In this Inquiry students investigate how Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples knowledge of light absorption, refraction and reflection was used to inform architectural design of traditional housing and shelters, their cardinal orientation and building material choice.

Shelters at Mitchell River Mission Station 1937.  ©John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland; Negative number: 58731

Physical sciences: Light from a source forms shadows and can be absorbed, reflected and refracted. (ACSSU080 )

Students construct models of traditional shelters and investigate their shadow formation and the properties of the traditional building materials used. Students learn that Indigenous Australians have great architectural diversity that provides proven protection from the extreme conditions experienced throughout the Australian environment.

Camp at Widgee Creek near Beaudesert 1907.  ©John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland; Collection reference: 6600 Rev Higlett Photograph Albums, Negative number: 48268

Through the construction of models of traditional housing designs and testing the orientation and material properties students are given the first hand opportunity to test predictions, gather data and use evidence to develop explanations of light phenomena. The Indigenous context of traditional shelters enables students to further appreciate that the scientific understanding of the properties of light by Indigenous Australians was used to help them make daily decisions regarding protection from weather elements such as sun/heat exposure and how this understanding informed community housing design decisions. Students also learn that scientific research into light absorption, reflection and refraction of modern building architecture and building materials continues to influence community decisions and is essential to comfortable, energy efficient and safe living in the Australian environment.

Through the student led design and conducting of this hands-on inquiry, students develop and exhibit a range of Science Inquiry Skills such as questioning and predicting, planning and conducting, processing and analysing, evaluating and communicating. Students discover that Indigenous Australians used some of the same Science Inquiry Skills themselves thousands of years ago when they tested and trialled housing and shelter designs, building materials and the influence of cardinal orientation of these structures.

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