8th September 2000 at 01:00
BRINE SHRIMP ECOLOGY. By Michael Dockery and Stephen Tomkins. British Ecological Society, pound;14.50 including starter kit of cultures and pamp;p.

Anyone who attends Michael Dockery's workshops, whether on seed beetles or brine shrimps, cannot help but be infected by his enthusiasm for these small animals and what can be learnt from observing their behaviour.

This ecology pack for key stages 3 and 4 extends students' understanding and investigative skills through practical laboratory activities. It consists of 13 investigations and seven data analysis exercises constructed to reinforce ecological concepts. Each exercise has photocopiable student activity and support sheets. Teachers can pick and choose among the activities or have groups of pupils undertaking different exercises.

The activities are particularly suitable for the QCA's key stage 3 scheme of work: units 7C (environment and feeding relationships) 7D (variation and classification) and 8D (ecological relationships). The more open-ended exercises could also be used in ks4. There are opportunities to extend into field studies and incorporate literacy skills. The book includes extensive background information for people who know brine srimps only as fish food, together with technician's information. Once set up, the culture is easy to maintain and economical. The pack as a whole provides excellent value for money.

My pack arrived at the end of last term so I tried it at home. Instructions for setting up the culture are clear and easy to follow, but confusingly located. A small amount of shell grit is needed for the substrate; fortunately my children's sandpit and seashell collection met the need. We investigated the best salinity for egg hatching; the instructions were comprehensible and produced sufficient data within 48 hours for a conclusion. The children enjoyed the activity and wanted more.

Sadly it is possible these days, with the narrowing focus of science teaching to the national curriculum, technician problems and safety issues, for pupils to pass through key stages 3 and 4 without encountering a whole live organism at all. Most biologists started with a deep and abiding interest in natural history, and anything that enables children to develop that interest in the classroom must be welcomed.

Jane Taylor is a biology teacher at Sutton Coldfield grammar school for girls, Birmingham, and a science writer

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