Not everyone gets the chance to spend a week in a grass-roofed eco-cabin in Wales, but if you feel you are missing out help is at hand. The first programme in Channel 4's Stage Two Science series on Energy, provides us with an example of what it might be like.
"Resources and Transfer" follows the experiences of a group of upper key stage 2 pupils over a week at the Alternative Technology Centre in Powys. The children control the production and use of wind, solar and hydro-generated electricity, and monitor wood consumption for heating and cooking, for their own accommodation.
Electrical energy production and consumption are measured and displayed constantly on a central panel, so the children can check how they are doing at any time. You will be pleased to know that the children do not die of hypothermia or starvation, although they do run out of electricity one night, just as they are about to start vacuuming the carpets perfect planning if ever I saw it.
The programme, like the other four in the series, is supported by a set of brief but informative teacher's notes and a pupil activity sheet. These are vital to the effective use of the programme, and give clearly-presented background information which will be especially helpful to the non-specialist. They also explain the rationale behind the choice of material and contexts used in the broadcast.
Although the programme makes some good points, they are often a bit subtle especially to a non-scientist. It is hard sometimes to see quite how the programme matches some of its stated objectives. To make sure children get the most from the material it is likely that teachers will want to review short sequences rather than sit a class in front of the whole programme. These clips can be used to encourage careful observation and discussion, and support follow-up investigations.
A good example is a series of shots with an infra-red camera showing where most heat is lost from people, one of the eco-cabins and an ordinary house. The sequence where the children open a double-glazed window is especially effective. To get the most from this you would need to pause, ensure children understand the significance of the colour coding and encourage discussion about the different patterns.
The suggested follow-up activities are straightforward and easy to follow. They have clearly been written by an experienced hand. They are also mapped on to the new national curriculum, albeit rather broadly. There is nothing new or revolutionary in the off-screen activities. It is also rather disappointing that there is no reference to the possible uses of information technology. Since the national curriculum urges us to use IT in science wherever appropriate, this seems an obvious omission.
The topics covered by the series include magnetism, electricity, sound and light. They follow on from the Stage One broadcasts. The series could provide a useful set of resources for upper primary science, offering a view of experiences it would be difficult or costly to provide directly. They can also be used to set a context for a classroom- based investigation. The programmes as a whole may prove less useful than a tape viewed in sections as required.