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The Noisy Reef Capability: Gather & Interpret data NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science Contextual strands: Living world Contextual strands: Physical world Level : 5

Studying sound under water. Science Learning Hub

This resource illustrates how a story on the Science Learning Hub can be adapted to provide opportunities for students to strengthen the capability of gathering and interpreting data in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Understanding about science

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

Living World and Physical World


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Life processes

Understand the processes of life and appreciate the diversity of living things.


Identify the key structural features and functions involved in the life processes of plants and animals.

Using physics

Apply their understanding of physics to various applications.


Explore a technological or biological application of physics.

Learning focus

Students develop an appreciation of how science investigations can build over time as rolling combinations of data gathering and inferences drawn from these observations.

Learning activity

This article is one of a collection of Science Learning Hub articles within the context of The Noisy Reef. The article describes a recently completed New Zealand research project, and provides an opportunity for students to discuss an actual science investigation without getting mired in technical detail or difficult concepts.

Adapting the resource

Have the students read and discuss the article. Once they understand the investigation described, ask them to identify examples of observations that preceded the research and the inference that the scientists made from these observations – which then became the hypothesis they investigated.

Give them the following table, with only the left hand side completed and ask them to put their observation and inference ideas in the first two rows.

Now challenge student to write research questions for the two different investigations that the scientists carried out to test whether their inference was supported by evidence. 

Observations already made before the project started

Crab larvae somehow find their way from the open sea to reefs.

Reefs generate a lot of sound as waves break over them.

Inference based on these observations (which then became the testable hypothesis)

Crab larvae use the sound of the reef to navigate towards it from the open sea.

Questions to investigate the inference/hypothesis

Can crab larvae hear sounds?

Can reef sound be heard from the distances at sea where larvae are typically found? 

If you want to move the focus to the Investigating in Science achievement objective, you could use one or more of the accounts of scientists’ work in the Noisy Reef context (see related resources) to stimulate students’ own investigative work related to relationships between sound and the activities of living things (including us). For example, students could:

  • explore their own questions related to detecting and measuring specific properties of sound in different contexts
  • investigate how and for what purposes other animals navigate in specific environments, or how their activities generate and/or use sounds in the environment.

What’s important here?

The Nature of Science research literature tells us that simply doing investigative work will not help build knowledge about what science is. Students also need opportunities to think critically about investigations (including real science investigations) if they are to progressively develop a “feel” for their complexity and their processes of logical argument. They do need to understand that hypotheses are not just guesses. Hypotheses are shaped to test inferences so that these can be confirmed, amended or rejected, as appropriate to the observations/new evidence gathered.

Insights about logical processes of investigation and argument support students on their journey to becoming scientifically literate – that is, able to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Can students differentiate between observation and inference in accounts of scientists’ work?

Do they appreciate that developing questions to test inferences is an important first step in gathering and interpreting data?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in gathering and interpreting data see Learning at different curriculum levels.

Exploring further

The Noisy Reef context on the Science Hub has a related article about how scientists investigated the noise that kina make as they feed. This article is called  Noisy kina.

A second related article, entitled  Non-visual sensory systems of fish , describes scientists’ investigation of how sharks hunt by using electromagnetic fields generated by other animals.

Both articles could be used for further practice in identifying observations and inferences, and how relationships between them are used to shape investigation questions.

Other similar accounts of science investigations can be found on the Science Learning Hub. Examples include:

Hunting for honey’s healing powers

Differences in immune responses are triggered by different varieties of honey (the observation). This natural variation might mean that some honey varieties are better suited than other varieties to specific medical uses (the inference). This inference could be directly tested (students could discuss how that might work) but to be commercially useful scientists need to work out how the honeys differ biochemically. The exploratory method followed is outlined but results are not given. (They are probably commercially sensitive.)    

Harakeke under the microscope

Similar to the honey article, the new knowledge being sought here could have technological applications. In this case the initial observations come from matauranga Māori (superiority of some harakeke varieties for different weaving purposes). The testable inference is that these differences in observed performance have structural causes that can be detected at the microscopic level. Again the research is exploratory rather than experimental. 

Captive management of skinks

Several different investigations are described in this article about skink conservation, each with its own set of observations leading to testable inferences/hypotheses. One difference in this example is that the methods used are experimental, with control groups where relevant. Another interesting difference is that the validity of the whole project rests on one overarching inference: that what happens to the common skink will also apply to endangered varieties of skink. Students could discuss the need for, and potential risks of, basing the research on this inference.  

Solving the dog death mystery

The investigative action in this article unfolds over the space of one week: some dogs have already died so answers are needed urgently! A lengthy chain of interwoven observations and inferences is described, with different research methods employed as relevant to the new questions raised by the results of each stage. This article illustrates the considerable creativity that scientists may need to employ to build testable inferences: the meaning of observations is not self-evident.

Other resources for this capability

Key words

Science Learning Hub, adaptations, rocky shore