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Ingenious solutions

Travelling back to Europe from the less developed parts of Africa or Asia, one thing strikes you as odd.

We really do live in a peculiarly man-made, mechanised corner of the planet, with gadgets that do everything for us, from making a cup of coffee to walking you from one part of the airport to another. It's a material world, rich in resources, but in many ways wasteful of energy.

For instance, there are no rows of workshops you find on the banks of the Brahmaputra for stripping old ships and making new ones out of the parts, or street sellers making flip-flops out of discarded lorry tyres as they do in Kenya, or folk musicians making pan pipes from reeds as Peruvians do.

People in developing countries display an ingenuity in making the best of scant resources that is seldom matched in the West but, ironically, could usefully be replicated by science teachers struggling in British schools without adequate laboratory equipment and materials.

Two years ago VSO produced a handbook of science ideas and activities for the classroom drawn from schools right across the globe. It shows how classic textbook experiments can be done without imported or expensive equipment.

Initially the writers, Ann Childs, Andy Byers and Chris Laine, saw it as a way to spread ideas overseas but it soon became apparent that many science teachers here were interested.

Activities were only included if they clearly showed the intended principles, used mainly cheap re-usable materials available locally, and could be easily dimantled and stored.

Some of the ideas were demonstrated by VSO's Ann Childs and Eleanor Kercher at the BAYS appropriate technology event at London's Science Museum and Imperial College earlier this year.

Primary ideas include how to make a paper skeleton with eight pages of A4 paper, a pencil and scissors; and how to make a jelly duplicator using one packet of gelatin, one cup of boiling water, two teaspoons of sugar and 50 ml of glycerin or glycerol.

Activities for early secondary years include an investigation of distillation - using a large metal can, a cork or rubber, plastic tubing, a wet cloth, a dish, water and a source of heat to produce steam which is cooled by the wet cloth, creating water. Another involves measuring expansion as a result of heat by using a candle to heat a bicycle spoke held above it by two bottles and a cork, and then measuring how far a paper indicator on a toothpick below the spoke moves. It's makes science look more fun than Blue Peter.

The Science Teacher's Handbook, is available from Heinemann, Halley Court, Jordan Hill, Oxford OX2 8EJ, price Pounds 4.50

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