It's always been good to talk

7th July 1995 at 01:00
PRIMARY COMMUNICATIONS: CROSS-CURRICULAR RESOURCES FOR PRIMARY SCHOOLS. Age group: 5-11. Packs for key stage 1 and 2, Pounds 10 each from BT Education Service, 81 Newgate Street, London EC1.

A lot of people regard the telephone as one of the curses of modern life. Of course, BT would not agree and has produced these two packs to help children understand "the historical development of this technology and the scientific principles which underpin it".

The packs are intended for groups of children working independently, although some of the activities are designed to be teacher-led. If this seems contradictory, it is indicative of their lack of clear purpose.

Both packs are colourful and produced to a high standard. Each has a 10-page book of notes for teachers, which describes the contents and adds a few rather unimaginative activities but gives little guidance on using the material. They also contain the same A4 "Talk About" book of archive photos on the development of the telephone service over 120 years. These are excellent and give fascinating glimpses into history, showing period costume as well as cumbersome antique equipment.

Photos from the BT archive also make up photopacks in each folder. The key stage 1 set covers telephone design, while key stage 2 focuses on the design of telephone boxes over the years. These have the advantage of being language-free and so suitable for the whole ability range. Groups of children could get really involved in discussion about the shapes, operation and materials of the lovely old telephones, with names like the Candlestick, and one design stayed in circulation for 30 years.

Two basic information books for children are included in the key stage 1 pack, although their language level would make them accessible only to the best readers. Each page contains text and picture, often the same as in the photosets and photo books.

The final element in the key stage 1 pack is a booklet of scientific investigations into sound, which looks, for example, at how sounds are produced on musical instruments, what materials "carry" sound and the idea of vibrations making sounds. Many teachers will welcome these, particularly if they lack confidence in tackling physics topics. The booklet has perforated pages, so that it can be divided into workcards.

The key stage 2 pack has four sets of A4 activity cards. Two of these cover the same topics as the earlier reading books, but with much more information and more difficult language. They clearly aim to teach the history of the telephone service, but in far too much detail, and it is unclear what "activities" the children are supposed to be involved in, apart from reading. The opportunity has been missed here to provide a really good resource for key stage 2 history.

Looking at photographs and discussing them is fine for infants, but older children should be given documents to study as well. Surely there are some in the BT archives that could have been used? There is only one in this pack, a fascinating prediction by Alexander Graham Bell of the future of his invention.

The two sets of science activity cards, on sound and electricity, follow the format of the key stage 1 sets, only rather larger. The sound set even copies the younger children's activities, with some additions. Nothing wrong with starting at a basic level and progressing from there, but the photographs of infants trying out the investigations will put off many key stage 2 pupils before they start.

Overall, the packs are very much of the curate's egg variety in terms of their content. There seems little point in a primary school buying both sets, given the duplication. The key stage 1 pack offers far better value, even for a school with only key stage 2 pupils. But is the history and technology of telephones important enough to merit these packs? At key stage 1, probably; at key stage 2, given the hefty content still in the post-Dearing curriculum, probably not.

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