Appliance for science
If you'd toured the land last year, you would have wondered if there was more to computers in science than using Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel.
Make no mistake: there's little wrong with that, but there is a burgeoning stockpile of excellent software. Some of it is hard to find, all of it costs serious money and much of it appears at the BETT show.
The most promising bundle of the year, Multimedia Library for Science is great software for chemistry. And it is not just titles like Diffusion and Atoms amp; Ions (from Sunflower Learning, pound;50 each) that smack of relevance, for here is a set of activity-based learning tools with substance.
Why the plaudits? Well, up to now we've seen experiment simulations and more, but in Dissolving we can offer pupils a model where they can play with temperature, concentration and evaporation. It is an opportunity to go deeper into ideas like "it's hotter so more dissolves". If the work is challenging, it feels like it is for the good.
Bonding is another favourite where you can take atoms of sodium and chlorine, complete with electron shells, and join them by dragging an electron from one to the other. The MLS software runs easily in your internet browser and can be previewed online so you can check if it works for you. It's new and, by the time you see it, will be ready to run with online worksheets.
For physics models, see Fable Multimedia, which, as last year's BETT Award winner, has spawned a series of affordable teaching tools. Motion Time Graphs, Transverse amp; Longitudinal Waves and Terminal Velocity (each pound;65) provide a measured learning activity in deservingly difficult areas. For more of this and stretching across the subject, see Physics Online (www.physics-online.com - pound;295) where models meet movies and online programs (applets). You can sign up for a trial and find not just great resources but a clever and easy way to store teaching material beside them.
Do also see Science Online (from pound;225, Actis) with loads of original resources, stretching from key stage 3 to advanced level and something of a tour de force. For another service, this time at the exam revision end, SAM Learning's exam revision website boasts some remarkable results.
For biology, see Kidney (New Media pound;99), where animation shows the kidney at work, filtering off waste and reabsorbing the good stuff. The detail in the glomerulus, kidney tubules and blood vessels make things particular easy to explain if you have a projector.
Still for biology, microscope cameras are now a must-have and while many come with countless cables to plug into televisions, Economatics has the Pupil Cam which is a tidy, one-piece unit. A freestanding model, the Vision Viewer (both are pound;250 and use USB) is available and, combined with a projector, it will have great longevity.
If you have experienced video on the PC, you'll have seen plenty of scratchy footage in a small window. Channel Four's Plants and Photosynthesis TV-Rom improves the quality up to a useful level. Here you'll find 30 minutes of clips from past programs about plant adaptation and the factors that limit photosynthesis, all showing nice and clear. There are lesson plans, task sheets and images. There is no track listing, which would have helped. Other 4Learning titles include forces, matter and the electromagnetic spectrum.
One of the more successful ideas in primary science is to teach classification using a branching tree program. Flexitree 2 (price TBA) is one of these and lets you organise a set of animals into an identification key. This new version lets you save your tree, complete with pictures, as a website so these will be all over the web soon. It also lets you have picture questions so younger pupils can use it, and for the purists among us, a tree can now grow downwards instead of up.
Those looking for "tools" to draw graphs and pictograms will find them at Blackcat (Granada Learning) and Kudlian. If you teach infants, steer a path towards Infant Video Toolkit from 2Simple (from pound;75) where the tools are as easy-peasy as they sound. Also see Simple Science (from pound;39) and the very graphic database in 2Investigate (for KS2 from pound;120). For primary science content see Espresso Education which has now grown a large bank of science video and activity. Actis has Primary Online (from pound;50) with its well-above-average online science activities matched to the QCA scheme of work. For CD-Rom, Sherston has Badger Trails (from pound;32), a talking adventure story that is interactive and much changed from the version that was a success on Acorn machines. Another major upgrade is Sherston's Bodywise (from pound;50) a spoken body "atlas" with many excellent diagrams that you can even print out and use.
Roger Frost is a science education consultant