• Audience
    Primary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 2, Stage 3
  • Learning area
    First Nations, Geography, Pasifika, Science
  • Type
    Learning journey, Teaching resources

On this page...

Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow our Sharks learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of shark features, the environments they live in and how we treat them.

Sharks is an exhibition about sharks, but it is also an exhibition about us.

Having swum in the world’s oceans for over 450 million years and survived five global mass extinctions, sharks are now under threat. Unsustainable fishing, habitat destruction and climate change are impacting sharks. Our attitudes and our actions will decide the fate of these ancient survivors.

Here in Sydney, where the Pacific meets Australia, we’re honoured to have Australian and Pacific First Nations people, scientists and conservationists, sharing their stories about sharks.

Through this learning journey, students will:

  • engage with Sharks exhibition content.
  • question what they know and feel about sharks.
  • learn how we can live safely with sharks and help protect their habitat.
  • explain how different peoples around the world look after sharks, and care for the environments they live in.

NSW syllabus outcomes: GE2-2, GE2-3, GE3-2, GE3-3, ST2-1WS-S, ST3-1WS-S, ST2-4LW-S, ST3-4LW-S, ST2-2DP-T, ST3-2DP-T.

Prepare your students

  • An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that pays respect to the Traditional Custodians of the Country that you are learning or meeting on and recognises their ongoing relationship with Country. The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which the Museum stands.

    Which First Nations Country or Nation was your school built upon? If you are unsure contact a local First Nations organisation to find out. You might like to start with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

    Ask your students to write an Acknowledgement of Country for your school. To get them started, read more about why an Acknowledgement of Country is important and how to write one in this ABC article.

  • Word cloud
    Describe 'sharks' in five words. Students record chosen words using a world cloud generator or website. Discuss class thinking about sharks using created word cloud.

    This method is collaborative and visually powerful. Students must summarise their thinking about sharks into five words and submit to a word cloud generator which varies the size of submitted text based on occurrence. This will highlight key ideas and feelings about sharks within the class and can then be used as a foundation for class discussion.

    This activity will be revisited at the conclusion of the learning journey.

    What is a shark?
    Discuss the following questions in student groups:

    What is a shark? How is it different to other animals in the ocean?
    What are some shark features that help them survive in their environment?
    What do sharks eat? How do they find their food?

    How are shark senses different to yours?
    How do sharks move?

    Write up some responses on the board. Highlight or circle what students already know about sharks and what they would like to know about sharks.

    Create a three-column table in student workbooks, with the headings:

    What I know about sharks...
    What I want to know about sharks...

    What I have learnt about sharks...

    In pairs, students complete the 'know' and 'want to know' columns. Leave the ‘learnt’ column blank for now.

  • Let's be SharkSmart
    Whenever we swim at a beach, enter the open water or even paddle in an estuary, we are potentially entering a shark’s domain. While not all sharks are dangerous, some sharks and their bites can pose a risk to people. That being the case, it is important to always be SharkSmart!

    The NSW Government has a strategy to reduce the risks that sharks pose to humans. Watch the video below to learn about some easy ways to stay SharkSmart.

    What are some other ways we can stay SharkSmart and still care for shark habitats? Write down a class list and check it against the SharkSmart website.

    Design an A4 poster that encourages beachgoers to care about sharks and be SharkSmart.

  • Sharks and us
    In your visit to Sharks, you will not only see sharks from around the world, but you will also hear how people around the world care for sharks.

    Many First Nations Peoples in Australia have a deep respect for sharks, and know how to look after their habitat. Ken Thaiday Snr is an artist from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait and the hammerhead shark is his totem. This means he has a spiritual connection to the shark and a responsibility to look after it.

    Watch the following video about Thaiday's artwork and discuss the questions below.

    How does Thaiday teach people about his totem, the hammerhead shark?
    How might the totems of First Nations Peoples help protect animals, plants and the environment, or care for the places around us?
    What materials does Thaiday use in his artwork? What materials could you use in your own shark artwork?
    What dances moves in the video remind you of a shark? What dance moves would you use in your own shark dance?

    In the video, Thaiday says "I make things that move" when talking about his art. Ask students to create two dance moves that celebrate sharks and oceans. In small groups, students combine their moves to create a dance and perform for the class.

  • Just before your excursion to Sharks, task students with choosing one question from the 'want to know' column of their sharks learning table and finding an answer.

At the Museum

  • Book in a school group visit to the Sharks exhibition.

    Read our tips on how to use our exhibitions.

    Sharks exhibition
    Sharks are instant impact. They invoke an immediate projection of our senses. Often silence. Fear. Fierce, sleek, beautiful, myths, facts and stats. They are a dominant and diverse species for the power of the visual image. Image: Tim Levy
    © Australian Museum

  • Learning from around the world
    There are lots of places to visit in the exhibition – and lots of people to learn from! In Sharks, students can read about sharks and the people of Fiji, Aotearoa, New South Wales, Tonga, Torres Strait Islands, Hawaii and Tonga.

    Choose one of the featured places in the Sharks exhibition. Draw and label a picture of a shark species that is found there and write down how the people from that place respect or care for them.

    Shark chatterbox
    Download and print our shark chatterbox to help guide your visit to Sharks.

    Once you have created the chatterbox and you are in the exhibition, choose a shark on display, spell the name of that shark and move your chatterbox as you say each letter. Then choose a flap to open, lift it and answer the question inside!

  • Immerse yourself in a world of sharks with the immersive 360° projection at the centre of the Sharks exhibition! How many different species can you count?

Back in the classroom

  • Reflect
    In pairs, students complete the 'learnt' column of their sharks learning table in workbooks:

    What I know about sharks...
    What I want to know about sharks...
    What I have learnt about sharks...

    Illustration of Obery Sambo, Meuram Clansman from Mer Island, dancer, choreographer, storyteller, musician.
    Illustration of Obery Sambo, Meuram Clansman from Mer Island, dancer, choreographer, storyteller, musician. Graphic for Sharks exhibition, 2022. Image: Australian Museum
    © Australian Museum

    Shark heroes
    In the exhibition, there were lots of heroes from different places around the world explaining how they learn about, respect and care for sharks. Each hero brought their own stories, culture or knowledge to the exhibition to help to explain something special about sharks.

    How can you be a shark hero? What of your own stories, culture or knowledge could you share to help people understand the place that sharks have in the world? How could you get people to care for the places and environments that sharks live in? Describe yourself as a shark hero to the student next to you.

  • Design like a shark
    Sharks are fish, but their skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. Shark ancestors did have bones, but they evolved to become cartilage, which makes them lighter and more buoyant.

    Do you have any cartilage on your body? Where is it?

    Sharks have extraordinary senses to help them navigate and find their prey.

    How do your senses help you move around or find food?

    Shark skin is covered in scales, called denticles, that make sharks more streamline in the water.

    What are some of the special features of your skin?

    These are just some of the amazing features sharks have – but imagine if you had some of these too!

    Scales of a Thresher Shark, <i>Alopias vulpinus</i>
    Scanning electron micrograph of the overlapping placoid scales of a Thresher Shark. Image: Sue Lindsay
    © Australian Museum

    'Biomimicry' is a term used to describe the copying of nature to help solve human problems. The word comes from 'bios', meaning life, and 'mimesis', meaning to copy. Here are some examples of biomimicry that copy the features of shark skin:

    – Airlines coating planes with a material that copies shark scales to reduce friction in the air.
    – Swimwear designed with drag-resistance, working just like shark skin in the water.
    – Medical devices covered in microscopic ridges that reduces bacterial growth and prevents infection.

    Now it’s your turn! What could you invent that would help humanity (or yourself) using inspiration from shark features?

    Design an invention with a labelled illustration, including what shark features it is copying and how these features help sharks survive. Explain how your invention would be used and how people would benefit from it.

  • Shark tank
    In pairs, ask students to come up with a new design response to the following challenge:

    You are an engineer onboard a pirate ship.
    Your captain has asked you and a shipmate to design a new water vessel based on the features of sharks.
    You must present a labelled diagram of your design AND a model.

    Using craft materials, host a building session where students create a model of their invention. Try to reuse some found objects and or include natural materials in your model.

    Test and present your model to the rest of the class. Set up a voting system that asks students to choose which invention they think would sell the most, which invention would be best for the planet and which invention would be the most fun.

  • Reflecting on your design
    Reflect on your biomimicry shark invention and the model making process. Use the below question prompts to get your students thinking.

    What worked? What would you do differently next time?
    Does your craft creation match your illustration? Why or why not?
    Using found objects and natural materials was easy. Agree or disagree?

    World cloud
    Describe 'sharks' in five words. Students record chosen words using a world cloud generator or website. Compare this world cloud to the one created at the start of the learning journey.