Secondary - Water in the World

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Flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley



This unit of work develops students to become active and informed citizens about the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. Students examine water as a resource in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley and the factors influencing its flows and availability across the catchment and floodplain. Students will investigate the nature of water scarcity and abundance, and assess ways of overcoming it, specific to the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. Students discuss variations in people’s perceptions about the value of water and the need for sustainable water management throughout. Students also investigate processes that continue to shape the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley using the context of flooding as a hydrologic hazard.

This teaching resource includes;

  • Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Case Study
  • Scale, scope and topography of the HNV
  • Natural Hazard
  • Preparing for a flood
  • Peer and self assessment

Aims and focus of the project

This resource is part of a broader program to engage young people and to empower them to be part of an aware, prepared and responsive community. It is designed to help teachers, students and schools understand the flood risk, develop strategies in preparation for hazards and to build resilience.

The aim is to provide teachers and schools with a free online resource that would become a key component of the Stage 4 (Year 7 and 8) Geography syllabus in NSW. Although specifically considering the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, the intention is that it be useful and valuable to schools across the state and perhaps the country. Flooding is a significant event in the Australian landscape. The project’s aims have wide relevance:

  • increasing students’ knowledge of and familiarity with geographical terms
  • raising awareness and understanding of flood risk
  • developing practical strategies for managing flood hazards and, most importantly,
  • doing this from a positive aspect that would build resilience and coping mechanisms.

Why Hawkesbury-Nepean floods are so dangerous

Georgie Animation - Water Cycle

Project background & acknowledgments

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is a massive area in outer north-western Sydney. The topography and rich alluvial soils have made it ideal for farmland, and for well over a century it has provided much of the fresh produce for the Sydney region. More recently, residential development has increased significantly with many new suburbs and associated infrastructure.

The Valley is also a major floodplain. Five major rivers and their tributaries flow into the valley, but there is only one outlet to the ocean, through the narrow Sackville Gorge. Floodwater backs up and spreads across the floodplain causing wide, deep and damaging floods. While flooding is an important natural process, there have been many occasions when floods in this valley have caused widespread destruction of property, and there has also been loss of life.

How it came together

Under the Flood Strategy, an innovative interagency approach to developing the resource pulled together experts and expertise from educational institutions across all levels and from all sectors, as well as government departments and agencies. An extremely high level of cooperation and dedication saw those involved share their skills and knowledge with overwhelming generosity.

Research and specialist input from a Schools Advisory Committee led to the selection of ‘Water in the World’ as the most suitable element of the school curriculum to support with learning and teaching resources on flood risk and resilience. Following a robust process, the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University was selected to take the lead role as educational specialists to develop the resources.


Agencies and organisations

  • Infrastructure NSW
  • Bureau of Meteorology
  • NSW Police
  • NSW Office of Emergency Management
  • Esri Australia
  • Hawkesbury City Council, Penrith City Council, The Hills Shire Council

Schools Advisory Committee

  • Cross Sector Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) Committee
  • NSW Geography Teachers Association (GTA)
  • Western Sydney Social Science Teachers Association (WESSSTA)
  • Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW)
  • NSW Department of Education (DOE)
  • NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA)

Western Sydney University Project Team

  • Prof. Kathryn Holmes
  • Prof. Basant Maheshwari
  • Dr Kay Carroll (Lead)
  • Dr Erin Mackenzie
  • Dr Nathan Berger
  • Ms Sasha Jessop

Writing Team

  • Rex Cooke – Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview
  • Helena Christophoridis – Our Lady of Mercy College, Burraneer
  • Susan Caldis – Macquarie University and NSW Geography Teachers’ Association
  • Steve Etheridge – Penrith Environmental Education Centre and Western Sydney Social Science Teachers’ Association
  • Kimberley Parnis – Marist College, Parramatta

Continue reading: Project background & acknowledgments

Western Sydney University has been the educational partner and leader in the pedagogical design of this resource.

Western Sydney University Logo

It will flood again

Geographical Skills



These resources focus on developing students’ competence and capability in applying geographical tools and skills. These tools include mapping, direction, scale, climate graphing and interpreting data. Geographical concepts such as scale, place, environment, change and interconnection are addressed. Students are given practical examples that relate to the Case Study of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.

Inquiry Questions:

  • How can I evaluate information sources for their reliability and usefulness?
  • How can I represent data in a range of appropriate forms, with and without the use of digital and spatial technologies?
  • How can I represent the spatial distribution of different types of geographical phenomena by constructing maps at different scales that conform to cartographic conventions, using spatial technologies as appropriate?
  • How do I analyse geographical data and other information using qualitative and quantitative methods, and digital and spatial technologies as appropriate, to identify and propose explanations for spatial distributions, patterns and trends and infer relationships?
  • How do I apply geographical concepts to draw conclusions based on the analysis of the data and information collected?

What is an East Coast Low?



Fieldwork is an integral part of learning to think geographically about space, place, interconnections, the environment and geographical changes. Fieldwork uses a range of geographical tools such as maps, GIS, data, photographing, diagrams and spatial/scientific measurements.

This teaching resource includes;

  • Excursion Plan
  • Inquiry Task
  • Student Review


This resource develops students’ geographical thinking about the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley and how flooding occurs. It considers the tributaries that create the bathtub effect in the valley and provides students with opportunities to gather geographical data about the floodplain, potential and historic flood levels and apply geographical concepts about interconnection and environmental change.

It is an inquiry based and immersive activity. The learning intention of the tasks is to ensure students have understood the geographical characteristics of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley and made connections about flood mitigation strategies. There is a strong literacy and numeracy focus for these tasks.

Inquiry Questions:

  • How do natural and human processes influence the distribution and availability of water as a resource in the catchment of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley?
  • What are the causes and impacts of, and responses to, a flood event (a hydrological hazard) in the catchment of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley?

Source 1 - Why Hawkesbury-Nepean floods are so dangerous

Stories of Resilience



Stories of Resilience provides students with opportunities to engage with building community resilience in a flood event. These resources explore how resilience is based on preparedness, current and up to date information, appropriate decision making, personal agency and dealing with human, economic or social losses to rebuild.

These resources use scenarios, stories and learning challenges to develop students’ skills in understanding how to plan and prepare for flood events, how to apply information from reliable sources and government agencies, when and how to evacuate, where to go, how to survive and how to rebuild and connect with their community.

This teaching resource includes:

  • Building Resilience
  • Becoming Resilient
  • Discussion Task

It will flood again

Cross-Curriculum Content



These resources are aligned to the Australian Curriculum content for Science, Maths, History and English. The resources guide teachers to consider the cross curriculum content links from Geography to these other areas. Activities use inquiry based approaches and guide students to think mathematically or scientifically. There is a strong emphasis on developing skills in English such as reading, writing, representation and text analysis.

This teaching resource includes:

  • Science task
  • Maths task
  • Problem Based Learning Tasks curriculum
  • English literacy task


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