIO11-11

Module 4 Ecosystem Dynamics


Students investigate and determine relationships between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem, including:

  • the impact of abiotic factors

  • the impact of biotic factors, including predation, competition and symbiotic relationships

  • the ecological niches occupied by species

  • predicting consequences for populations in ecosystems due to predation, competition, symbiosis and disease

  • measuring populations of organisms using sampling techniques

Students analyse evidence that present-day organisms have evolved from organisms in the past by examining and interpreting a range of secondary sources to evaluate processes, claims and conclusions relating to the evolution of organisms in Australia, for example:

  • small mammals

Students investigate changes in past ecosystems that may inform our approach to the management of future ecosystems, including:

  • the role of human-induced selection pressures on the extinction of species

  • models that humans can use to predict future impacts on biodiversity

  • the role of changing climate on ecosystems

Students investigate practices used to restore damaged ecosystems, country or place, for example:

  • mining sites

  • land degradation

Biology Stage 6 Syllabus © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017