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Slick guides to oil issues

BRENT SPAR DATA BULLETIN. WWF UK, Panda House, Weyside Park, Godalming, Surrey GU17 1XR Pounds 14.99 (excluding postage) Age range 13-19 slick!

BP Education Service, PO Box 934, Poole, Dorset BH17 7BR Pounds 20 Age range 7-14

Graham Hart reviews resources for topical studies of pollution

Although the "Mr Smith of Anytown" approach to simulation has unavoidably been used in geography and environmental studies, it's always been second best to dealing with real facts and figures.

The Brent Spar Data Bulletin is a robust attempt to present a great deal of recent information and argument relating to the disposal (currently the non-disposal) of Shell's troublesome and redundant oil storage buoy.

The pack, produced with the full co-operation of both Greenpeace and Shell, comprises a set of teacher's notes (with some graphics, tables and key documents) and a PC-compatible disc containing a wealth of data, some of which was not published at the time of the initial controversy. It aims to help students in the 13-19 age range hold informed discussions not only about the Brent Spar problem, but also environmental issues of a more general nature.

Coverage of the wide age range is achieved by splitting the teaching strategies into two groups, 13-16 and 16-19, and the materials could be equally well used in English, media studies, mathematics and science.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the pack is its balanced presentation of opposing points of view. This is fertile ground for the media studies and English teacher.

Events have, of course, overtaken the pack. Greenpeace has issued an apology for a sampling error which gave rise to a minor change in the emphasis of their campaign. More seriously, Shell has attracted the anger of a wide range of campaigning organisations for its activities in Nigeria. Neither of these facts, however, detract from the value of the Brent Spar Data Bulletin as a useful piece of documentation for students looking at the real world.

It's back to Anytown for Slick!, but the attraction of this project is its simplicity. The pack contains a brief guide to running the programme and making the best use of it, four map worksheets, one data sheet and the disc . . . all you need for successful use of the product. The programme itself (Archimedes or PC versions available) presents unsophisticated graphics within a modest simulation.

The task for pupils is to deal with a threatening oil slick by manoeuvring tugs into position and deploying a variety of measures such as dispersants, booms, and skimmers. It's not exactly "exciting", as the pack suggests, but it's certainly good fun.

The simulation presents a number of variables (size of slick, wind speed, sea currents, nature of initial disaster etc) and also, importantly, a frustrating financial constraint. Further realism is introduced because, from the start, it is made clear the slick will never be completely cleaned up - there will always be residual damage.

Although most seven to 14-year-olds will have no problem in scoring well with the game, it's a brave move of BP, via their Oil Spill Service Centre, to become involved with a project that often leaves the simulated coastline and sea bed covered with serious pollutants.

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