Gippsland Rainforest

Senior Secondary | Earth and Environmental Sciences

In January and February 2021 I had the privilege of working at Jumbuk Park Nature Retreat in the Strzelecki Ranges. The work involved track clearance, using a digger, tree planting, mowing, flipping cabins as well as the creation of a Herbarium from all local plant species. And it was this last activity that got me thinking – this would be a phenomenal excursion for any student! Feel free to nick or adapt anything in this article for your own wonderful adventures!

  1. Overview
  2. Curriculum Links
  3. Teaching and Learning Sequence
    1. Introduction
    2. Ecosystems
    3. Mountain Ash Forests
    4. Citizen Science
    5. Excursion to The Strzelecki Ranges
    6. Herbarium
    7. Gallery Walk
  4. Why this activity?
  5. Teacher Resource
  6. Marking Rubric
  7. References

1. Overview

The unit will investigate biodiversity loss in the Strzelecki Ranges resulting from land clearing for forestry and fire. The outcomes of the lesson sequence will be:

  1. Reflective Journal (all observations, learning, questions, research and class activities)
  2. Class Padlet mapping the politics and science of the issue.
  3. Field trip to Tarra Bulga National Park and the Gunyah Reserve in the Strzelecki Ranges.
  4. Aerial maps showing the distribution of Ecological Vegetation Classes at the Gunyah Reserve paired with a Vegetation Quality Assessment completed by students in the field.
  5. Class Herbarium.
  6. Class canopy display.
  7. Gallery walk incorporating all the above elements.

Teaching Method: Guided Science Inquiry

Teaching Model: 5E Model.

Teaching Strategy: Representations, learning journals.
Students create representations

Skills: Collaborative, inquiry skills, field skills.

2. Curriculum Links

Senior Secondary | Year 11

Science Understanding

Biological Sciences

  • Ecosystems consist of communities of interdependent organisms and abiotic components of the environment; matter and energy flow through these systems (VCSSU121).

Geography: Environmental change and management

  • Different types and distribution of environmental changes and the forms it takes in different places (VCGGK144)
  • Environmental, economic and technological factors that influence environmental change and human responses to its management (VCGGK145)
  • Environmental worldviews of people and their implications for environmental management (VCGGK146)
  • Causes and consequences of an environmental change, comparing examples from Australia and at least one other country (VCGGK147)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ approaches to custodial responsibility and environmental management in different regions of Australia (VCGGK148)
  • Application of environmental economic and social criteria in evaluating management responses to an environmental change, and the predicted outcomes and further consequences of management responses on the environment and places, comparing examples from Australia and at least one other country (VCGGK149)
Science Inquiry Skills (SIS)

Questioning and predicting

  • Formulate questions or hypotheses that can be investigated scientifically, including identification of independent, dependent and controlled variables (VCSIS134)

Planning and conducting

  • Select and use appropriate equipment and technologies to systematically collect and record accurate and reliable data, and use repeat trials to improve accuracy, precision and reliability (VCSIS136)

Recording and processing

  • Construct and use a range of representations, including graphs, keys, models and formulas, to record and summarise data from students’ own investigations and secondary sources, to represent qualitative and quantitative patterns or relationships, and distinguish between discrete and continuous data (VCSIS137)

Analysing and evaluating

  • Analyse patterns and trends in data, including describing relationships between variables, identifying inconsistencies in data and sources of uncertainty, and drawing conclusions that are consistent with evidence (VCSIS138)
  • Use knowledge of scientific concepts to evaluate investigation conclusions, including assessing the approaches used to solve problems, critically analysing the validity of information obtained from primary and secondary sources, suggesting possible alternative explanations and describing specific ways to improve the quality of data (VCSIS139)


  • Communicate scientific ideas and information for a particular purpose, including constructing evidence-based arguments and using appropriate scientific language, conventions and representations (VCSIS140)
Cross-curriculum Priorities


3. Teaching and Learning Sequence

1. Introduction

Learning Concepts:

  • Learning-logs (reflective journals) are used to record learnings and questions of a scientific issue.
  • Land clearance is a type of environmental change.
  • Different stakeholders will have different opinions.

Teaching Input:

  • Explicitly teach reflection techniques for journal and introduce Padlet.
  • Land Clearance introduction
  • Introduce topic of land clearing of forests including environmental issues (i.e. biodiversity loss).
  • Show YouTube videos and facilitate comprehension task.

Student Activity:

  • Investigate the issue.


Lyrebird imitating chainsaw:

ABC Report on forestry:

Logging: From forest to floor:

Class padlet mapping issue:


  • Comprehension task on how logging process (Forest Learning 2021). Although a quiz is not an overly engaging formative assessment task, it is effective in ensuring that when watching a fact or process heavy video, students have taken note of the important concepts (for instance, they weren’t distracted by the fashion of the presenter…).
  • Reflective journal (i.e. 3-2-1, questions) (DET 2020, p.13). The collaborative and inquiry-based instructional approach to the teaching of this unit is formally assessed through accruing numerous formative assessments which show understanding into a summative reflective journal of which the format and overall design is decided by the student. In this way the assessment is purposeful and provides a reflection of engagement with the material, and the development of high-order competencies including metacognition, collaboration, agency, and creativity.
  • Padlet. Padlet acts as an online bulletin board where students can post ‘sticky notes’ with links to articles, videos, photos or upload files. It works fantastically as a formative assessment tool, and one which the students can continuously use and refer back to once it is created. It is also a form of Collaborative Learning or active inquiry which the teacher can moderate and guide to improve student meaning-making.
2. Ecosystems

Learning Concepts:

  • Revision ecosystems
    community, abiotic/biotic, food chain/web, population of a species, energy, carbon cycle, photosynthesis, etc. in journals.
  • Origin of VIC Forest Biomes
    Gondwana – cool temperate rainforest (80Ma Nothofagus), gradually replaced by wet forest (Mountain Ash).

Teaching Input:

  • Guide discussion, write class agreed-upon definitions on board.
  • Powerpoint guiding students through evolution of VIC landmass over time.

Student Activity:

  • Class Brainstorm
  • Record definitions
  • Stick in/annotate distribution of cool temperate/wet forests over geological time.
  • Use NatureKit to create aerial map of distribution of Cool Temperate/Wet Forests of Tarra Bulga/Gunya (DELWP 2021). NatureKit (DELWP 2021) is a resource that allows users to overlay and link biodiversity datasets, including species observation records, Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVC) and Bioregions. In this unit sequence the students are using it to explore the EVCs of the Strzelecki Ranges Bioregion as well as the distribution of species which have been logged in the area. It is an excellent resource for student-driven research and one which would be used by professional scientists and other stakeholders alike, creating an authentic lesson.


  • Reflective journal (definitions, annotation of map, annotation of flora distribution over time).
Annotated distribution of Nothofagus and Eucalyptus through time, demonstrating students understanding of what ‘ancient forest’ actually means in headlines.
Annotated aerial map showing distribution of ecological vegetation classes in the region of interest, as well as expected species in these regions. This map will be useful for when the student is in the field.
3. Mountain Ash Forest

Learning Concepts:

  • Mountain Ash and succession of forest ecosystem
  • History of management of Gunyah Reserve

Teaching Input:

  • Presentation on life cycle of Mountain Ash forest, how distribution is controlled by fire, what species colonise first and how this evolves as the forest matures.
  • Focus on the Gunyah Tree and the Gunyah Reserve politics.

Student Activity:

  • Map succession after fire/logging of wet forest.
  • Response to Gunyah Reserve importance.


  • Reflective Journal (Draw life cycle of mountain ash forest paired with succession of forest species). The students are tasked with creating a flow chart showing the life cycle of the Mountain Ash Forest Biome, from fire to death 400 years later, incorporating species succession, elements such as light/shade and root systems. Representations or drawing can facilitate ‘self-checking of ideas and collaborative learning among students’ (Dawson, Venville & Donovan 2019, p.45).
  • Reflective journal (Is it important to preserve the giant trees to you?)
4. Citizen Science

Learning Concepts:

  • Gunaikurnai People
  • Citizen science projects

Teaching Input:

  • Introduce the Gunaikurnai connection to country.
  • Introduce resources students can use for independent research.
  • Introduce Vegetation Quality Assessments as a form of environmental monitoring of land change (DSE 2004a).

Student Activity:

  • Read and respond to the Joint Management Plan (Gunaikurnai  Traditional  Owner  Land  Management  Board 2018).
  • Researching specific forest species. Learn about Vegetation Quality Assessment.


  • VicFlora Database, Atlas of Living Australia, iNaturalist


  • Reflective journal: How would you increase the connection to country? Would you like to hear more about the cultural heritage of the region? This is a useful scaffolded reflection, especially in response to a reading or if there has been a lot of information or conflicting opinions on a topic presented. The tool helps students to organise their thoughts and promotes metacognition, for whilst learning is socially mediated it is processed a second time in the mind before being incorporated into a new schema (Piaget 1936).
  • Research chosen species, identify distribution and sightings using citizen science projects.
5. Excursion to The Strzelecki Ranges

Learning Concepts:

  • How to identify plants in the field.
  • How and why to perform Vegetation Quality Assessment (gathering data for environmental monitoring). The Natural Resource Management Board of South Australia (NRM Board 2019) has produced numerous educational packs linked to the Australian Curriculum across all year levels. The Terrestrial Habitat Quality Assessment Information Pack in particular has been extremely useful in developing this unit, with background information including definitions, a simplified Habitat Quality Assessment table provided (Appendix 1), detailed information about assessing canopy structure including vegetation coverage (%).

Teaching Input:

  • Excursion. Take students to Visitor Information Centre, through tracks in Tarra Bulga where their plant species will be, help students perform Vegetation Quality Assessment.

Student Activity:

  • Overnight camp to Jumbuk Park.
  • Day 1 – Tarra Bulga National Park. Stay at Jumbuk Park for the night.
  • Day 2 – Visit the Gunyah Tree on the way back to Melbourne.


  • Bookings for accommodation/bus, etc.
  • Field notes, bags for collecting specimens, materials for Vegetation Quality Assessment.


  • Presentation to peers about selected plant. Including native status, description of leaves/fruit/flowers, canopy level, Aboriginal use of plant, etc.
  • Vegetation Quality Assessment rubric.
6. Herbarium

Learning Concepts:

  • How and why to create a herbarium: tools of a botanist.

Teaching Input:

  • Teach how to create herbarium, why it is important to botany, focus on Kara Healey.

Student Activity:

  • Create Herbarium.
  • Discussion about naturalists.


  • How to create herbarium guide (School of Biosciences 2018).
  • Paper, labels, iron for herbarium.
  • Kara Healey: What is a naturalist and how do they contribute to science? (Friends of Tarra Bulga National Park 2021).


  • Herbarium.
Student’s annotated herbarium, with photo of collection environment identifying elements of ecosystem and a distribution map.
  • Reflection journal: Unit reflection, answering questions (Summative assessment).

Learning Concepts:

  • Presenting outcomes of scientific study.

Teaching Input:

  • Help students to compile Gallery Walks.

Student Activity:

  • Compile class Herbarium. Create display for roving gallery in Library.
Example of class outcome: Herbarium.


  • Posters and other materials for students to use in presentation.


  • Gallery walk open to all students in school to view in library. A gallery walk is a fantastic method of encouraging student agency in the learning process, with peer-assessment of the students work and learning outcomes. The gallery walk here asks students to move through the room looking at the displays, asking questions about the items individually or as a small group. This stimulates a poster display at a conference, which is an extremely common form of science communication in the real world.

4. Why this activity?

This unit is designed to teach students the value of deep diving into the science behind socio-political issues as well as making the time to visit and understand different ecosystems (Ives et al. 2018). Neurobiologically you cannot think deeply about something you do not care about so it is important to visit and explore natural environments to form an experiential, cognitive and emotional connection (Immordino-Yang 2017). The unit is also designed to foster agency (DET 2019), with students maintaining a reflective journal throughout the unit to help assimilate and link new ideas with pre-existing knowledge (Nickel 2013).

The ability to research, collate data and summarise findings and ideas into a coherent understanding of an issue (thesis) is one of the most important skills you can have as a scientist. If you do not understand an issue then you will not even begin to be able to justify any ‘science’ you want to do!

5. Teacher Resource

Temperate rainforests are becoming increasingly fragmented in Victoria due to the impacts of fire and, land clearing for agriculture and – particularly contentiously of late – forestry. This has implications for biodiversity due to species loss, climate change due to decreasing capacity for carbon storage and, fire regimes, which can become irreversibly affected when the types and distribution of canopy trees change.

The Strzelecki Ranges

The Strzelecki Ranges (Figure 1) is a mountainous area of South Gippsland surrounded by the Gippsland Plane which contains one of the four major Temperate Rainforest ecosystems in Victoria and is one of 28 ecologically unique Bioregions (DSE 2004b). Cool Temperate Rainforests are significant as they are the remnants of the oldest extant vegetation formation in Australia, with Nothofagus (Myrtle Beech) dating back to 80Ma, synonymous with the breakup of Gondwana (Melbourne Museum 2021).

Once an extensive network of wet forest, damp forest and cool temperate rainforest known for giant mountain ash and fern gullies, as a result of land clearing for agriculture and forestry in the 100 years since European settlement, only 19 percent remains (Eklund & Fenley 2015, p.220). Land use and land cover change can have significant implications for earth atmosphere interactions, biodiversity, hydrogeology and aquatic ecosystems and fire regimes, and Victoria is the most cleared State in Australia (Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability 2013, p.63).

The classification of land use in the region is complex, with land variously classified as native forest logging coupes, reforestation, regrowth forest, plantation (hardwood and pine) with even more complex lease arrangements for industrial wood production dating back to 1936 with the establishment of a paper mill at Maryvale (Eklund & Fenley 2015, p.221). Since this time there has been ongoing debate about how much of the forest should be available to the timber/pulp industry and what should be available for conservation, tourism, and water needs with interest in conservation peaking in the 1970s, late 1990s and right now with the release of the Victorian Forestry Plan which aims to end native forest logging by 2030 (State Government of Victoria 2021).

There are around 5000 hectares of conservation reserves in the Strzelecki Ranges, which is less than 2% of the Strzelecki Ranges Bioregion (Eklund & Fenley 2015, p.11). In 2008 the Strzelecki Reserves (Cores and Links) Agreement was signed by the Victorian Government and Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP) whereby 8,000 Ha will be returned to the reserves system by 2028 which is in-line with the Victorian Forestry Plan (DELWP 2020).

Figure 1 Map of the Strzelecki Ranges through the ‘Cores and Links’ Forest Park, showing current parks and reserves, State Forest and HVP Plantation, as well as major roads, towns and rivers.
Forest Biome

Biodiversity includes all species, genetics, habitats and ecosystems of a region. Forest biomes are biological communities characterized by trees and other woody vegetation and can be classified by latitude with Wet, Damp and Cool Temperate Rainforest being the predominant type in Victoria. Cool Temperate Rainforest is an endangered Ecological Vegetation Class generally found in wet, climatically protected niches where fire has historically been rare and contains an overstory dominated by Myrtle Beech and an understory dominated by numerous varieties of ground and tree ferns (Tolsma et al. 2019). Surrounding the niches of Temperate Rainforest is Wet and Dry Forest vegetation classes, where the overstory layer is dominated by eucalyptus varieties (including Mountain Ash, Blue Gum and Messmate Stringybark) and the understory layer is far more developed with broad-leaved shrubs (i.e. Musk Daisy-bush) (DSE 2004b). The common species which define these vegetation types are summarised below.

 Wet Forest/Damp ForestCool Temperate Rainforest
Overstory layer (Canopy trees)40% cover Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus), Messmate Stringybark (Eucalyptus obliqua).Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii).  
Mid-storyMusk Daisy-bush (Olearia Agrophylla), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Hazel Pomaderris (Pomaderris aspera), Blanket-leaf (Bedfordia arborescens), Prickly Currant-Bush (Coprosma quadrifida), Austral Mulberry (Hedycarya angustifolia).   Common Cassinia (Cassinia aculeata), Fireweed Groundsel (Senecio linearifolius).Southern Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) and occasional Austral Mulberry (Hedycarya angostifolia).
Under-storySnowy Daisy-busy (Olearia lirata), Shade Nettle (Australina pusilla), White Elderberry (Sambucus gaudichaudiana), Rough Tree-fern (Dicksonia antarctica), Soft Tree-fern (Microsorum pustulatum), Kangaroo Fern.   Bidgee-widge (Acaena novaezelandiae), Hop Goodenia (Goodenia ovata),Wide range of ferns including Ground Ferns (Mother Shield-fern, Common Finger-fern, Mother Spleenwort, Hard Water-fern) and Tree Ferns (Soft Tree-fern, Slender Tree-fern, Skirted Tree-fern) and Epiphytes (Kangaroo Fern, Leathery Shield-fern) and Scrambler Mountain Clematis.
Mountain Ash Succession after Fire or Logging

The Australian Mountain Ash forests are the worlds highest total biomass carbon density at 1,867 tonnes carbon per ha (Keith, Mackey & Lindenmayer 2009). This is because the trees are evergreen, the trunks are dense, they grow to over 100m tall and 6m wide and have a thin canopy which allows the understory to flourish to maximise photosynthesis. The distribution of the Mountain Ash is controlled not by rain, but fire, as it is a carefully spaced (150-200 years) crown fire which creates the right environment for seeds to germinate and grow. It is not until 20 years of age that the tree becomes mature and produces seed and so if a fire passes through (or logging takes place) within that 20-year timeframe, the Mountain Ash Forest will cease to exist. Fast-growing species such as the Silver Wattle and Hazel Pomaderris will take-over. The Mountain Ash can live 300-400 years, at which time it becomes classified as an ‘Old Growth’ forest and Myrtle Beech species will begin to re-colonise as the old trees die to become habitat for wildlife as logs on the forest floor (Melbourne Museum 2021).

6. Marking Rubric

CriteriaPerformance level 4Performance Level 3Performance Level 2Performance Level 1
Formative tasks: Forest Biome (quiz, definitions, annotation of flora distribution over time, aerial map annotations, life cycle of mountain ash)Exemplary documentation and reflection of all class tasks. Well sketched, photographed, observed and reflected upon.Good documentation and reflection of all class experiences. Well sketched, photographed and observed.Adequate documentation and reflection of all class experiences. Sketched, photographed and observed.  Insufficient completion of formative tasks.
Critical reflections (political issues, cultural heritage, preservation, etc.)Superbly articulated and insightful analysis.Clearly articulated with well conducted analysis.Basic description and rough analysis.Insufficient detail and/or content.
Final report and critical analysis connecting theory and field experiences.Critical discussion and analysis of key components of the student’s own experiences and engagement with theory over unit.Key components of the student’s own experiences and engagement with theory over unit are discussed.Key components of the student’s own experiences and engagement with theory over unit are referred to but not discussed or analysed.Limited or no discussion or analysis.
Vegetation quality assessmentAll required elements are measured, relationships between the variables are discussed and analysed.One required element is missing, relationships between most variables are discussed and analysed.More than one required element is missing, relationships between a few variables are discussed and analysed.Several required elements are missing, no discussion.
HerbariaComprehensive, excellently presented. Extensively researched. Exemplary drawings, diagrams and images.Comprehensive, well presented, well researched content. Good drawings,  diagrams and images.Comprehensive, reasonably researched content. All requirements of the submission.Incomplete – Does not address all required content
Overall presentationProfessional presentation, consistently complies with accepted academic English writing conventions, grammar, spelling with no errors.Professional presentation and visually attractive, consistently complies with accepted academic English writing conventions, grammar, spelling with few errors.Mainly complies with accepted academic English writing conventions with some errors in grammar, spelling.Does not comply with accepted academic English writing conventions, grammar, spelling, sometimes difficult to decipher.
 80-100 (A)62-80 (B)43-62 (C)<43 (D)

7. References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2021, ‘Science: Rationale’, retrieved April 11, 2021, from <,its%20applications%20in%20our%20lives.&gt;.

Dawson, V, Venville, G & Donovan, J 2019, The Art of Teaching Science: A Comprehensive Guide to the Teaching of Secondary School Science 3rd edn, Taylor and Francis Group.

DELWP 2020, ‘Brataualung Forest Park’, retrieved May 28, 2021, from <;.

DELWP 2021, ‘NatureKit’, retrieved May 29, 2021, from <;.

DET 2019, Amplify, State of Victoria.

DET 2020, Formative Assessment Strategies, State of Victoria.

DSE 2004a, ‘Vegetation Quality Assessment Manual: Guidlines for applying the habitat hectares scoring method’, State of Victoria.

DSE 2004b, Strzelecki Ranges Bioregion, State of Victoria.

Duigan, N & Hart, A 2011, Going Bush Series 5 Episode 1A with Christian Cole, 7Plus, retrieved May 30, 2021, from <;.

Eklund, E & Fenley, J 2015, Earth and Industry: Stories from Gippsland, Monash University Publishing.

Forest Learning 2021, ‘Australia’s Amazing Mountain Ash’, Forest Learning, retrieved May 29, 2021, from <’s_Amazing_Mountain_Ash_Teacher.pdf&gt;.

Friends of Tarra Bulga National Park 2021, Second centenary for Tarra-Bulga National Park: Tribute to Victoria’s first woman., retrieved May 30, 2021, from <;.

Gunaikurnai  Traditional  Owner  Land  Management  Board 2018, GUNAIKURNAI AND VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT JOINT MANAGEMENT PLAN, Gunaikurnai  Traditional  Owner  Land  Management  Board.

Immordino-Yang, MH 2017, ‘Embodied Brains, Social Minds, Cultural Meaning: Integrating Neuroscientific and Educational Research on Social-Affective Development.’, American Educational Research Journal, vol. 54, no. 1S, pp. 344S-367S.

Ives, C, Abson, D, von Wehrden, H, Dorninger, C, Klaniecki, K & Fischer, J 2018, ‘Reconnecting with nature for sustainability’, Sustainability Science, vol. 13, pp. 1389–1397.

Keith, H, Mackey, B & Lindenmayer, D 2009, ‘Re-evaluation of forest biomass carbon stocks and lessons from the world’s most carbon-dense forests’, PNAS, vol. 106, no. 28.

Melbourne Museum 2021, ‘Forest Secerets: Life in the Victorian Forest’, retrieved May 29, 2021, from <;.

Nickel, J 2013, ‘Formative Assessment and Syntheses in Reflection Journals’, Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, vol. 6, no. 3.

NRM Board 2019, Terrestrial Habitat Quality Assessment: Teacher Information Pack, retrieved May 21, 2020, from <;.

Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability 2013, Victoria: State of the Environment, State of Victoria.

Piaget, J 1936, Origins of Intelligence in the Child, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

School of Biosciences 2018, Make your own Herbarium Specimens, University of Melbourne, retrieved May 29, 2021, from <;.

State Government of Victoria, D of J, Precincts and Regions 2021, ‘Victorian Forestry Plan’, retrieved May 28, 2021, from <;.

Tolsma, A, Hale, R, Sutter, G & Kohout, M 2019, Post-fire dynamics of Cool Temperate Rainforest in the O’Shannassy Catchment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.

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