Thousands of teachers attended the high-profile Association for Science Education conference and exhibition which occupied much of the University of Reading campus during the first week of January. The gathering was the liveliest for years as participants put the shell-shock of the national curriculum behind them and realised they could still teach good science. On the next three pages Jerry Wellington reviews the best of what was on offer.
Professional development was the main theme for primary teachers at the Association for Science Education meeting in Reading. For some time there has been a debate, often heated, over the "science subject knowledge" of primary teachers who are now faced with statutory requirements, thanks to the national curriculum.
Primary teachers and advisers visiting Reading were faced with a wide range of resources and packages for supporting teacher development. Perhaps the most notable, and certainly the most comprehensive, comes from the BBC, which is launching its Primary Science INSET this year, a huge venture aimed at enhancing the subject and professional knowledge of primary teachers.
The package consists of six Teaching Today broadcasts, and Teaching Today Plus, a resource bank of extended television sequences, teacher's notes, professional development kits, Open University workbooks and interactive CD disc, which runs on a Philips CD-i player.
No technology is needed for the Professional Development Kits which accompany the programmes. These are neatly-packaged boxes of materials for practical work for teachers, although most of the kit is sure to find its way eventually to the pupils. The package covers six main areas: classification; materials; forces and energy; electricity; planet Earth; and ecosystems. The teachers' kit (at Pounds 34.99 for each content area), is extended by the OU workbooks (at Pounds 15) which form part of a tutored course leading to a Certificate in Science. Schools or advisers can save money on the videos (Pounds 26.99 each) by recording the programmes themselves from next month.
At the opposite end of the size scale, but equally valuable, is The Really Useful Science Book by Steve Farrow (Falmer Press). This covers many areas of the national curriculum and should be really useful in the primary school. Similar books for teacher support have been written by Graham Peacock and Robin Smith on teaching, investigation work and progression in science (published by Hodder and Stoughton).
Spotlight Science from Stanley Thornes, which has already been highly successful in secondary schools, is now available in a new series covering Years 3 to 6. It will include workbooks, posters, photocopiable material and a teacher's book and will contain 72 planned lessons enabling teachers to follow the Dearing recommendations for 72 hours of science per year at key stage 2. The step-by-step lesson plans with "differentiated objectives" will suit many teachers embarking on science teaching.
"Differentiation" was a popular theme at the 1996 meeting. It featured in many primary sessions, and was a key element in another major published scheme on show - Star Science from Ginn. Aimed at reception pupils, key stage 1 and 2, this is a complete new science programme giving structured progression in concepts and skills, with clear guidance on differentiated practical activities. The content is organised into 10 themes: ourselves and other animals; sound; change; environment; light; electricity; materials; plant life; forces; Earth and beyond.
Each theme pack costs Pounds 36.99. Five themes are covered in each year, so each one is revisited every two years. A recommended route is provided, but this can easily be adapted to suit individual schools. Each theme is built around a framework of key scientific ideas which together form a "concept chain". Each concept in the chain builds on what has gone before, ensuring clear and logical progression in children's learning throughout the primary school.
Skills development is also an integral part of Star Science. A "skills ladder" illustrates the logical progression of science skills throughout the programme.
All teachers (primary and secondary) still welcome support in the use of information technology in science. It is now 15 years since former Education Secretary Kenneth Baker launched the "micros in schools" scheme, immortalised by the permanent attachment of his name to INSET days. Many Baker Days of the 1980s attempted to address, or redress, the deficiencies in IT knowledge of almost every teacher. Those days are fewer and further between, thanks to the demise of the advisory services. So teachers must now look to other sources.
One small organisation helping to fill the gap has been IT in Science, started and driven by Roger Frost, a former advisory teacher and the leader of many a Baker day. His pack, IT in Primary Science, (available through ASE) was popular at Reading, as were his other publications.
A much larger organisation, but with similar aims, is the National Council for Educational Technology which is now making a vast contribution to the enhancement of science education through IT. It produces a range of free or low-cost support materials such as newsletters, curriculum notes and information sheets.
Its Enhancing Science with IT is a comprehensive resource pack crammed with ideas for using IT in the science classroom. It identifies nearly 100 practical classroom activities where IT can be used; 20 of these are described in full detail with a briefing sheet for the teacher and photocopiable activity cards for pupils. It also provides case studies of how other schools have successfully used IT in their science lessons and gives help and advice for developing an IT strategy for the future.
Highways for Learning: a guide to the Internet is the NCET's impartial and practical introduction to the Internet. The guide provides an overview of what the Internet is, shows how it can support the national curriculum, explains how to connect to "the Net", and examines how it might develop in the future. It includes pointers to useful resources to enrich the curriculum, a bibliography and a glossary of terms.
From now until March, the NCET is organising a nationwide series of one-day seminars on IT in science, for teachers and advisers.
Many manufacturers of equipment and resources have played a vital role in making IT more user-friendly and accessible to teachers. Data Harvest has made a contribution with its new Sense Control EasyLog for monitoring classroom noise or changes in light or temperature inside or outside (Pounds 199) - press down the EasyLog button and switch to "sleep" and the unit is recording data. Used with Junior Insight software, this system offers easy access to data logging.
The new Sensing Science software from the same company is an introduction to using sensors. With simple screen displays and a table of individual measurements, it is a bridge between manual and computer-aided data collection. The graph allows children to predict what happens next, while the display is paused, but not the recording. Children can then draw on the screen and label their predictions, before displaying the recorded results. It is useful for assessing children's understanding of graphs and is also fun.
Sensing Science is being produced for IBM PC and compatible machines, Acorn RiscOS machines and Apple Macintosh, and will be available from Easter (Pounds 30). Sense Control EasyLog, with a set of primary sensors, costs Pounds 325 and Junior Insight is Pounds 45.
The range of CD-Roms for primary science is growing with Facts of Life from Philip Harris, the Violent Earth from Wayland Multimedia (part of a new series for science), and a number of discs from the impressive Anglia Multimedia, including Seashore Life.
The London Planetarium is now open for teachers and schools after major improvements in 1995 costing Pounds 4.5 million. These took full advantage of new developments in planetarium technology and a visit to the re-designed auditorium is just one part of an excellent programme of information about the Earth and its place in the Universe. All schools' activities relate to relevant sections of the national science curriculum at primary and secondary levels.
An education pack with ideas, worksheets and teachers' notes for key stages 1 to 4 is also available. In March, Science and Technology '96 will promote a range of special activities for pupils from age five upwards. Teachers can apply to the Planetarium for one free ticket if they wish to familiarise themselves with the programmes before their visit.
In addition, the Association for Astronomy Education now offers materials, workshops and advice for teachers at all levels, and its popular pack The Earth in Space has just been revised and updated. It also provides a quarterly newsletter for teachers, Gnomon, which answers all kinds of astronomical queries and puts teachers in touch with each other.
As usual, Philip Harris had a wide range on show. This included its Science Trolley, which provides a complete set of primary science resources in a secure storage trolley (Pounds 630), an impressive Environmental Investigations Kit (Pounds 81), and Simple Circuits, which is a package of equipment with worksheets for exploring electrical circuits (Pounds 60).
One newer company to watch is Heron. Its resources are increasingly catching the eye, including new equipment and posters for teaching about the human body, and an "inside out" body tunic which allows pupils to attach major organs.
For fans of schools' television, Channel 4 will be broadcasting an excellent range of new science programmes for 4 to 11-year-olds in 1996, and Viewtech Film and Video has produced a range of primary tapes covering many aspects of the curriculum.
Association for Astronomy Education (AAE), Burlington House, London W1V 0NL.
BBC Educational Developments, PO Box 50, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7EZ.
Channel 4, The Educational Television Company, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ.
Data Harvest, Woburn Lodge, Waterloo Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 7NR.
Falmer Press, Gunpowder Square, London EC4A 3DE.
Ginn and Company, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 1BR.
Heron Educational Ltd, Freepost, Carrwood House, Carrwood Road, Chesterfield S41 9BR. or Freephone 0800 373249.
Hodder Stoughton Educational, Freepost, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YY.
London Planetarium, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LR.
NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ.
Wayland Publishers Ltd, 61 Western Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 1JD.
* For all other addresses, see Secondary Suppliers on page 16.