It works to think small;Secondary;Science amp; Technology

31st December 1999 at 00:00
Why microscale science can make a big improvement.

Every kid has ownership and it's right in front of their eyes," says Tony Murray, head of science at Tideway School in Newhaven, East Sussex. Key stage 3 science at Tideway has been transformed in the past two years, a period which has also seen an increase in science SATs scores.

The catalyst for transformation has been the introduction of microscale chemistry, in which each pupil has their own minuscule version of the experiments. Tony Murray is an enthusiastic teacher, who runs a weekly science club and occasional astronomy nights for his pupils - "Just off to look at the planets and we might catch the Leonids," he told The TES one chilly night in November - but he gives the credit for this classroom innovation entirely to Eva Morris, Tideway's "excellent" head laboratory technician.

Over the past two years Ms Morris has given up large amounts of her own time to work out tiny versions of standard demonstration exercises. Each pupil has a worksheet in a plastic pocket, and their own mini equipment which they place on top of the worksheet to perform experiments. "You see the colours of the reactions so well against the white background of the worksheet," explains Mr Murray.

The technique has been adapted for otherwise potentially dangerous experiments, whose danger is dissipated by the immense reduction in scale. For instance, by using minute quantities and a Petri dish and dropper, diffusion of gases using ammonia sulphate and copper sulphate can be demonstrated right before your eyes and under your nose, but without any danger of toxic fumes.

The children are "keen, so keen", says Mr Murray. So are educationists - Tideway received a grant from the Royal Society last year to help develop its microscale work. For KS3 students, particularly boys, who seem often to become disenchanted with secondary science, it "takes away the hassle" of getting everything ready for some big teacher-led "watch carefully" demo, and replaces it with the instant involvement of hands-on results.

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