Look me up sometime;Science

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Roger Frost explains how science teachers can make better use of the Internet.

Let's get the history sorted first: scientists have been using this Internet marvel since its early days. They've used it to read journals, look things up and to exchange results. They use it to test their ideas on others, refine them and say things like "Good point, but I think I" To them this transport medium for thought is nothing new. It links together the scientist's community. For the pupils and teacher-scientists who now use it there are opportunities which people are beginning to toy with.

One is that the Web is a publishing space for pupils' science reports. If you visit Sci-Journal (www.soton.ac.ukplfScI-Journal) at the University of South-ampton, you'll find a number of pupil projects. The idea is that their work is a starting point for discussion. Like the scientists, the Internet is being used to comment on the quality of work, the ages of the pupils and what other teachers are doing.

At Liverpool John Moore's University Sci-Centre (www.lmu.livjm.ac.uk) you'll find an attractive site providing information and images of the human body. When you've done, compare it with Innerbody (www. innerbody.com) another cutting edge look at your insides, good on looks and information but short on things to do with it.

At the Natural History Museum, the QUEST project (www.nhm.ac.ukSIMILE) presents objects that you can look at close up, weigh and investigate. It's cryptic, but surely an example of this developing art of making something more interactive than page turning. And with the exam season approaching, see BBC Education's Bitesize (www. bbc. co.ukeducation) - a collection of tutorials, advice and exam questions for pupils to swot at home.

But new ground needs to be broken. For instance, we've taken groups to places such as the Science Museum - and we've taken them home again. But maybe there's a way to get some feedback on the venue: share your thoughts, share worksheets, or borrow other people's. Their STEM project aims to encourage this and there are prizes as incentives (www.nmsi.ac.ukeducationstem). And if you replace the words "Science Museum" with any resource or teaching topic, you've got a model for a national grid for science teaching offering help on everything at the flick of a switch.

One of the biggest science Internet projects in this country was Schools OnLine (www.ultralab.anglia.ak.uk). Although it shut up shop last year, its Web pages can still be seen. They model themselves on a prep room (for teachers), a lab (for investigating), and a library (for finding things on the Internet). Here, too, is a Science Cafe for asking scientists questions. Project leader John Wardle from Sheffield Hallam University points you to its lab feature which linked schools doing investigations - such as the use of energy round the school or testing reaction times, both examples which benefit from pooling results to make a better set of data.

He reports how some project schools have been organising Internet pages on their networks and building caches of resources. He adds that while it's ideal to have access to "live" material, building Intranets (local Internets) may be one avenue that schools will want to develop.

For "live" material, maybe you'll want science news which you'll find at Helios (www. helios.org). Or you might want to see a solar eclipse in another part of the world or one you just missed. The Exploratorium (www.exploratorium.edueclipse) has an example.

Teachers could gain greatly from having a place to pop questions such as "how do I I?" and "where do I get I?" Yet while most Internet projects invite discussion, it's sad not to find one that generates more traffic than an Arctic footpath. Part of the solution is to abandon technology where you have to "go get" stuff instead of have it delivered, part of it is having a sufficient number of teachers, but much of it would come from the research that universities rarely do called market research.

Schools using the Internet do not need to emulate how real scientists use it - there's clearly more to it and it does need discussion. Perhaps the Association for Science Education (www.ase. org.uk) is the place for that. Their Internet space is a few months old and beginning to look useful. To prove its immediate worth, it threw me an article about the Internet in science from a recent journal. There's further discussion that comes to you as mail from a group called Sci-Ed-Inet (www.mailbase.ac.uklists sci-ed-inetjoin.html) keen to attract teachers for a chat. Just follow the instructions on the page to sign up.

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