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Getting clued up on the big picture

Carol Boulter looks into an innovative microscope pack. THE YOUNG DETECTIVES. Investigation kit. Age group: 5-11. Pounds 14.95 plus VAT.

BNFL Education Unit, PO Box 1O, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EL As part of the Royal Microscopical Society's campaign to place a microscope in every school, a pack has been developed to encourage pupils to explore Experimental and Investigative Science (Sc1 in the national curriculum) through a whodunnit.

The scene is presented through an interesting video in eight sections. To discover who has broken into the school greenhouse, the pupils in the video look for clues and use them to collect evidence.

There is a strong emphasis on learning the difference between making guesses based on the clues and reasoning from the clues to what they might mean, and therefore what evidence it would be useful to collect. To be able to tell the difference between predicting and guessing is an important element in scientific investigation which is often overlooked. This emphasis makes this pack unusual.

Once the pupils have identified what evidence they need to investigate, they store, record and examine it, and talk about how to do this without tampering with essentials like fingerprints. The video follows the pupils in the school as they map the greenhouse and examine evidence they collect from clues like the wool from jumpers, a newspaper, finger prints on a Coke can, and cat and dog hairs.

They examine the clues using the 25x microscope which can be purchased on a special offer from the RMS for Pounds 43 and come to conclusions about what happened. Then they interview the caretaker, listen to the head talking to a suspect on the phone, and finally make sense of some of the evidence and draw conclusions as to who did it. At the end of the sequence there is unexplained evidence left to investigate.

The video is compelling viewing for this age group and could be used alone to discuss the relationship of clues to evidence. Some of the pupils I talked to in Year 3 at St Peter's School in Yateley, Hampshire, who had seen it some weeks ago, clearly remembered the clues, the evidence and the storyline.

The teacher's book of 52 pages provides indications on how to bring similar clues into the classroom for pupils to investigate for themselves, using measurement and observation through microscopes.

This would require extra work on the part of the teacher, but would make a very engaging short project for the classroom or science club. In addition, there is a series of useful worksheets which can be used in investigating plants, minibeasts, rocks and soils, fibres and fabrics with the help of microscopes.

The children I spoke to had really enjoyed working with this material and were keen to continue using microscopes. Their teacher felt that using them as an investigative tool had enhanced several of his science topics.

The video and worksheets were clearly effective in conveying the RMS's dual message to primary schools: that investigating involves dealing with evidence in appropriate ways and microscopes provide a useful and exciting extension to visual observations.

With the video and teachers' book comes a class plan of the scene of the crime, a set of "through-the- microscope" photo cards, a hand lens and a ruler. There is also an Acorn Archimedes computer program which requires children to have some knowledge of the context of the broken greenhouse, but allows them to collect evidence on the screen in three places: the classroom where there is an encyclopedia for information; inside and outside the greenhouse where clues can be looked at closely and measured. They have to reason through to accusing one of the four suspects in three scenarios where the clues are slightly different. There is a note- pad which collects the evidence as they go along and can be flicked through. The program works well and supports the collection of evidence and reasoning theme.

This pack is very good value. It is a well-planned and well-produced collection of versatile and effective materials.

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