Year 6

Science Support Materials

Science snapshot: The health of our river

Science/Science Understanding/Biological sciences and Science Inquiry Skills/Planning and conducting

Content Description Relevant aspects of the Achievement Standards

The growth and survival of living things are affected by the physical conditions of their environment

Use equipment and materials safely, identifying potential risks

Students explain how scientific knowledge is used in decision making.

Nature of the assessment

Teachers’ observations of students’ journal writing

Purpose of the task

To ascertain students’ understanding of how science informs decision making

Stage in the teaching sequence

End of an activity


Year 6 students worked alongside a scientist from a river trust to monitor the health of their river catchment area. The students used digital data loggers to measure factors such as water temperature, pH levels and levels of dissolved oxygen. The students were also required to collect and identify macro-invertebrates (water bugs) and they were shown how they could use these to gauge the health of the waterway.

In the July, the students noticed large numbers of sluggish and dead fish. The teachers asked the students to offer suggestions of what could have caused the deaths and to think about how they might identify the cause.

The students could no longer continue to monitor the water quality because of health risks. Instead the scientist supplied them with data and gave them materials to help them understand the impact of micro-algae on fish, why it was an issue and how scientists were investigating possible ways of addressing the issue.

Throughout the monitoring activity, the students were required to keep science journals and the teachers used a range of prompts to encourage students to write about their scientific thinking processes.

Assessment task

The journals allowed the teachers to assess different aspects of students’ science understanding.

They assessed students’ understanding of how science knowledge is used in decision making by asking:

How does the monitoring of the health of the water ways help scientists understand and solve an issue?

Assessment criteria

The teachers classified students’ answers according to the level of understanding demonstrated. Lower-level responses focussed on the monitoring alerting scientists to an issue. Higher-level responses referred to monitoring not only alerting scientists to the issue, but also providing scientists with information to consider possible causes of the issue and therefore possible ways to solve it. These higher-level answers also included attempts to explain how the abiotic factors being monitored would have affected the life in the river. 

Using the information

  • The Year 6 teachers led a discussion with their own classes to support all students in understanding how scientific knowledge is used in decision making.
  • The Year 6 teachers shared the activity and the journal writing with the Year 7 teachers.
  • The Year 6 teachers used the journals to evaluate the activity. They agreed to rerun the activity the following year and refined the journal prompts to further extend students’ scientific understandings.