The following resource is a 4-part lesson about plate tectonics in the context of the Australian – Antarctic break up. The lessons feature voyage research conducted by geoscientists onboard RV Investigator.


Emily Fewster, Sydney Distance Education High School, New South Wales

Nature of the inquiry problem

The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement.

Suitable year levels and subject areas

Stage 5 Science NSW Syllabus

Curriculum links

A student:

  • describes changing ideas about the structure of the Earth and the universe to illustrate how models, theories and laws are refined over time by the scientific community SC5-12ES
  •  explains how scientific knowledge about global patterns of geological activity and interactions involving global systems can be used to inform decisions related to contemporary issues SC5-13ES

Additional content covered:

  • discuss technological developments that have extended the ability of scientists to collect information about, and monitor events in, the natural world
  • outline examples where advances in science and emerging science and technologies significantly affect people's lives, including generating new career opportunities in areas such as astrophysics, geophysics, space science and vulcanology
Learning Objectives
  • Students learn about mantle plumes and the role they play in plate tectonics
  • Students learn about careers and technology used in geoscience in an Australian setting
  • Students consider how new data is collected by scientists to refine previous theories and scientific knowledge
  • Students identify the direction of the movement of the Australian continental plate using age of extinct volcanos on the mainland
  • Students revise the rock cycle and investigate a range of rocks using a dichotomous key
  • Students describe the role of heat and its interactions with lithosphere in creating: thermal plumes resulting in effusive mafic eruptions (in particular, seamounts)
Student Learning Outcomes*

At the end of the 4 lessons students will have an appreciation of:

  • Some career paths in geoscience
  • How current Australia research into mantle plumes is informing our ideas about the tectonic breakup in Australia and Antarctica and potentially feeding new information into climate models
  • The direction the Australian continental plate is moving how to use basic dichotomous key to identify rocks

Work booklet, research (collaborative and individual tasks)

Assessment outcomes

Informal, formative assessmet is built into the lessons.

Information and communications technology (ICT)

Embedded videos and web links


© Catch My Drift (created by Emily Fewster) (2019) Copyright owned by Department for Education, New South Wales. Except as otherwise noted, this work is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Download the lesson here

Catch My Drift [pdf · 7mb]

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