Just click to check out a whole new world. Judy Mackie reports on a website aimed at making science more fun
For most children, patting a doggy chum is a pleasurable activity in itself. But, for primary-age children in the North of Scotland, "patting" their Scoti dog is the key to a world of exciting science-based activities, all found in their own backyard.
The mischievous-looking mascot of the Scoti (Science Club On The Internet) website, is the click-on portal to page upon page of easy-to-read information, inspiration and interactivity for the complete beginner and eager young boffin alike. Funded by BAYS (the Youth Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) and the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), the colourful new website aims to spark understanding and enthusiasm for science and scientific issues, particularly among eight to 12-year-olds. This it does through the simple yet engaging presentation of a range of universal topics which, unlike other science-based sites, are personalised by a distinctly local perspective.
"We want children to understand that they can learn a lot about the world around them by exploring and investigating their immediate surroundings," explains webmaster and co-author of the site, Robin Worsman. "Scoti also helps them appreciate that there are some wonderful natural features unique to their own part of the world, such as the aurora borealis and varieties of flora and fauna."
A visit to Nature Corner and Earth amp; Space, gives the young visitor a flavour of these local phenomena, as well as links to associated experiments and investigations they can carry out themselves. Scoti's Scrapbook of Doggy Science provides some fun facts. "In April 2000, astronomers at the Radio Telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico (Central America), found a metal object in space 130km long, shaped like a dog bone!", while BAYS Stuff celebrates the results of the clubs' Young Investigator bronze, silver and gold award activities; flags up forthcoming local science challenges and gives information and encouragement to new members.
"The website is available to every child, so it doesn't focus only on BAYS news. It is a great way of keeping club members informed of each other's activities, and it would be nice to think it might inspire other children to join their local BAYS group," says BA regional officer for Scotland, Liz Robertson, who co-ordinates around 80 clubs in the north.
Launched as a pilot at the Moray Science Festival last June, Scoti has already attracted a substantial following among schools, science clubs and individual youngsters. Rural schools have particularly welcomed the new on-line opportunity to take part in the North East Weather Monitoring Project, now in its 10th year. For the first time, participating schools have been able to post their data on the Internet and compare the different conditions affecting coastal and inland areas during a two-week period earlier this year. Delighted by the support her P5 class received from Scoti, Kemnay Primary School teacher Jill Callander says that the children now intend continuing their weather research.
While it can be used to complement many aspects of the 5-14 curriculum, and includes teachers' guidelines where relevant, Scoti, like the best childhood dogs, also makes a great home and holiday companion to fill a child's spare time. Links to other (approved) scientific websites and references to useful books, encourage them to explore subjects in greater depth, and there's the comfort of a furry ear when they want to email their queries and ask for feedback.
Although the site is in its infancy, Liz and Robin, together with BBSRC grant-holder Jim MacDonald of the University of Aberdeen, have high hopes that its future development will include information and activities for older children, as well as create opportunities for video-conferencing between clubs and schools.
In the meantime, they are looking forward to Scoti's official launch, during National Science Week, which will introduce the lively on-line resource to a wider audience of schools and families in Aberdeen.
Logon at www.scoti.org.uk or contact Liz Robertson, tel 01224 627445