• Audience
    Secondary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 4, Stage 5
  • Learning area
    Climate change, Mathematics, Science
  • Type
    Learning journey, Teaching resources

On this page...

Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow our Sharks learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of sharks to the ecosystems they live in and the threats they face to their survival.

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.
  • Identify shark features and classify based on similarities and differences.
  • learn about food chains and the important role sharks play.
  • research the threats to shark species and what can be done to protect them.

NSW syllabus outcomes: SC4-7WS; SC4-14LW; SC4-15LW; SC5-7WS; SC5-14LW; SC5-15LW.

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.

  • How do sharks make us feel?
    Ask your students to write down an answer to the question in their workbooks:

    What beliefs, feelings or opinions do you already have about sharks?

    You will return to these answers after your visit to the Museum.

    What is a shark?
    Classification is the process of describing new species and grouping organisms based on their similarities and differences. In biology, we call this classification ‘taxonomy’, and it helps us understand how living things are related to each other.

    How are sharks classified? Ask your students to write down as many features of sharks that they can think of e.g. they swim in the water, they have gills, they are carnivores (or not), they are streamlined, they have markings, colours, spots or patterns, the positioning of fins, the shape of their teeth. On the whiteboard, start collecting these responses and grouping them into ‘structural features’ (i.e. things sharks have) and ‘behavioural features’ (i.e. things sharks do).

    Using your responses, ask students to answer the following question:

    Which do you think are more useful to biologists when classifying living things in a taxonomy: structural features or behavioural features? Why?

  • Shark report card
    The Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports is a government initiative that records the status of Australia’s fish stocks. This includes the Shark Report Card, which documents the rate at which sharks are being overfished in Australia.

    With the Shark Report Card, ask your students to find answers to the following questions:

    Using the pie chart, how many species have been assessed in the report card? How many species have been assessed to be sustainable at current levels? What percentage of species have been assessed as depleted, depleting, and recovering?

    Using the Global Red List bar graph, how many species do not have enough data (i.e. data deficient)? If you remove the data deficient species from the bar graph, what percentage of the remaining species are endangered or critically endangered? What percentage of the remaining species are near threatened or vulnerable?

    Using the table at the bottom, how many species are protected under Australian management? How many species have a plan to rebuild their population?

  • Understanding food chains
    A food chain is a model that shows how energy flows between living things in an ecosystem. Watch the following video about food chains from Crash Course.

    Just like in the video, there are delicate food chains in our oceans. Sharks are important parts of these food chains; often they are at the top of their food chains, so we call them ‘apex predators’.

    In groups, use the SharkSmart website to research one shark found in NSW, one species of prey, and what that prey eats. Using these three species, draw and label a food chain. As a class, discuss what would happen if you removed the shark, the apex predator, from the food chain. Use these prompts to get you started:

    What would happen to the population of the shark’s prey?
    What would happen to the population of the prey’s food?
    How might a change in the food chain disrupt the whole ecosystem?
    Food chains are made up of producers, consumers and decomposers. What are the species in your food chains?

    Building a food web
    Using the food chains from the previous activity, print out or draw an image of each species on A4 paper and cut them out. Label these species 'producer', 'consumer' or 'decomposer'. If you need to, add more species to your food chain to include at least one 'producer', 'consumer' and 'decomposer'. Print out or draw some large arrows to represent the flow of energy.

    Move around the class looking for groups who have species in common with your group. Using the arrows, combine your food chains to create a food web i.e. if a species of shark eats two other species, have two arrows pointing towards the shark.

    Once you have combined to create a food web, discuss the following questions as a class:

    How many other students could you combine with? How big does your food web become?
    Is this model of a food web realistic? Why, or why not?

At the Museum

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

    Read our tips on how to use our exhibitions.

    Sharks exhibition launch
    Call a shark to play in the 360 degree immersive experience, in the Sharks exhibition. Image: James Alcock
    © Australian Museum

  • There are lots of shark models in this exhibition – and we mean lots! While you are on visiting Sharks, ask students to select one species model and find out as much information about it as they can. Get them started with the following questions:

    Where in the world does your shark live? What type of environment does your shark live in e.g. shallow reefs or deep ocean?
    What does your shark eat? How does it find its food?
    What are three fun facts about your shark?
    Is your shark a protected species? Is its home protected by marine parks or conservation practices? What threats exist to your species’ population?

    While your students are collecting information about their species, ask them to have a think about what could be done to protect this shark and its habitat.

  • 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
    When you are back in the classroom, ask your students to write down an answer to the question:

    After your visit to Sharks, what beliefs, feelings or opinions do you have about sharks?

    Compare your students' reflections to their responses before you visited the Museum.

  • A shark's tale (with data)
    A quarter of all shark species are under threat. Overfishing, shark finning, plastic pollution and climate change are continuing threats to shark populations around the world.

    Choose one of these threats to sharks, and research two statistics that help explain that threat's impact on the population. For example, find out the amount of plastic that enters our water each year. Use an online design platform to create a visual representation of these two statistics. For example, you could use an outline of a shark to show the percentage of sharks contaminated with plastic.

    Stick your designs and diagrams up in the room to create a visualisation of the threats to shark populations around the world.

    Keeping an eye out
    The NSW Government uses a range of technology, trials and research to keep track of sharks and their populations, and to keep us safe. Choose one technology from the SharkSmart website and research how they work, their benefits and their considerations.

    In small groups, design a new technology that you think would help to minimise the risk of shark bites, while also protecting them in their habitats.

  • Shark PR
    We know that humans are at risk of shark bites and that we need to be careful and sensible when we enter their habitat. But did you know that, on average, only 10 people worldwide die from a shark bite each year?

    Sharks get a lot of bad press though. While you were visiting Sharks, you selected one of the shark models that was on display and wrote down some interesting facts about it. Now it is time to give this shark some good press for a change!

    Create a storyboard for a TV or Youtube ad that highlights the amazing things about your shark, why it needs to be protected and how we can help. Once you have created a storyboard, use a class device to film and edit a short video. Things to include in your ad:

    – The name of your species and where it lives.
    – One interesting fact about your shark.
    – What threatens the survival of the species e.g. overfishing, climate change, plastic pollution, finning.
    – What the viewer can do to help protect the species.