Information stations

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
When children ask mind-blowing questions, where can primary teachers turn for help? Our evidence from the Leverhulme Primary Project at Exeter University was that teachers choose people rather than books. The reason is simple: you can look through many books and not find what you are looking for, whereas a well-informed person can point you in the right direction, give you a clue about what to look up. Here are some possible ideas:

u In one school, primary teachers saved up their questions and once a month a science teacher from the local secondary school came along after school to talk about the answers. When a quick response was needed, one of the secondary school science staff would discuss it on the phone with the primary teacher.

u Another school had a register of local expertise. One governor had a science degree and worked in industry. A number of parents said they would answer questions on the phone about various topics - farming, sport, local history, or crafts, such as lace making.

u Many schools have student teachers or other adults training to work in education. Often these have high-level expertise in particular subjects. Even if they do not, digging out relevant information can be a useful part of their training, preparing them for when they, too, are asked brain-blistering questions.

u Most schools have encyclopedias and reference books, so pupils themselves can research an answer to certain kinds of question. If the children in the class are too young, how about one or two older children from higher year groups being offered the challenge? They can always be given the fancy title "School Researcher", and even wear a badge or armband while they are enquiring. They would love it. Try not to set them impossible or frustrating assignments, however, as that can be demoralising if they feel they have let somebody down.

u New technology can be helpful, but "surfing the Internet" can be hazardous and expensive. You know what happens to surfers - they get soaked, fall down, and occasionally are eaten by sharks, so be warned. There are plenty of reference CD-Roms and other kinds of database available now.

u The demise of many teachers' centres and the collapse of local authority funding has reduced the numbers of help centres, but check the library, advisory, helpline, telephone, or electronic services available in your area - there may be little or none, but you might get a surprise.

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