Roger Frost (The Guardian, January 2000)

The current crop of software is the best in years and tools to teach with you will surely find. Today’s software is different: out go the titles that try to do the teaching for you – they were just too rigid; in come resources you can customise to suit how you teach.

The idea,where you can assemble different lessons from resources on the computer, appears repeatedly in the better software. It’s used by the AVP PictureBase series (age 11-16 from AVP) which as well as ‘Habitats’ and ‘Materials’ covers the whole curriculum. PictureBase is a library of text, diagrams and photographs that can be plundered for worksheets. Just out in a new ‘web page’ format to keep on a school intranet, pupils can use it for their project work, rather than burn up time on the Internet.

For something highly interactive, Crocodile Physics (age 12-18, from Crocodile Clips) is like a well-stocked physics lab where you can experiment to your heart’s content. Covering many syllabus topics, here is the hardware flattened for the small screen. There are masses, trolleys, lenses and electronic components to assemble, experiment and take measurements with. You can swing pendulums, change gravity, change angle of ramps to learn about forces. Excellent are the optics tools which let you split light into its colours with a prism and see how fibre optics transmit light. A section on eye defects, where you increase the focal length of a spectacle lens and see what that does to the light rays will make an awesome teaching tool. Though it comes with worksheets, those with time to spare can use it to create impressive interactive tutorials. This really is one to see for yourself – it reminds of Interactive Physics (age 13-18, from Fable) another ‘do what you like’ tool, more technical but very flexible. 

From the same people comes Crocodile Chemistry (age 12-18), a chemistry lab with a hundred chemicals to heat or mix so there is fun to be had. You can do pH titrations, show temperatures on graphs and again there are lots of classic, ready-made school experiments to try. You can use it to make apparatus diagrams for worksheets, and it looks like it will make a good revision tool too. 

Two others to look out for, both for advanced physics are Oscillations & Waves (age 17-18 from Fable) with its impressive animations of refraction and diffraction and the new ‘Multimedia motion 2’ (Cambridge Science Media) where you measure the acceleration falling objects using full screen video clips. 

Primary schools are well provided for compared to some lean years past. Science Explorer (age 8-11 from Granada Learning) offers good value by covering many topics and suiting library or classroom use. Experiments that speed up real life add special value: you can grow a tomato plant, watch bacteria multiply or see the sun change position in the sky are but a few gems in this set of two titles.

Just out is Flexitree (age 7-12, from Flexible Software) a rare type of software known as a ‘tree database’. Used by pupils to create a key to identify animals or plants, it helps to teach about classification. It’s an exercise that generates discussion, and this particular version is easy and well priced.   

There ‘s more – My Amazing Human Body (age 6-10 from Dorling Kindersley) helps teach about healthy eating and how the body works. Pupils feed and water a body keep it working, assemble one from its parts and see the ribs move during breathing.

For the younger ones Millie Metre and Her Adventures in the Giant’s Belly (age 5-7, from Tivola) tells about nutrition using a storyline and amusing cartoon graphics. Meanwhile the top juniors can prepare for the tests ahead with Practise Science For National Tests (age 11 from Granada Learning) and Science – prepare for SAT’s (age 11 from Dorling Kindersley). Both of these drill pupils with lots of questions and surely get them into the spirit of the test season.

 

 

Roger Frost is the author of ‘Software for Science Teaching’ (ASE)

 

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