The Australian Federation of Societies for Studies of Society and Environment (AFSSSE) with support from the National Professional Development Program (Strategic Element) through the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DEETYA) has produced three imaginative exemplary units focused on the perspectives of futures and technology. The units will help teachers plan quality programs in the key learning area of Studies of Society and Environment.

The three units are:

  • Futures Studies - Band A by Angela Colliver and Mark Wildy (Cost: $12.50)
  • Futures Studies - Band B by Dr Richard Dunlop (Cost: $12.50)
  • Impact of Technology - Band B by Dr Richard Dunlop (Cost: $12.50)

The set of three publications can be purchased at a cost of $28.00.

The publications can be purchased from:
PO Box 1029
New Farm
Queensland  4005

Tel: Int +(0)7 3358 5880
Fax: Int +(0)7 3358 5881
Make cheques payable to 'AFSSSE'.

The following information is an excerpt from the publication 'The Impact of Technology - Band B'. In the publication there are twelve suggested unit activities; six of these are presented here.


Unit investigation: What have been the effects of technologies in the past?
Band B: Suggested time allocation 18-36 hours
Aim: To investigate the impact of the introduction of technologies on past and current societies and environments, including issues of an ethical nature.

Suggested Unit Activities

1 Some traditional Aboriginal technologies and their impact, part 1 (1 hour)
2 Some traditional Aboriginal technologies and their impact, part 11 (1-3 hours)
3 Some changes in Torres Strait islander technologies (1-3 hours)
4 The Industrial Revolution (1-2 hours)
5 Some colonial technologies and their impact (3-4 hours)
6 Brilliant Australian inventions (1-3 hours)

Activity 1 - Some traditional Aboriginal technologies and their impact, part 1 - Guest speaker

Ideally, invite one or more Aboriginal guest speakers from the local community to discuss the use of some traditional Aboriginal technologies, while the students take notes and ask questions. Some precautions need to be considered in this regard, for example,

not all Aboriginal people are able to speak authoritatively or comfortably about past practices within the local area, and certainly not about all Aboriginal cultures;

in advance of the visit, it is important to negotiate dates, times and rates of payment, the way the speaker would prefer to be introduced, the likely size of the audience for the speaker, the range of topics, the types of questions which may be asked by students, and whether the speaker would like to be accompanied by a friend for moral support or added expertise.

Assign students to welcome, thank and farewell the speaker/s.

Activity 2 - Some traditional Aboriginal technologies and their impact, part 11: Guest speaker

Because of the complexity and diversity of Aboriginal societies and cultures, it is usually not possible to generalise accurately across the nation. Some broad information on fire technology is provided below with some associated activities to indicate the types of activities in which students could be engaged.

Using the information on fire technology as a stimulus, groups of students could:
use a slip-writing technique, develop a list of the applications of fire in the past and its applications today, and write some generalisations about these;

discuss the impact that fire had on the Australian environment and on the lifestyles of past and current generations of Aboriginal people, and compare this with its impact on different groups of Australians today; and

describe the uses of various tools mentioned in the stimulus information sheet that fire is used to make or decorate, and the importance of these implements to Aboriginal societies.

In considering technologies, it is important to encourage students to consider the nature of the original 'problem/s' which prompted the invention of the technological solution/s. Students could discuss how the invention of one solution to the original problem (rather than some other solution) changed the pattern of life for people. For example, if hunting and farming were not conducted by some Aboriginal people with the assistance of fire, how would this have changed societal or environmental patterns?

To conclude, students could:

develop a table, listing the names of the technologies, their uses and a sketch of the object or one of its applications;

make models of some of the technologie;s

prepare diagrams, labelling the steps which are used in the technological processes;

collect news clippings of the impact of modern technologies on Aboriginal societies, for example, a recent case in the Northern Territory whereby male students may only gain access to particular knowledge through the use of a password on the Internet;

establish a learning centre displaying what they have made and learning.

Farming with Fire

Aboriginal people used fire to assist in farming. Fire would be used to clear land which was thick with dead branches and long grass, so that an accidental or uncontrolled bushfire did not occur. Fires were also lit to drive animals into the open where they could be easily hunted. 'Fire-stick farmers' also knew that the ashes from fires makes good fertiliser and encourages new plants to grow, especially many Australian native plants which will only release their seeds after they have been burnt. Land was opened up so that people could travel through readily and animals were encouraged to graze in the new grassy areas.

The Anbara people in north-central Arnhem Land burned fire-breaks around thick forests soon after the wet season finished. Because the forests were full with fruit, the Anbara people did not want the forests to be accidentally burned.

Fire as a Versatile Tool

Apart from giving warmth and light at night, fire continue to be used to assist in cooking, and making and decorating a range of objects, including boomerangs, coolamons, digging sticks, woomeras, spears, mats and canoes.

Activity 3 - Some changes in Torres Strait Island technologies

Locate the Torres Strait on a map of Australia or Queensland.
Using only the location of the islands, groups of students should list the types of technologies which they would expect the Torres Strait islanders to have found useful. Compare some of the information which is provided in the table below with the types of hypotheses made by students.
Groups of students could discuss the following types of questions, while completing the table below to illustrate some of the changes which have occurred in one region of Australia:

What reasons would people have for choosing to use new materials/technologies to do a similar job?

What effects might traditional materials/technologies have had on the environment of the Torres Strait Islands?

What effects might the use of new materials/technologies have on the natural environment of the Torres Strait Islands?

What effects might the adoption of new materials/technologies have on the people of the Torres Strait (for example, the loss of customary skills)

Choose a technology in use in the school and make notes about the impact that it has had on the schooling experience of students over time (for example, chalk and chalkboards, photocopiers in the library, printed materials, computers in the classroom, film, commuting by bus, overhead projects in classrooms). Develop a before and after table, illustrating aspects of school life at some given time in the past, and school life now. Address similar types of questions to those above:

What reasons would people have for choosing to use new materials/technologies to do a similar job in schools?

What effects might traditional materials/technologies have had on the schooling of students in the past?

What effects might the use of new materials/technologies have on students who are presently at school?

What technologies might be introduced in the future and what positive and negative changes will those technologies prompt?

Write and act a scene from a play where a grandmother and granddaughter compare school technology (or lack of it) and how the technology influences the way they learned.

Changes in Technology in the Torres Strait

Technology Traditional Current

Harpoons were traditionally used to spear dugong and turtle. Harpoons are still made today but of different materials.


Traditionally, the main focus of transport between islands was the dugout canoe, which was carved and burnt form a single tree trunk. Sails, masts and outriggers were added for stability and speed. Dinghies, with an outboard motor, have replaced dugout canoes throughout the Torres Strait.

Mats, bags and baskets

Mats, bags and baskets were carefully woven from cane, coconut tree branches and leaves, palm fronds, and various grasses. Colourful bags are still woven from synthetic materials and plastic bags are commonly used.

Sardine scoops

Sardine scoops were triangular baskets made of cane and bamboo. Because they were open at one end and tied off at the other, small creatures could not escape once inside. Nylon nets are used to do the same job now.


Activity 4 - The Industrial Revolution

View extracts from the movie 'Oliver' (available on video) to highlight aspects of life in England during the Industrial Revolution.
Develop a simple board game to summarise some of the key features of the technological changes occurring in England at the time. Students would begin to the board game as rural workers and progress towards life in the cities where they would encounter certain fates. (The Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions are complex events and cannot be dealt with in sufficient detail in this resources, but some of the key features of the technological changes are listed below.)

Some Key Features of the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions

Peasants worked small land holdings in an open-field system until the eighteenth century.
Extra income was made by spinning wool in village cottages.
Invention of the Flying Shuttle in 1733 and the Spinning Jenny in 1764.
Invention of other machines and establishment of large factories, leading to the unemployment of spinners and weavers in country areas.

Wealthy landowners enclosed the land, using Enclosure Acts.
Rural workers sought work in the factories in cities.
Too many workers led to unemployment, and problems in housing, hygiene, disease, early death, poor working conditions for adults and children, long hours of work, and cholera and typhus epidemics.
In the slums, crimes were common.
Governments introduced harsher laws to try to reduce crime.
Jails became full, and even ships ('hulks') used as temporary jails became overcrowded.
Places where convicts could be imprisoned or sent were sought.

Activity 5 - Some colonial technologies and their impact

Visit an historical museum and categorise the colonial technologies on display. Groups of students should determine in advance of the visit the categories they will use, and then modify them if necessary at the site of the historical museum, according to the practicability of their categorising system.
Use old recipes or instruction manuals to make butter or preserve fruits, leatherwork, or darn in the mode of colonials.
Read accounts of life in the bush to identify the implements used, the purposes they served and the impact they were intended to have on the Australian natural environment. Also, view reproductions of paintings, such as those by Frederick McCubbin or Tom Roberts, which illustrate various forms of technology in use in Australia's colonial era.
As a whole class, research and discuss how attitudes have changed toward the natural environment, for example, on issues such as scrub clearing which has been found to lead to deleterious soil erosion, salination, extinction and other effects.
Write two diary entries which focus on the attitude to the environment or the use of different technologies between a colonial tradesperson or farmer and their contemporary counterparts.
Propose as many environmentally sensitive solutions as possible to some problems which may have been common for colonial Australians, for example,

Boolaroon Creek always breaks its banks on the south side after heavy rain. The people who have their houses and their farms on the south side are the most prosperous in the farming district because, despite the initial flooding, they receive about the right amount of water that they need each year to sustain their crops. The people on the right-hand side do not enjoy being flooded but because of their prosperity, they do not wish to move.

Activity 6 - Brilliant Australian inventions

Outline to students, with suitable audio/visual aids, some of the significant technological innovations which were developed in the nineteenth century, for example,

John Ridley's wheat stripper (1843);
James Harrison's freezing process and the world's first iceworks (1852);
the rack wool press (1865);
JAB Higham's mechanical shearing machine (1866);
Robert and Clarence Smith's stump-jump plough (1876);
James Alston's self-operating windmill for pumping sub-artesian water (1880s);
HV McKay's harvester (1885);
Lawrence Hargrave's aircraft designs (1850-1915).

  • Encourage students to:
    work in pairs to conduct mock interviews with the inventors, leading to a newspaper article;
    develop a brochure/junk mail flyer to advertise the invention and how its applications are going to alter people's way of life;
    develop their own inventions to solve contemporary problems (for example, the need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases; freeway construction which does not destroy natural habitats; improved means of electronic communications; or something on a much simpler scale like a form of technology which encourages babies to eat their food);
    develop a prototype of the inventions from cardboard and foam core or other appropriate materials; and
    complete an application form for a patent (and receive a certificate of patent).

Invite parents, other classes to a presentation of a mock-TV show 'Meet the Inventors' in which individuals or groups of students try to promote their products to prospective investors, by explaining they key features and the advantages over current technologies designed to meet the same needs or wants.

Refer to the following table of great Australian inventions. In each case, and for other great Australian inventions that students uncover (for example, Raph Sarich's 1972 orbital engine; Cochlear bionic ear; the winged keel of Australia 11), describe the positive and negative effects of the introduction of the new technology on Australian society and the natural environment.

Students could develop a file of clippings on brilliant and more recent Australian technologies from newspapers, magazines, news and other speciality television programs which could include medical or biological breakthroughs, achievements in sports science leading up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, or solutions in telecommunications to enable people in different parts of the country to view cable television.

Find illustrations to match the names of these great Australian inventions:
Coolgardie safe
Hills Hoist
Holden car
Victa mower
Kambrook power board
Sydney Harbour bridge
Road train
Aluminium sliding windows


Copyright © 2004  AFSSSE