Novel devices

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Be an inventor! Technology pack Pounds 15 MBA Publishing, PO Box 5, Weatherby, Yorks LS23 7EH Smile it's Science. Science and Technology packs: Water for Industry and Reserving Energy Pounds 3.50 each. Tidy and Sort (activity and story book) Pounds 4.50. Five copies of story book Pounds 5 Chemical Industry Education Centre, University of York, Heslington, York YO1 5DD.

George Cole looks at a variety of packs which use inventions as a source of inspiration, and practical work for stimulating interest.

There can't be many technology packs that include a pen, roll of Sellotape, tea bag and postage stamp, but Be an Inventor! is one of them. The link between them, of course, is that they are all inventions used in everyday life.

Be an Inventor! has been sponsored by The British Library, the Chartered Institute of Patents Agents and The Patents Office, and is designed for technology, IT and history at key stage 2. The pack comes in a bright yellow plastic folder and includes 18 work cards, a teacher's book and a board game.

Whoever designed this pack needs to be congratulated, because not only does it look good (the work cards are illustrated with lots of colour photographs and pictures), but it will withstand the rigours of classroom life (the cards are strong and laminated, and won't look grubby after being handled by pupils).

Be an Inventor! covers a wide range of inventions, including foods, toys, holograms, inhalers, communications devices and washing machines. There are also cards on unusual patents (such as a baby patting machine) and inventions from the 1930s and the Victorian era.

Each card is designed to stimulate further study or a classroom activity. In most cases, the pupil is simply given a brief description of how an invention works or came into being, and then asked to do further work. The Sellotape card, for instance, explains how sticky tape is really a combination of two inventions, and then suggests ways of testing different types of adhesives.

Other cards ask pupils to design, draw, word-process or carry out further research in a library or museum (the teacher's book includes a list of museums and centres around England, most of which, unfortunately, are south of Lincolnshire).

At the very least, be sure to have a good selection of reference books available.

The board game (which comes with a die and counters) is a snakes and ladders-type activity which follows the path of an invention from the original idea to the marketed product.

This is an excellent pack which will not only provide students with lots of ideas and fun activities, but will probably change the way they look at many everyday objects.

The title Smile it's Science reminds me of the series of books published in the late 1970s, with names like Maths is Marvellous and History is Hysterical. As the title suggests, this pack uses the Blue Peter approach to science, with lots of practical activities. Because of this, all the activities need to be planned well in advance, as it will take you a while to collect all the bottles, cans, jugs and other household items needed for each lesson.

Each pack consists of a collection of photcopiable sheets, the masters of which are best kept in a ring-bound folder (not supplied). Tidy and Sort is designed for key stage 1 pupils and its activities involve separating a series of objects, including marbles and Lego, a metal paper clip and paper, rice and sand, ice and cutlery and mud from water.

The activities are fine, but the pack uses a lot of work sheets to get across what are essentially simple tasks. If you've got a generous photocopying budget, then this pack is fine, but I suspect many teachers will simply talk through the activities with their group and use a blackboard or OHP display.

Reserving Energy is aimed at pupils aged 7-11, and explores how the kinetic energy in moving water can be converted to electricity. There are activities on water pressure (punching holes in the side of a plastic bottle and examining the water flow) siphoning water, making a water wheel, understanding gears, and using a bike wheel, to generate electricity and light a bulb.

Water for Industry, which is designed for 10 to 12-year-olds, has the students playing the role of engineering consultants who are asked to help a company having trouble with its water system. Pupils have to find the best material to use for piping, work out how to stop a pipe leaking, clean up water using filtering, help to keep objects cool and neutralise acids and alkalies.

The activities are well designed and easy to carry out, but my main worry is that this pack sometimes tries too hard to make science seem like fun. One of the sheets includes templates for making badges, which presumably the students can make and wear. One of them has a picture of a student wearing shades, with the legend "Super cool scientist!".

What next, Hip Hot Historian?

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