Science Simulations - 2000

 

If experiments equal science, there’s a lot of software putting experiments on the small screen. It’s a trend that will continue, though people will ask when you would ever want to do that.

Some things add up: a biology experiment that takes an age and shrivels up by the window might be one occasion while the chemistry that fills the room with poisonous bromine is another. Becta’s Richard Hammond says he used computers when he had only a demo set to time ball bearings in physics, “We’d run a circus of activities and studied our results with a spreadsheet. The point was always to extend what we did, not replace it”.

Take ‘AS Chemistry’, a CD title linked to a syllabus and a new textbook. It has a heap of resources - data, models and photos you’d needs to have to hand during a course. And then it has video clips of the reactions that students will often do for real, and some too scary to do yourself. For keeping to the curriculum, revising how what reacted with what, and offering what books do not, this fits the need to enhance.  

More video on CD is the matter of Multimedia Motion II, but this time you use it to analyse accelerating rockets, crashing vehicles and tennis balls.  This latest version of something you really can’t do in school offers ‘full screen’ video clips, and pretty much big enough for demonstrating on a single screen. 

But it’s in ‘real’ (!) computer simulations that there’s been the boom. Australian publishers Newbyte offer ‘Enzyme Lab’ which fills a long term need. Here you can investigate enzymes extensively and inexpensively by changing pH, concentration, substrate and temperature. With the results simulated on a graph all the wobbliness of enzyme kinetics has gone. If that’s a loss, time is a very possible gain. Enzyme Lab also simulates how reaction rate changes with temperature - on the surface this seems right, but simulating what cannot happen, might risk confusion.  It is the merest evidence that you can’t believe everything you see on a screen, or that it’s good for learning.       

There’s more for advanced chemists, starting with ‘LabMouse 2’, which is a tutorial about thermodynamics and redox equilibria. It’s punctuated with diagrams, experiments where you play with the apparatus and do calculations step by step. Even if it repeats ordinary lab work on screen, at its bargain price, there’s no stopping anyone liking this for revising troublesome topics.  Another called ‘Spectroscopy’ uses the computer to illustrate expensive techniques. This is more the business. It covers another needy topic, has video explaining infra-red, NMR and mass spectroscopy techniques and a quick tutorial explaining spectra. Students are spectra and have to work out which peak matches which kinds of structure, it a nice challenging exercise that is worth doing and gives it substance. Nice to miss anything facile here, and nice to note a Glaxo and Royal Society ((of Chemistry))) subsidy to put it in schools.

Driven by classroom needs, teacher Simon Williams has produced a set of six experiment simulations. His ‘Science Simulations’ selection is good measure of experiments that need help like moments, radioactivity, Hooke’s law, reaction rates and the speed of sound. One called Photosynthesis shows how fast oxygen bubbles off a plant as you increase the light level. If you’ve a large computer display, it needs only demonstrating to neatly follow up a class experiment.

Finally, another larger set called Science Investigations, again reminds of the need to use simulations with restraint. Here you’ll find replicas of experiments on fermentation; starch and amylase; friction on a ramp and terminal velocity. Now and then there’s a sparkle where you see an enzyme react with substrate or there’s a nice working graphic to talk through. Much of the time the software teaches the experiment, rather than teach the concept the experiment was aiming at all along.

 

Details as at time of publication - PC CD-Rom:

 

Multimedia Motion II from Cambridge Science Media, 354 Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 3NN Tel 01223 357546 Fax 01223 573994

 

Enzyme Lab 99 incl site licence From Newbyte www.newbyte.com/uk Tel 0141 337 3355 PO Box 16710 Glasgow G12 9WS

 

LabMouse 2, BNFL Contact Resources for Learning Ltd Tel 01274 544155 E-mail: rfl@rfl-ltd.com

 

Spectroscopy for Schools and Colleges Price 29.50 from Educational Media, 235 Imperial Drive, Rayners Lane, Harrow, HA2 7HE Tel 020 8868 1915. E-mail: Edmedia@dircon.co.uk One copy has been sent to schools and colleges with sixth forms

 

Science Simulations 30 site licence from WOW Ltd, 5 Poppy Close, Wick St Lawrence, Somerset, BS22 9TF Tel 01934 517107 www.wowltd.supanet.com  

 

Focus Educational Software Ltd, PO Box 52, Truro TR1 1ZJ Tel: 01872 241672 Fax: 01872 22239 www.focuseducational.com

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