George Cole examines the merits of New Media's CD-Roms with Internet support, which are aimed at the science classroom.
Until all schools have high-speed broadband connections to the Internet, most of us will still be purchasing our educational software on small, shiny discs. New Media's Multimedia Science School comes on a CD-Rom, but it's really a hybrid title designed to be used in conjunction with a dedicated website www.scienceschool.com Developed with the Nuffield Foundation and 75 schools, the software can be bought as a total package covering physics, chemistry and biology, as a single science package (costing pound;400 each) or even as individual modules (called Teaching Tools) which cost pound;42-pound;70 each, depending on how many copies you buy. Purchasers of the software have access to content, support and information. The disc is easy to install and will run on a fairly basic specification computer - a Pentium PC with 16 megabytes of memory is the baseline machine. The CD-Rom also installs QuickTime 4 to run the video content. I got the feeling that this disc had been designed by someone who had previously worked at the government spy centre GCHQ. First, you have to enter a 30-character alphanumeric registration code, plus individual passwords for each Teaching Tool (thankfully, you only need do this once for each module). There is also a password and user name for the website.
The disc offers 38 Teaching Tools ranging from Alveolus to wave behaviour. The content of each teaching tool varies. Group 1 metals, for example, offers text, images and videos, while others simply have graphics or animation. The program is easy to navigate thanks to a simple and well-designedmenu screen which remains the same for each topic. There are also features for magnifying part of the screen display, as well as a print facility. Clicking an "online" icon automatically takes to you to the dedicated website where users can download worksheets, teachers' notes and slide shows.
Having a website facility makes it easy to adapt course content and new materials are constantly being added. Teachers are encouraged to modify the downloaded work sheets and post their work back on to the site. The aim is to build an online community of science teachers - I liked the fact that there are two icons on the website entitled "Give" and "Take". The depth of content also varies according to the teaching topic but, in all cases, teachers will need to provide guidance and supporting materials. One of the best things about this program is the quality of the animations, which are superb. The section on States of Matter, for example, clearly shows pupils how solids, liquids and gases are transformed, and the effect this has on particle structure and speed.
Some ICT software is designed to be used by students as a stand-alone resource with little teacher input, but Multimedia Science School is not one of these. Rather, it is a resource for reinforcing and supporting classroom teaching. All science departments should seriously consider using this package.
Multimedia Science School CD-Romonline resource from New Media for science key stages 3 and 4 (PC Windows 9598NT)Price: total package (38 teaching tools) is pound;999Tel: 01491 413999 www.new-media.co.uk
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