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Food of wild cats Capability: Gather & Interpret data NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science Contextual strands: Living world Level : 5

Food of wild cats

This resource illustrates how an Assessment Resource Banks activity can be used to provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to use evidence to support ideas 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


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource


Understand how living things interact with each other and with the non-living environment.


Investigate the interdependence of living things (including humans) in an ecosystem.

Learning focus

Students use evidence to support their ideas.

Learning activity

In this activity, students are provided with pie graphs showing the different foods wild cats caught in two locations. Although this graph interpretation task is currently set at level 3 or 4 the following adaptation adds a more demanding level of critical thinking.

Adapting the resource

Use the two graphs to find evidence that supports or otherwise the claim that wild cats are a major reason for a decline in native bird numbers. This could be added as another question to the ARB task, but may be more effective set up as group or class discussions or debate.

The table below provides some examples of how students might use evidence to support their ideas.

Evidence for the claim that wild cats are a major reason for a decline in native bird numbers Evidence against the claim that wild cats are a major reason for a decline in native bird numbers
Even though birds are not the main food source, they still make up a sizeable proportion, especially on Stewart Island. In both graphs birds do not make up the main food of wild cats.
We don’t know what the bird population is. Cats might only eat the other things because there are not many birds to eat. Removing wild cats might increase the bird population. Both graphs show that the main food source of wild cats includes other animals that have an effect on bird life. Keeping this population under control means the wild cats are doing a good job.

Some of the sorts of questions and justifications students might propose are shown in the table below. Now ask students to discuss what other information they might need to decide whether wild cats are a major reason for a decline in native bird numbers.  Have them shape questions that could be used to gather this additional evidence and to justify why it would be useful to find answers in each case.

Question Why might it be important to know?
What is the size of the bird population in both areas?

If there are few birds it may be because wildcats and other predators have already caused damage.

There may not be many birds left to catch so they have turned to other food choices.

Do the cats target particular bird species? Are the birds they eat endangered?

We might be less concerned if they only catch introduced birds.

Many of New Zealand's endangered birds are ill-equipped to cope with predators.

What is the population of wildcats in the area? If there are few wildcats, their impact won't be as great.
Are there particular seasons when the cats catch birds? Does this impact on birds' breeding patterns? For example, if they kill adults feeding chicks, or raid nests, this increases the impact because more than one bird is affected.

What’s important here?

In science, explanations need to be supported by evidence that is based on, or derived from, observations of the natural world. Scientific evidence is related to all the data collected rather than emotive responses. In this case, how we might feel about cats or birds is put to one side as the evidence is considered.

Developing an appreciation of what counts as evidence in science supports 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. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

When students are justifying their decisions:

  • Are they using evidence or emotions to justify their ideas? Are they using all the relevant evidence needed?
  • Do they refer to evidence from both graphs?
  • Are they able to identify conflicting evidence and take that into consideration?
  • Are they prepared to suspend judgement if they think there is not enough evidence?
  • Do they raise questions about how the evidence was collected, e.g., how many cats were included in the study, how what they caught was identified, how long the study went on, etc.? (This is more aligned to capability 3, Critiquing Evidence, but is a logical aspect to be considering when thinking about data presented without any supporting information about the investigation.)

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in using evidence to support ideas see Progressions .

Exploring further

This activity could be adapted to any context where a claim is made and supporting data is provided.

Other resources for this capability

Key words

Assessment Resource Banks, ecology