Old worlds in a new package

21st September 2001 at 01:00
EXPLORE HISTORY- Ancient Greece. Ancient Egypt. Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain. Tudor World. Victorian Britain. Britain since 1930. Heinemann Education. Key Stage 2 CD-Rom Starter Packs. pound;95 each www.heinemannexplore.com

Publishers of school history books must be blessing the QCA. In the 1980s, when the national curriculum came in, schools chucked out sets of Cavemen to Vikings in favour of texts about Britain since 1930 and the Aztecs. Once that spending spree was over, things languished in the world of primary history books.

Now, with the schemes of work, it's no longer enough to produce a book about Ancient Greece. It has to be organised in line with the units of work - a chunk on Athens and Sparta, then one on the heritage of Ancient Greece and no nonsense about links between the two. And if it makes for a rather predictable mix, that's the price we have to pay if we want the planning done for us.

Heinemann's Explore History series is a big scheme and the authors have thought hard about teachers' needs. They've played it safe by going for Ancient Egypt rather than the Indus Valley and shoe-horning local history into the Victorian unit but otherwise it has everything you could possibly need.

The key questions suggested by the QCA are used as headings to organise the narrative, and the teacher's guide has photocopiable sheets to support the activities. Relying, as many of them do, on lists of statements, they make bold assumptions about children's ability to cope with large chunks of text. While upper juniors may read through a whole worksheet without help, teachers of Year 3s should brace themselves for queues at their desks.

Pupil books aimed at younger children have bigger text and shorter sentences, but the most successful differentiation occurs in the CD-Roms accompanying each unit. These expand on the pupil book, with paragraphs of text in two versions - one for confident readers, and one for those who need more help. They can be printed for classroom use and will be a godsend when teaching a wide ability range.

The CD-Roms are backed up by a website, and this is the package that will sell the scheme. It promises to build ICT into curriculum work and provide links with literacy - an irresistible combination for hard-pressed teachers. Users have to register to gain access to the site, but it certainly provides a rich range of resources, including lesson plans, pupil activities, and some fiendishly difficult tests. There's so much that teachers will want to pick and choose, but a particular strength is the extension material.

The lesson plans for literacy are workmanlike rather than inspiring, but the ICT element, with its emphasis on reformatting and presenting text, should certainly prove useful. Most of the material on the website is also available on the CDs. The glossary facility within the text is a mixed blessing. Difficult words are highlighted in bold blue type. In some of the knottier units, the effect is over-emphatic.

It is no easy matter to present difficult concepts in a way that can be understood by the target audience; what shines out here is the care taken by each author to present material in a way that is accessible and accurate. The pupil books are well written and presented and the illustrations are a good mix of familiar and less well known. Snippets from first-hand accounts are judiciously filleted and used to give a flavour of each period.

Predictable the series may seem to the luckless teacher tackling the Egyptians for the sixth year in a row. For children, these books will provide a fresh and exciting introduction to the past.

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