There are loads of reasons to love the new geography and maths films, produced by Twig and free to Scottish state schools, says Charles Sweeney, principal teacher of geography at St Stephen's High, Port Glasgow. "They're short and sweet and to the point."
Under commission from Education Scotland, Twig last year delivered Glow Science, a suite of 600 high-quality, three-minute films. They are not clips, Twig stressed at the time: "We make short films, each of which tells a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end." (TESS, 20 April)
The same blend of nice narrative and educational ambition is apparent in the 160 new films. "It seems like a simple question - how big is the Earth?" the narrator says, over an attractive blend of real scenes and computer-generated images, in one of the new maths films, Measuring the Earth.
"Using modern scientific apparatus we can now accurately measure the dimensions of our planet. But hundreds of years ago one man came very close, using just a mountain and some clever geometry."
The new maths films answer the question maths teachers get most often, says local authority numeracy development officer and maths teacher John Sexton: "What is the point of maths, Sir?"
"The films are about applications of maths, with a nice bit of history. They show how you measure the diameter of the earth, or the distance from the earth to the moon, or how the bookies work out their odds so they're bound to win."
They open pupils' eyes to modern applications of maths in the real world, he says. "The new outcomes on the impact maths has on the world mean I'm going around schools and seeing loads of presentations on Pythagoras and Archimedes - the easy ones. But we now have films, for instance, on the Enigma machine and how it was mathematicians who came up with the first ideas for the computer."
The aim of the films is to engage pupils instantly with topics that won't always appeal without them, says Twig's head of education, Inta Bakewell. "We also provide support materials - lesson plans and worksheets - developed by teachers for teachers. It takes the pressure off the teacher. So even if you're a supply teacher coming in to teach one lesson on trigonometry, say, everything is there for you."
Geography might not seem an obvious addition to a collection of films on science, but there is a rationale, she explains. "Teachers pointed out to us that in our earth science films, we already had a large part of what's taught as geography in the UK. All we needed was a new set of films on human geography to give us a complete geography offering."
Based in Glasgow, with in-house expertise in both Scottish and English education, Twig now operates in an international market. "All our production is done in Glasgow, with about 50 employees here and a further 10 in London. Worldwide we distribute in 17 countries and seven languages, so far," says Scotland marketing manager Victoria Savage.
"We're proud of the fact that we produce in Scotland and our product is free to all Scottish state schools."
Because of Scotland's educational structure - with Education Scotland at its heart and Glow in every authority - the distribution here is unique, says head of online services, Patricia Kemp. "We work with partners in other countries, which are often selling to individual schools and teachers. We have a version of the website in Spanish, for instance, in partnership with a publisher in Spain, and versions of that localised for Columbia, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
"The technology on our web platform means that if you go to twigworld.com you will be geolocated, based on the IP address of your computer, to an instance of the website specific to wherever you are in the world. We have 15 different versions of our website for schools and teachers all over the world."
`IT PICKS OUT THE IMPORTANT IDEAS FOR THEM TO REMEMBER'
A feature pupils particularly like in the Twig programmes is the words that appear on screen, to highlight new vocabulary, as a film is running, says Charles Sweeney, principal teacher of geography at St Stephen's High, Port Glasgow. "It's obviously good for pupils with hearing difficulties, but it's useful too for all the kids. It picks out the important ideas for them to remember."
The "wonderful" film on waterfalls and gorges is a good example (captured right), he says, indicating the words attrition, abrasion, corrosion and hydraulic action as they pop up on screen, while the narrator explains their meaning in simple language, against a backdrop of vertical cliffs, spectacular falls and rushing rivers, shaping the landscape as they flow to the sea.
"You can pause the film at that point and get them to write down the word and what it means," says Mr Sweeney. "My idea is that we show a film, then use our interactive whiteboard and voting system to get the class to answer the questions in the support materials."
Since the end of August, teachers and pupils in Scotland's schools have had access, through Glow, to the complete Twig World teaching resource - 800 short films and 200 learning packs in physics, chemistry, biology, maths and geography.