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Eat, drink and learn worldwide

Carolyn O'Grady tastes a science project which reaches across the world to put schools in touch

Do your pupils know what children of the same age eat in countries as different as Denmark and Taiwan? Do they know how they differ in height and weight? Do they know about other countries' views on genetic modification? A growing number of pupils at all key stages in this country are joining other young people worldwide in finding out about science through a new programme organised by the Association for Science Education (ASE).

Year 3 children in the after-school science club at Russell Lower School, Ampthill, Bedfordshire, have been investigating what they eat. They looked at their diet during a typical day, investigating the contents of their kitchen cupboards and measuring students' height and weight. Not unusual, perhaps, but what is unusual is that the science club will soon be exchanging its findings with schools abroad. They will all then be able to make comparisons.

Russell Lower School has been piloting the latest in the series of topics from Science Across the World, an international programme developed by the ASE in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline. Eating and drinking around the world is the first primary topic to be produced. Programme director Marianne Cutler says: "It looks at scientific and environmental issues and how they affect students in their home, community and town and then moves to looking at those issues globally."

The project's slogan is "Exploring science locally, exchanging insights globally". Schools register with the programme and pick a theme from a menu of 16, including global warming, tropical forests, domestic waste and keeping healthy. They then undertake activities, fill in "exchange forms" with results, and pick the schools they want to send them to. The programme's database now lists about 2,000 schools in more than 70 countries.

Some British schools are choosing to use it as a way of giving language learning a context that is relevant and interesting to young people. While some schools correspond by mail, most is now done by email and materials downloaded from the internet.

Beverley Hodges, a teacher at Russell Lower School, says: "The children like the fact that other children in different countries are doing the same thing. It adds another perspective. We have looked at the Science Across the World website and talked about where the other schools are. They found it fascinating."

Judy Machin, a science teacher at Gumley House Convent School, an all-girl comprehensive in Hounslow, has been using the programme for several years.

The school has recently piloted the latest topic, Talking about Genetics Around the World, about genetic modification and how it affects our lives.

The pupils are in contact with about 20 schools. Facts are the main ingredient of the exchanges, but opinions are also sought.

Judy Machin says: "Schools can feel their way from a small involvement to a larger one. The materials can be used solely for enrichment, schools can choose to exchange information with other schools for a term or for much longer, or they can form a permanent partnership."

Gumley House, with the help of an EU Comenius grant, has formed a permanent link with schools in Spain and Africa. Judy Machin says: "The programme allows children to research topics firsthand. It takes the teacher off centre-stage and leaves pupils able to find out what they want themselves."

Teachers may order a topic free (usual cost pound;8) by ringing Karen Shoebottom. Tel: 01707 283000

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