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Love at first site

John Dexter explains why he has always been a fan of the National Grid for Learning's science site

One of the most challenging aspects of using the internet at school is to produce purposeful activities for pupils. We all see that ICT can engage young people, especially boys, but I suspect many of us are only just beginning to tap into its genuine value as a proper educational tool.

The site is an approved content provider for the National Grid for Learning and was launched last January. Free to use, it does a number of helpful things very well. First, pupils (or teachers) can easily search science-based web pages that are both relevant and in English. This relevance can save us all the time and frustration of global searching - try using a search engine such as Alta Vista for something on oil and you will be given 20 pages of hits and a word count of 3,496,450 to wade through, most of them irrelevant and distracting.

Second, pupils can access information on this site relevant to their key stage. As we all begin to start using the internet more at home and in school, finding material which is just too simple or far too complex tends to distract us from the purpose.

Third, the site is interactive and so, rather than just being a good read, there are questions to answer, labels to complete and the marvellous host of tricks that good web designers such as we have here, can bring to science to make it come to life.

For me and the pupils at Trinity school, Nottingham there is another big advantage. Many science teachers "collect" really useful resources: we stagger around the Association for Science Education exhibition, we scour publishers, The TES or the Royal Society of Chemistry, even our pigeon holes for useful boolets, often well illustrated and with good explanations. We think: "this will be so good for ..." yet we are never sure what to do with the resources, unless we have a file marked "things that look really useful but I am not sure quite how or where".

This site is a real treasure chest enabling us to find wonderful gems and make good use of them.

A number of possibilities arise. When a pupil is genuinely interested in a topic we can direct them to the website. Some of my Year 10s studying making use of oil recently did just this and startled me with what they picked up. I could not lay my hands on that one copy of an oil booklet that would interest them, but the website was better.

The A-level student who never quite understood the topic can be shown the science in a new and possibly more helpful way. Part of our A-level chemistry looks at steel production and another at protein chemistry. Both are well covered by the website. Some of my students have used the site to clarify their understanding successfully.

Revision might just be made more enjoyable with more incentive to actually do it. Students can revise using the website texts but they also get questions to try as well as interactive activities. I have actually caught pupils revising with each other in this way.

Of course we are all struggling with getting whole classes booked into an overused ICT room or coping with just a few PCs in the lab, but we have here a really wonderful site to make truly independent learning possible, tailored to a genuine need.

Try showing the site to small groups and you might be surprised by the science they learn, what they find interesting and what actually helps them.

John Dexter is head of sixth-form at Trinity School, Nottingham

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