8th September 2000 at 01:00
THE SCIENCE OF MATERIALS TV-ROM. CD-Rom for PC or Mac. Channel 4 Learning pound;49.99.

4 Learning, PO Box 100 Warwick CV34 6TZ Tel: 01926 436444

How forensic scientists help pin down a car ringing operation is one of two stories on this engaging disc for science for 13 to 16-year-olds. The villains are nabbed by the analysis of the fibres found in a recovered car. We learn how natural and artificial fibres burn differently, how fibres are made and also how a microscope helps to tell one type of hair from another.

A second equally good story describes mopping up an oil spill at sea. It shows how the oil devastates the beach and then explores how the mess could be removed. Scooping up the treacly material or containing the spill with a floating barrage are illustrated with a good mix of real life footage, experiment and animation. If not as broad as the "materials" title suggests, this isnevertheless a very good way to introduce work on oil, plastics and fibres.

The surprise is that the video comes not on tape but on a regular CD-Rom, and its quality is good considering that 40 minutes' worth of content is packed in. A downside is that setting up the display technology to show this to a class is likely to be much more expensive than using a TV and a video machine.

Notes accompanying the disc offer facts about synthetic fibres, hydrocarbons, and plastics together with true or false quizzes. But here you can lose yourself in a menu and start to wonder why this was ever committed to CD-Rom. Never mind that the CD-Rom runs just fast enough on a stand-alone machine (which bodes badly for running it in a computer suite); it so much reminds one of the mediocre multimedia products pushed out last century. Save money and get the video.

Roger Frost is a science and IT teacher trainer

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