Big, bold and very useful

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Science websites come in a variety of styles and sizes, with aims that range from entertainment to education. The Improving Science Education 5-14 website is large and quite complex, with many internal and external links, but it has one simple purpose: to make life easier for teachers of science 5-14.

"Basically it is all there for you," says science teacher Hamish Budge, who is seconded to develop ISE 5-14 around the Western Isles.

"But, at first glance, it might look a little intimidating and it does take a wee bit of practice before you can navigate confidently around the site.

"Personally I like to try things out and don't get too fazed if something goes wrong. That's the secret I think, not to worry if you make a few mistakes. You also need to spend a little time learning the structure of the site and all the things it can do for you."

A strength of the website, say experienced users, is the way it changes and evolves in response to feedback from teachers.

"The co-ordination of the 5-14 guidelines with resources and assessment materials is a dynamic process," says the network manager, Ian Birrell of the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre. "That's why the website has never been launched with a fanfare. At no point could we say the website was finished and would give the answer to life, the universe and everything.

"What we have done is to articulate the environmental studies guidelines with as many examples of good resources as possible.

"As far as I'm aware, there is nothing like our planning spreadsheet available anywhere else."

Mr Budge describes this useful document as "maybe a bit scary" at first sight. "It has the whole plan for 5-14 and takes you from Primary 1 all the way to Secondary 2. At each stage you can scroll across to the attainment targets from the guidelines. And there are links to a range of resources.

"There are also links to concept cartoons and the Renfrewshire assessments.

It is all there and very useful."

The other good starting point for teachers new to the website, says Mr Birrell, is the framework for planning, where registered users can find all the materials available in the ISE 5-14 exemplar materials pack, which was sent to Scottish schools in November.

Other features of the website include interactive guidelines, an online forum, links to resources, latest news, featured websites, forthcoming events and an entire section, with examples, on the investigative approach in science.

Many of the resources have been developed by teachers across the country through a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach, says Mr Birrell. Colin Duncan, a principal teacher at Mearns Primary, in Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire, is one of them.

He believes that sharing ideas and a commitment to improve has been fundamental to the success of ISE 5-14. "It's about sharing ideas between schools in a cluster, between schools in a local authority and between schools in different local authorities."

Last year's ISE 5-14 conference was a particularly good example of this philosophy, he says, allowing colleagues around the country to present and share the materials they were developing for the website and the CD-Rom pack.

"What we've got now is very useful, for the primary teacher in particular," says Mr Duncan. "It works across the different attainment levels, keeps it topic-based and very much emphasises the investigative approach."

While ISE 5-14's bottom-up approach has been widely welcomed, there are fears it will not be imitated. "There is a feeling of frustration among teachers," says Mr Budge. "Nobody on the ground seems to be having much influence on what is going on behind closed doors in the science curriculum review.

"It would be nice to see some of the ISE 5-14 ideas - getting teachers to share their views and work together, allowing time for investigations, not having this very content-driven curriculum - coming out in the science review. But we are not seeing much evidence of that happening."

Douglas Blane www.ise5-14.org.uk Framework for planning, www.ise5-14.org.ukPrim3Head2.htm

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