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Science made simple

STAGE ONE: MATERIALS WE NEED Channel 4 Age range: 5-7

Channel 4's programme for key stage 1 science and technology is a reliable and entertaining series, bringing discovery boldly to life. We've already enjoyed the Stage One: Life and Living trilogy, which handles the ultimate questions in a sensitive and imaginative way, as well as the adventures of Great Science Stories.

The final quartet of new programmes explores some of the most basic, yet interesting materials we use in everyday life: paper, fabric, clay and plastic; versatile, yet familiar, each capable of a thousand forms and functions.

Each programme features the origin of the material, the processes involved in manufacture and includes some of the more unusual purposes to which each can be put. Did you know, for example, that Coke bottles are recycled to create fabrics for sportswear?

The emphasis on fun runs throughout the programmes. The style of the shows is light entertainment documentary, a sort of How Do They Do That? for younger viewers and jolly good it is too. The pace is about right, following processes such as paper-making through all the messy stages but slipping in the odd quick and quirky bit here and there.

There is a fun song for each episode, serving to prove that the daft lyrics in print sound better than you'd expect. "Paper's quite essential in the loo; a lovely long soft roll, the adverts say - it's true!" may not worry the Spice Girls, but it works for most six-year-olds.

As well as the main focus, the production team has used opportunities in each programme to include a sideways glance at cultural, ethnic and physical diversity without falling into the trap of tokenism.

This leaves teachers and children free to decide whether and how they choose to pick up these observations and issues at a tangent to the main strands. In each case, children are encouraged to get their hands on the materials and produce something of their own in response to the programmes.

The teacher's guide is nicely set out, starting with a half-dozen bullet points to identify learning outcomes. There is a precis of reference points written in a comforting style that can keep teachers one step ahead of the class in acquiring new knowledge.

The programme outline provided, and the notes on simple preparation points, are clear and worth following. Related design-and-make tasks are worthwhile challenges and a lot of fun. The activity book for pupils builds on the teacher's guide, providing photocopiable worksheets for each topic and ideas for some useful investigations.

The series provides useful opportunities to develop the logical thinking and practical skills required for technology, including the capability for focused observation and drawing inferences.

Technology is one of those areas which is gradually taking root in primary practice with some excellent practitioners and some more cautious classrooms. This collection of ideas will appeal because many of the ideas use familiar craftwork and collection activities as the basis for exploring science and its applications.

Teacher's guide Pounds 3.95, activity book Pounds 4.95; video (from April) Pounds 17.99 all from Channel 4 Learning, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ

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