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Spinning a website of ideas

On the first day of Christmas, and indeed most of the run-up to the festive season, partridges in pear trees and lords a' leaping were the last things on the minds of A-level science students.

After a visit to the London Science Museum, pupils from Beverley School in New Malden, Surrey, were working against the clock on a project run by the Science Museum network of Students' and Teachers' Educational Materials (Sci-M STEM).

In collaboration with the museum, the students, with their counterparts in selected schools, were setting up pages on their Internet website ready for the Sci-M STEM project launch at the Association for Science Education's annual meeting at Birmingham University this week. It is hoped the model they have helped develop will encourage other schools to join the network.

Martin Bazley, assistant education manager at the museum, is responsible for co-ordinating the project - and for its acronym. "The aim is to enable teachers and students to pool their experiences and share ideas about ways of using the Science Museum on their schools' web servers, with an index and searching facility on the museum's own web pages providing links to the contributing sites," he says.

According to their teacher, Peter Dalton, the Beverley students each chose a facet of the Flight Lab gallery to work on, recording their impressions on camera as well as on paper. It has been, he says, "the perfect opportunity for them to do their coursework on a real problem by moving them out of school into the real world, solving problems with real people in real institutions. Few students could have such a chance and we will go as far with it as the Science Museum will allow us".

Seven and eight-year-olds from Caldecote Primary School, south London, who visited the Launch Pad gallery, are also contributing to the project. Teacher Tracey Shailer sees their follow-up work on the Internet as a reinforcement of the "light and sound" curriculum.

Her pupils have scanned their photographs to show what a stimulating and tactile subject it is.

Tracey Shailer will monitor their project work and looks forward to networking with schools. She adds that the museum reacts to suggestions promptly. "We asked them to put up [on the Internet] the various components of a bicycle, which they were happy to do," she says.

Martin Bazley envisages that "suggestions for teaching particular topics, students' work, guides to galleries for particular purposes, directories of other relevant resources, the construction of virtual exhibitions and web-based interactive projects" could all be included.

The project is the brainchild of Dr Roland Jackson, head of education at the museum, who wanted to "move away from the idea of an institution being the sole provider of information about itself". He saw the chance to exploit the Internet as "a democratising and co-operating medium, which would allow students and teachers to work with us and with each other on a continuously developing resource".

As a result, irrespective of geographical location, schools will be able to get the most out of Science Museum exhibitions whether their students are on-site or on-line.

* A new resource pack linked to the museum's replica radio station, On Air, is also due to be featured at the ASE conference. The pack can be used on its own or to complement a visit. (At On Air, small groups of teenagers in an explainer-led workshop create and record a five-minute programme on to audio cassette. Touch-screen interactives lead them through the mixing and editing process.)

The pack helps investigate the science behind sound transmission and radio broadcasting: how to make a microphone that doubles as a headphone, why loudspeakers need to be in cabinets and why some people like singing in the bath.

* There will also be something for pre-schoolers in the shape of a colourful new Flip-Flap Frieze and teaching guide called Science in Play: Discovering Forces, price #163;7. It illustrates forces in children's play and in adult life - lifting, dropping, pushing, pulling and turning.

* Finally, two touring exhibitions are about to hit the road: The Big Bang: Birth of the Universe and Thinking Machines? At the Cutting Edge of Research, about machines modelled on the human brain, that can learn from experience.

The Sci-M STEM project will be introduced in an ASE lecture at Birmingham University on January 3 at 3pm. The On Air resource will be demonstrated on January 4, 1.30pm, and will be available for #163;7.99 (normally #163;9.99). Further information: Martin Bazley, tel: 0171 938 8096.


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