Learning
Biology

Why Study Biology?

Rationale

VCE Biology enables students to investigate the processes involved in sustaining life at cellular, system, species and ecosystem levels. In undertaking this study, students examine how life has evolved over time and understand that in the dynamic and interconnected system of life all change has a consequence that may affect an individual, a species or the collective biodiversity of Earth. The study gives students insights into how knowledge of molecular and evolutionary concepts underpin much of contemporary biology, and the applications used by society to resolve problems and make advancements.

In VCE Biology students develop a range of inquiry skills involving practical experimentation and research, analytical skills including critical and creative thinking, and communication skills. Students use scientific and cognitive skills and understanding to analyse contemporary biology-related issues, and communicate their views from an informed position.

VCE Biology provides for continuing study pathways within the discipline and leads to a range of careers. Branches of biology include botany, genetics, immunology, microbiology, pharmacology and zoology. In addition, biology is applied in many fields of endeavour including biotechnology, dentistry, ecology, education, food science, forestry, health care, horticulture, medicine, optometry, physiotherapy and veterinary science. Biologists also work in cross-disciplinary areas such as bushfire research, environmental management and conservation, forensic science, geology, medical research and sports science.  

Structure

The study is made up of four units:

Unit 1: How do living things stay alive?

Unit 2: How is continuity of life maintained?

Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?

Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges over time?

Each unit deals with specific content and is designed to enable students to achieve a set of outcomes. Each outcome is described in terms of key knowledge and skills.



Unit 1: How do living things stay alive?

In this unit students are introduced to some of the challenges to an organism in sustaining life. Students examine the cell as the structural and functional unit of life, from the single celled to the multicellular organism, and the requirements for sustaining cellular processes in terms of inputs and outputs. They analyse types of adaptations that enhance the organism’s survival in a particular environment and consider the role homeostatic mechanisms play in maintaining the internal environment. Students investigate how a diverse group of organisms form a living interconnected community that is adapted to, and utilises, the abiotic resources of its habitat. The role of a keystone species in maintaining the structure of an ecosystem is explored. Students consider how the planet’s biodiversity is classified and the factors that affect the growth of a population.     

Area of study 1

How do organisms function?

Outcome 1  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate and explain how cellular structures and systems function to sustain life.

Area of Study 2

How do living systems sustain life?

Outcome 2  

On completion of this unit the student should be able explain how various adaptations enhance the survival of an individual organism, investigate the relationships between organisms that form a living community and their habitat, and analyse the impacts of factors that affect population growth.  

Area of Study 3

Practical investigation

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to design and undertake an investigation related to the survival of an organism or species, and draw conclusions based on evidence from collected data.

 

Unit 2: How is continuity of life maintained?

In this unit students focus on cell reproduction and the transmission of biological information from generation to generation. Students learn that all cells are derived from pre-existing cells through the cell cycle. They examine the process of DNA replication and compare cell division in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Students explore the mechanisms of asexual and sexual reproductive strategies, and consider the advantages and disadvantages of these two types of reproduction. The role of stem cells in the differentiation, growth, repair and replacement of cells in humans is examined, and their potential use in medical therapies is considered.

Students use chromosome theory and terminology from classical genetics to explain the inheritance of characteristics, analyse patterns of inheritance, interpret pedigree charts and predict outcomes of genetic crosses. They explore the relationship between genes, the environment and the regulation of genes in giving rise to phenotypes. They consider the role of genetic knowledge in decision making about the inheritance of autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive and sex-linked genetic conditions. In this context the uses of genetic screening and its social and ethical issues are examined.     

Area of Study 1

How does reproduction maintain the continuity of life?

Outcome 1  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to compare the advantages and disadvantages of asexual and sexual reproduction, explain how changes within the cell cycle may have an impact on cellular or tissue system function and identify the role of stem cells in cell growth and cell differentiation and in medical therapies.

Area of Study 2

How is inheritance explained?

Outcome 2  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to apply an understanding of genetics to describe patterns of inheritance, analyse pedigree charts, predict outcomes of genetic crosses and identify the implications of the uses of genetic screening and decision making related to inheritance. 

Area of Study 3

Investigation of an issue

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate and communicate a substantiated response to a question related to an issue in genetics and/or reproductive science.

 

Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?

The cell is a dynamic system of interacting molecules that define life. An understanding of the workings of the cell enables an appreciation of both the capabilities and the limitations of living organisms whether animal, plant, fungus or microorganism. The convergence of cytology, genetics and biochemistry makes cell biology one of the most rapidly evolving disciplines in contemporary biology. In this unit students investigate the workings of the cell from several perspectives. They explore the importance of the insolubility of the plasma membrane in water and its differential permeability to specific solutes in defining the cell, its internal spaces and the control of the movement of molecules and ions in and out of such spaces. Students consider base pairing specificity, the binding of enzymes and substrates, the response of receptors to signalling molecules and reactions between antigens and antibodies to highlight the importance of molecular interactions based on the complementary nature of specific molecules.

Students study the synthesis, structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins as key molecules in cellular processes. They explore the chemistry of cells by examining the nature of biochemical pathways, their components and energy transformations. Cells communicate with each other using a variety of signalling molecules. Students consider the types of signals, the transduction of information within the cell and cellular responses. At this molecular level students study the human immune system and the interactions between its components to provide immunity to a specific antigen.

Area of Study 1

How do cellular processes work?     

Outcome 1  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to explain the dynamic nature of the cell in terms of key cellular processes including regulation, photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and analyse factors that affect the rate of biochemical reactions.

Area of Study 2

How do cells communicate?

Outcome 2  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to apply a stimulus-response model to explain how cells communicate with each other, outline human responses to invading pathogens, distinguish between the different ways that immunity may be acquired, and explain how malfunctions of the immune system cause disease.

 

Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges over time?

In this unit students consider the continual change and challenges to which life on Earth has been subjected. They investigate the relatedness between species and the impact of various change events on a population’s gene pool. The accumulation of changes over time is considered as a mechanism for biological evolution by natural selection that leads to the rise of new species. Students examine change in life forms using evidence from palaeontology, biogeography, developmental biology and structural morphology. They explore how technological developments in the fields of comparative genomics, molecular homology and bioinformatics have resulted in evidence of change through measurements of relatedness between species.

Students examine the structural and cognitive trends in the human fossil record and the interrelationships between human biological and cultural evolution. The biological consequences, and social and ethical implications, of manipulating the DNA molecule and applying biotechnologies is explored for both the individual and the species.

Area of Study 1

How are species related?   

Outcome 1  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse evidence for evolutionary change, explain how relatedness between species is determined, and elaborate on the consequences of biological change in human evolution.

Area of Study 2

How do humans impact on biological processes?

Outcome 2  

On completion of this unit the student should be able to describe how tools and techniques can be used to manipulate DNA, explain how biological knowledge is applied to biotechnical applications, and analyse the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and its applications in society.     


Assessment

Satisfactory Completion

The award of satisfactory completion for a unit is based on a decision that the student has demonstrated achievement of the set of outcomes specified for the unit. This decision will be based on the teacher’s assessment of the student’s performance on assessment tasks designated for the unit.


Levels of Achievement

Units 1 and 2

School based Assessment Tasks and Exams. 

Units 3 and 4

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority supervises the assessment of all students undertaking Units 3 and 4.

Percentage contributions to the study score in VCE Information Technology are as follows:

Unit 3 School-assessed Coursework 16%
Unit 4 School-assessed Coursework 24%
End-of-year examination 60%