Get with the program

13th February 2004 at 00:00
The ideal software for use in science must do something better than what would be possible by the teacher in the classroom. Students prefer real apparatus and hands-on experiments, rather than software versions. Focus science programs meet these requirements and enhance what teachers already try to do. In the "new" ICT era of data projectors, interactive whiteboards and more stable networks, these mini-explanations are ideal. Not only do we get textbook narrative, but photographs and delightfully clear animated explanations, and, of course, teacher's notes and extensive "help".

Focus on Waves

CD-Rom and one-year site licence, pound;49.95

This interactive approach to waves features 16 experimental parts of physics. It is aimed at AS and A2, but is also clearly useful in GCSE science, in parts of AS and A2 chemistry, and even in some applied maths modules. Each has a clear diagrammatic explanation and sliders to adjust any variables, alongside photographs of the equipment. Explanations are clear and simple and most applications generate sets of results. There can be no doubt these would enhance teacher explanations, but it would also be worthwhile for students to have access to the software, not only for the value in "playing" with the variables and so on, but as part of their revision.

Focus on Fields

CD-Rom and one-year site licence, pound;49.95

Fields follows a similar template to Waves and covers 17 topics, from the obvious magnetic and electric fields to motors and planetary orbits. While it is aimed at AS and A2 physics, there is plenty here for the chemist (Thompson, Mass Spec alpha scattering). There are clear photos of the apparatus and clever diagrammatic and animated explanations - just the sort many of us have tried and often failed to give on the blackboard or overhead projector.

Focus on Science Investigations 1CD-Rom and one-year site licence, pound;69.95

Focus on Science Investigations 2CD-Rom and one-year site licence, pound;59.95

These have a different flavour, featuring three chemistry, three biology and nine physics investigations. These could be used to help pupils understand what they have to do to achieve well at SC1, using the notes, then they can get a grip on their experiment using the photos and diagrams.

By altering the available variables, they can even generate a set of results although, thankfully, the students still have to be able to read off scales properly. This software is ideal for those pupils who miss the lesson and those who find investigative work difficult. In the end, there can be little substitute for doing a practical for them, but they might make better use of their time if they are clearer on what to do, and the frustration involved in so much of this work could be minimised (NB: check your specification rules on use of ICT for practicals) Five biology, 14 physics and four chemistry investigations complete Science Investigations 2, with some innovative practicals, such as the ski jump and those about transpiration and electrolysis.

Focus on Diagrams

CD-Rom and one-year site licence, pound;69.95

This software is a dream for those of us who struggle to draw good diagrams. It includes pictures of the standard stuff of biology - the heart, eye, ear, and so on - through to laboratory equipment and hazard symbols. In the chemistry section are common structures and models, as well as an area on industrial chemistry, with a blast furnace. Standard physics pictures are also featured, from simple circuit symbols and optics to motors, dynamos, and even a nuclear reactor. Finally, there are the helpful space and Earth diagrams. Each can be edited, saved, and copied into other packages. Students may also find this library helpful, but we have used it for simple knowledge tests and clear revision summaries using PowerPoint.

For further details, downloadable trial materials, student CD versions and ordering information, visit: John Dexter is head of sixth-form at Trinity School, Aspley, Nottingham

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