Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students investigate the conditions required to start and sustain fires. They discover that burning is a type of chemical reaction, and design and perform a fair test to accurately collect data. Students explore the requirements for different kinds of burning and speculate about which ones have the potential for being dangerous. They then explore how the traditional practice of cool burns can help to reduce the impacts of devastating hot fires.

Learning intentions:

  • Students recognise the differences between cool and hot burning
  • Students understand how the concept of a fire triangle can be used to communicate the elements needed to create and sustain fire
  • Students understand the main steps and safety considerations required in designing a fire demonstration.

21st century skills:

CommunicatingCritical ThinkingTeam Work

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions:

Year 8 Science:

  • Chemical change involves substances reacting to form new substances (ACSSU225)
  •  In fair tests, measure and control variables, and select equipment to collect data with accuracy appropriate to the task (ACSIS141)
  •  Use scientific knowledge and findings from investigations to evaluate claims (ACSIS234)

Syllabus outcomesSC4-5WS, SC4-6WS, SC4-8WS, SC4-16CW.

General capabilities: Critical and Creative Thinking, Intercultural Understanding.

Relevant parts of Year 8 Science achievement standards: Students compare physical and chemical changes. They consider safety and ethics when planning investigations, including designing field or experimental methods. They explain how modifications to methods could improve the quality of their data and apply their own scientific knowledge and investigation findings to evaluate claims made by others.

Topic: Cool Burning, Indigenous Education.

Unit of work: Cool Burning – Secondary.

Time required: 120 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: High – oversee experiment design and completion to ensure student safety throughout.

Resources required:

Related professional development: 

Keywords: Fire, oxygen, chemical reaction, heat, flame, smoke, fire triangle model, cool burn, hot burn, experiment.

Special thanks to:

Fish River Station, John Daly, Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith, Peter Jacklyn, Peter McConchie, Dr Tommy George, David Claudie, Dale Musgrave, Carolyn George and Victor Steffensen.

Cool Australia would like to acknowledge the support of the Bennelong Foundation in updating these lessons.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum. There is great diversity in histories and cultures among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia. This resource includes investigations into and information about some of them. It has an emphasis, but not an exclusive one, on the histories and cultural practices of the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory. It is underpinned by consultation with Aboriginal communities in various parts of Australia. 


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • ... recognise the differences between cool and hot burning
  • ... understand how the concept of a fire triangle can be used to communicate the elements needed to create and sustain fire
  • ... understand the main steps and safety considerations required in designing a fire demonstration.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • ... work independently and collaboratively
  • ... participate in group and class discussions
  • ... plan and conduct an experiment
  • ... analyse experiment results and draw conclusions.

Teacher content information: In Australia, 23-25% of the land is covered in tropical savanna. Each year in the late dry season, hot fires sweep through a large proportion of this area. Hot burns result in about 25% of the landscape being burnt, which contributes between 1% and 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions (Note: this figure just accounts for nitrous oxide and methane rather than the total emissions that i

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Student Worksheet

Thought Starter: What types of fires are there?

Understanding The Difference Between Hot And Cool Burns

1. What are cool burns?

Cool burns are a land management technique. Started soon after the wet season, before the grass completely dries out, cool burns do not damage plants, seeds or animals to any significant extent. During a cool burn, the grasses on the ground burn slowly, allowing most of the small animals to escape. Seedlings, green grass, tree trunks and fallen logs are not burnt or damaged. The rising heat from the burning grass usually won’t singe the eucalyptus leaves above. Overnight, the cool moisture in the air will put out any remaining fires before the morning.

The practice of cool burning has been used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for many thousands of years. However, in recent years, scientists from around the world have become more and more interested in these practices as one way of managing devastating bushfires.

2. After watching the clip

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