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Heavenly bodies

EARTH IN SPACE PACK. Pounds 45.50 plus VAT and Pounds 3.95 pp EARTH AND MOON MOBILE. Contains mobile, teacher's notes and small handbook for the globe Pounds 29.50 plus VAT and pp. Heron Educational, Carrwood House, Chesterfield S41 9QB

Carol Boulter takes a down-to-earth look at a new science and geography resource. Heron Educational's Earth and Moon mobile is large. The inflatable ball to represent the earth is 40cms in diameter and interesting, printed with clouds as if viewed from space by satellite. In itself it is a useful piece of classroom equipment, but an Earth Ball Guide is also included, which suggests activities and games to familiarise children with the earth's surface features.

The earth fits into a support like a traditional school globe, so that the axis is at the correct tilt. This and any satellite are then suspended from a large main arm, with a sphere the size of a tennis ball representing the moon at the other end.

The mobile is a good size for working with, as pupils can stand with it at head height and investigate the spinning of the earth to produce day and night and the orbiting and phases of the moon . Both these studies are required at key stage 2 in the new national curriculum science Orders and for the seasons in key stage 2 geography.

The assembly is reasonably straightforward unless the earth ball has a puncture (I was clearly not the first to have this problem, as a repair patch was enclosed). An assembly diagram is included but it would have been helpful if it had been more explicit, so that the kit could be assembled by a group of pupils.

There is no light source in the pack to represent the sun. Teachers are advised to use an overhead projector or standard projector, neither of which provides an adequate model of the sun's energy radiating in all directions, and both are difficult to use flexibly. More thought should have been given to this important and practical aspect.

A photocopied accompanying booklet of notes deals with how to use the mobile to investigate various features of the sun, earth and moon relationship. The booklet is written in a rather racy style but, as with so many of its type, it is not clear if it is intended for pupils or teachers to use. Unfortunately the diagrams are poor and the text must be read critically.

It also seems a shame that such a good opportunity to provide teachers with information about the readily-available research on children's understanding in this area has not been taken. This could have provided a sound basis for developing diagnostic and formative assessment.

A second booklet focuses on the Earth in Space and concentrates on activities to help children to appreciate the scale of the solar system. Most of the tasks in this are now not required at key stage 2, as planetary motion has moved to key stage 3 in the new Orders. However, this booklet does try to provide some advice on assessment through a concept-mapping activity. With the package comes a chart of how the seasons occur in the southern hemisphere, a solar system chart and a picture of the galaxy.

Despite the notes' limitations, these are useful and attractive materials to develop understanding of the earth's surface, of the relationships of the earth, moon and sun and of the scale of the solar system through key stages 1, 2 and 3 as well as our own understanding as teachers.

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