A scientific approach

20th October 1995 at 01:00
Jerry Wellington looks at the latest offerings in a series of science discs.

These two discs are follow-ups to existing ones in Nelson's Science series Land and Air following on from Water in the Environment, and Materials from Elements. Both would provide valuable resources, for science, geography and cross-curricular use.

The Materials disc fits directly into the new national science curriculum and covers material to at least key stage 4 and beyond, particularly where it deals with elasticity and thermal conductivity.

One of its best features is that it provides 14 different tests on materials, which users can carry out on screen. Six of these are "interactive" to the extent that users can actually change things on screen.

In the elasticity test, for example, they can add increasing masses to a piece of suspended wire and measure the gradual increase in length. They can then compare mass added with extension and produce a results table.

Pedants will not like the use of grams to measure weight (newtons please), but the general principle of allowing users to get involved in on-screen experiments is welcome: it is rarely present in multimedia science discs, which often go for the all-singing, all-dancing approach at the expense of active participation or interactivity.

The disc also contains an enjoyable quiz section which, with careful management, could be used with whole classes.

More feedback on the answers you get wrong would have been useful, but you can't have everything.

I particularly like the support material and the general packaging. Curriculum material of this kind is still needed by many teachers, even if they stop using it after a time. Five pages are devoted to the disc's "fit" into the national science curriculum, but unfortunately the post-Dearing revisionists have rendered this slightly out of date.

The Land and Air disc is another valuable resource which will help teaching and learning up to key stage 4.

At first sight it appears slightly more attractive than Materials, with its video introducing each of the six main topics (dwindling resources, food or famine, air quality, natural disasters, climate change, conservation). But it does not have the interactive tests.

One of its new features is called Trailsave. This allows users to bring together up to 100 slides from different parts of the disc to form a selection which can be used later, say for a presentation or as a revision aid.

Another nice feature is the "Green with Envi" game, which is basically a multiple-choice quiz forming a points game for up to 10 teams. This covers most of the topics on the disc and could be a whole-class activity if the teacher has a big screen or display system.

My main and only real complaint about the discs is that I found the text very difficult to make out on the screen, unless I clicked to make the text page occupy the biggest possible window. I know this is a fault of my Acorn hardware, but I would guess that my equipment is as good as that in most schools. This is a shame, because the text is generally good (sometimes a little complex) and uses the "hot words" of hypertext and the usual glossary very effectively. I look forward to seeing the PC version (Land and Air is already available for PC).

Both discs follow the patterns of use laid down by Interactive Learning Productions (ILP) discs, and so will be helpful to anyone who has used these before. This helps to lower the learning curve and enables people to slot it quickly into their schemes of work (given the hardware). Both also come with the scrapbook facility and scrapbook disc which are another common ILP feature. These allow teachers and pupils to select and save text, photographs and video clips from the CD-Rom and store them on their own scrapbook file. Text and audio commentary can also be added and saved on the scrapbook. This is an excellent extra for teachers who wish to make their own teaching material, or for students who wish to improve their course assignments, both copyright-free activities, provided they are not used for commercial purposes.

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