Events in perspective

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Interactive 'blank' timeline 3100bc to ad2100 Colour frieze in four parts, plus teacher's guide pound;9.99

Scientific discoveries that changed our world picturecards 16 laminated cards, pound;15.26 Frieze and cards, pound;21.47 All PCET www.pcet.co.uk

The Interactive 'blank' timeline from Pictorial Charts Educational Trust works with a series of laminated cards that tie in with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority units. The first set of cards to become available is "From Aristotle to the atom: scientific discoveries that changed our world", and more are to follow from the publishers.

I trialled the timeline and cards with a Year 8 top-set history group. I began by explaining the purpose of the timeline and elicited some interesting responses about its purposes. Of particular value was a discussion about the bcad demarcation and why years descended before the ad period.

The timeline, which comes in four separate parts, would probably take up no more than one classroom wall and because the width of the chart is only 17cm, would easily fit above or below a main display. It shows the chronology of ancient and modern civilisations and the overlapping of European and non-European societies, such as the Aztecs and the Tudors. It can be difficult for teachers to get across this sense of civilisations existing at the same time, and the design of the timeline makes this concept visual and therefore more accessible to all students.

Once we had completed the starter discussion small groups of students were given sticky notes on which they could write any event or period that came to mind before placing it on the relevant section of the timeline. They made an interesting observation about the cluster of notes at the end of the timeline (mid-19th century to the 21st century). This was important because later in the lesson, when the students had to place the laminated cards on the timeline, they were able to make the same observation about the clustering of scientific discoveries and inventions.

The laminated cards lend themselves to a number of activities and the accompanying teachers' guide provides other ideas. One is a lesson focusing on the scheme of work Miasma or germs: how is disease spread? The lesson plan is detailed and makes suggestions for further work, such as a poster-designing task that allows students to show how the 19th-century public should be informed about disease and preventative methods.

However, the flip side (pun intended) of these cards is that their design is not as attractive and alluring. The colours are not eye-catching and there is too much information on the "display" side.

The potential for the timeline and the laminated cards to be a truly interactive and evolving display, according to the groups being taught, lies in the cards being eye-catching, so that even a student who has temporarily switched off is drawn to the timeline. And yet these cards, while very informative on contributors such as Charles Darwin, William Harvey and Sir Isaac Newton, are not instantly appealing. I doubt whether a less able group would have been as sufficiently hooked and motivated as my more able students were.

The resources do allow for cross-curricular links with science and would be useful at the start of the SHP Medicine through Time GCSE course. And as more classrooms are fitted with electronic whiteboards the need for a resource that allows students to physically explore and move around events on a timeline should not be underestimated.

Mariella Wilson is assistant head at Feltham Community College, Middlesex

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