In this inquiry students investigate Indigenous Australians spears and how Aboriginal peoples’ and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of physics was used to change a spear’s (object’s) motion.

Matt Burns from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) shared his knowledges of spear throwers

Physical sciences: Changes to an object’s motion is caused by unbalanced forces, including Earth’s gravitational attraction, acting on the object. (ACSSU117 )

Students also investigate the development and application of a simple machine (2nd class lever) by Aboriginal Australians and see first-hand how a lever is used to impart an unbalanced force that is great enough to momentarily overcome the earth’s gravitational attraction. Students discover how Indigenous Australians considered many variables in the design and construction of spears and spearthrowers, including force, mass and acceleration. Students further discover that the development of this crucial machine enables the hunter to apply greater force than an arm alone can to a spear, resulting in greatly increased acceleration (motion) of a spear.

An echidna quill fixed to a throwing spear with binding and resin to create a sharp pointed barb

Through the hands-on use of ball throwers and an adjustable spearthrower model students are able to develop and exhibit a range of Science Inquiry Skills such as questioning and predicting, planning and conducting, processing and analysing, evaluating and communicating. Students pose their own questions regarding the effectiveness of a lever and use their scientific knowledge to make a prediction. They plan, conduct and perform a hands-on investigation.

Image of one gripping technique for the spear and spear thrower before throwing

One gripping technique for the spear and spear thrower before throwing

The Inquiry gives students the opportunity to measure and control variables, ensuring fair testing and accuracy. They process and analyse their findings through the use of graphs, keys and models and can use digital technologies as appropriate.

The Inquiry also gives students the opportunity to evaluate the quality/accuracy of the data collected and reflect and identify future improvements. Students discover that Indigenous Australians used the same Scientific Inquiry Skills themselves thousands of years ago when they tested and trialled the use of levers. The recognition of patterns in data allowed Indigenous Australians to draw the conclusion that this a relationship between lever lengths and throwing distance.

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