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Biomagnets Capability: Gather & Interpret data NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science NoS achievement aims: Communicating in science NoS achievement aims: Participating and contributing Contextual strands: Physical world Level : 5,6

NCEA Science – annotated exemplars level 1 AS90941 Resource B

Three pieces of student writing about biomagnets illustrate how exemplars for a level 1 NCEA task could be adapted to build students’ capabilities to engage with science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Understanding about science

Learn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed: and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.


Understand that scientist’ investigations are informed by current scientific theories and aim to collect evidence that will be interpreted through processes of logical argument.

Communicating in science

Develop knowledge of the vocabulary, numeric and symbols systems and conventions of science and use this knowledge to communicate their own and other’s ideas.


Apply their understandings of science to evaluate both popular and scientific texts (including visual and numerical literacy).

Participating and contributing

Bring a scientific perspective to decisions and actions as appropriate.


Develop an understanding of socioscientific issues by gathering relevant scientific information in order to draw evidence-based conclusions and take action where appropriate.

Physical World


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Using physics

Apply their understanding of physics to various applications.


Explore a technological or biological application of physics.

Learning focus

Students develop their awareness of features of effective critique of claims made in the name of science.

Learning activity

This resource was developed to help teachers make judgements about student work produced to a Level 1 NCEA standard in physics. The exemplars are challenging because applications of physics sometimes have an element of pseudo-science. In these cases NOS knowledge, rather than physics concepts, might be the most relevant to the task (and hence to assess). The following adaptation suggests ways to use the resource with students so that they build their capabilities to critique work produced for assessment purposes.

Adapting the resource

Check that students know what the “placebo effect” means. If the procedures used to ensure rigorous and convincing medical research are unfamiliar [e.g., use of control groups; double blind studies; procedures clearly documented; alternative explanations addressed] introduce them and explain why they are important.   

Also check that students are aware of features that might make claims more or less trustworthy [e.g., possible conflicts of interest for funders are identified; details of any statistical analyses reported; evidence is provided for claims of biological effects; and known investigation challenges are identified]   

Finally check that they can identify physics ideas that are relevant to the explanation for the application of biomagnets [e.g., relative size of magnetic field; ability of magnetic fields to penetrate living tissue; presence of multiple magnetic fields; etc.]

In small groups, give students the three pieces of student writing (or display them electronically if you can.)  Ask them to look for evidence of all the features you have just discussed as they read. If working on paper they could use different coloured highlighters to mark examples they find. If working electronically they could use the text highlighter function.  The overall objective is to ensure the students are not “blinded by science” but instead look critically at the merits of the claims, as expressed by other students.

Have a class discussion of the aspects they chose to highlight. Then ask the students which they think was the excellence exemplar, which the merit and which the achieved level work. [Some might be surprised because the exemplar with the most actual physics detail uses both this and the biological claims rather uncritically, and hence is not the excellence exemplar.]  

What’s important here?

Supporting students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role is the purpose of science in NZC.

Scientifically literate citizens need to think carefully about claims that use the trappings of science to persuade people to buy products, or act in ways that might not necessarily be in their best interests. Detecting the features of pseudoscience can be challenging – after all they are dressed up to be convincing! It can be hard for students to think critically about how science concepts are enlisted to shape dubious explanations, and at the same time keep in mind what they know about the nature of science. Tasks such as this combine the use of both types of knowledge to help student build this important lifelong capability.

What are we looking for?

Can students identify features that make an account convincing (i.e., capability 2) and trustworthy (i.e., capability 3).

Do they accept knowledge claims at face value, or do they question the logic of explanations that incorporate science concepts? 

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in engaging with science see  Progressions .

Exploring further

These TED talks by Ben Goldacre, the author of Bad Science, could provide another angle on the issues addressed by this resource. You might prefer to use one or both as part of the introduction to the activity:

This key competencies story, set in a Year 11 class, draws on a UK resource that explores advertising claims for “Health chocolate”:

Examples of pseudoscience in advertising are particularly common. Students could start their own annotated collection. Alison Campbell’s SciBlogs are a good source of ideas – she has a specific and longstanding interest in pseudoscience. This is an article she wrote for the New Zealand Science Teacher: 

This more recent posting specifically targets the idea of biomagnetism:

Another New Zealand scientist blogger whose work students might enjoy is Grant Jacobs. His blog is called Code for Life. This entry refers to details of medical trials, and so covers similar ground to the electro-magnets critique, although the context is very different (kilt wearing and sperm counts):

Another similar pseudoscience medical context (homeopathy) was addressed by Michael Edmonds in his blog posting on his site called Molecular Matters:

Also check out this article written by Darcy Cowan:

Other resources for this capability

Yucky bugs (L1, 2, 3 & 4) Video from DOC website 

Staying Alive (L2) Connected 2, 2012

Hukanui Enviroschool (L2, 3 & 4) Connected 3, 2002

The Shell Collector (L2, 3 & 4) Connected 1, 2005

Rocky shore food web (L3 & 4) Assessment Resource Banks

Rapid response to the Rena (L3 & 4) Science Learning Hub

Tidal Communities: Interdependence and the Effects of Change (L3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Book 22

Science Fairs (L3 & 4) No specific resource

Solving the dog death mystery (L5) Science Learning Hub

The Gene Seekers (L5) Applications, 2001

What’s my carbon footprint? (L5) Genesis Energy resource

Key words

NCEA, biomagnets, pseudoscience