Roger Frost welcomes a new edition of an old favourite for primary science
Welcome back to Science Explorer - a strange thing to be saying, but here's a new edition of one of the most on-task primary science CD-Roms. It follows on with new material, new contexts and, with only some overlap, is another one to positively consider.
Eighteen topics form the real meat of this title, including cooling, circulation, electricity and air resistance. In each of these, you're treated to a briefing which leads to an experiment and a test-yourself quiz. For example, "light and dark" tells about the qualities opaque, transparent and translucent, and goes on to show some pupils trying to find ways to black out the classroom for a film show. It tells what they used and how they measured and recorded their results.
With the scene now set, you can go on and do this for real or, instead, try a similar experiment on the computer. Choose this and you're given a light meter, paper and card to test how good a blackout you get from diferrent thicknesses of material. A notebook is a click away to let you record your findings and conclusions, while a "tell me more" section offers more about shadows and light sources.
This is well done. It is well explained, read aloud clearly and the context is good too. As a rough guide, it takes under 10 minutes to work through this studiously, so you might use it either to kick-start a class or set a small group to work.
Of course, there are many more of these scene-setting tutorials and invitations to investigate. In a topic on movement, you have to choose the right muscles to get a person to press different buttons, while, in another, about the sun, you have to predict the position of a shadow on a sundial.
Each time you can spot the pattern of bringing the science into the classroom, raising a question and pointing to some of the answers. Pretty soon you get a feeling of quality and value for money, though it is the interactive experiments that catch the attention.
In fact, many of these are so hard to do for real that children miss the point anyway. As further examples here, I'd mention measuring how fast microbes multiply, growing a plant under different conditions, identifying mini-beasts and recording the phases of the moon.
As before, there are neat ways of finding things - a catalogue finds the science areas like classification or elasticity, while a log book tells you (as pupil or teacher) what you've yet to see.
And as in Explorer I, it's all arranged as a virtual science museum where you visit science "labs" and click on exhibits. As well as the more in-depth topics above, you'll find background facts on science and science equipment such as microscopes and balances. I'd quibble that navigating the "labs" with their fact points, information points, briefing points and more will confuse all but the children. Best to take the advice given and use the map to get around - whatever way, it still takes about three hours to take it all in.
Science Explorer II is produced by the Granada Learning team, formerly known as YITM. They have used a formula that fits the curriculum, fits a classroom time slot, as well as fits the non-specialist teacher looking for a computer resource.
To add the health warning that pupils shouldn't just be plugged into this and abandoned seems churlish, patronising and inevitable. But now that's done, it's easier to say that after tweaking and developing the formula, Science Explorer II manages to improve on something that's already on the right track.
Granada Learning 0161 827 2927 www.granadalearning.com Science Explorer II costs pound;59.99 (student version pound;19.99 inc VAT). Includes site licence, which allows the purchase of additional discs at pound;8-pound;15 each.