Pennies from Heaven

21st January 2000 at 00:00
There's a saying that Britain doesn't have a climate, just lots of weather.

But rather than simply buy that rather stylish new umbrella to hold over your laptop, think of the weather as a huge free resource - and I don't mean sending your least favourite darlings to the far end of the playground to measure how much rain falls during one break. Although, with even the simplest graphing, spreadsheet or database package, their carefully collected data could be used to make an interesting rainfall bar chart.

If you're thinking longingly still of the packages glimpsed at BETT but feeling the budget pinch, why not sort out the various information and communications technology caches to be found throughout most schools. You'd be surprised by the gems you can discover, bought in a fit of enthusiasm and never used. Keeping weather in mind, quite near the front of the cupboard you might find All About Weather and Seasons from SEMERC for key stage 1, a lovely mix of information and creativity (pound;49, for PC and Mac, tel: 0161 827 2927).

A little further back there might be Tag Developments's old classic for key stage 2, WeatherMapper, which demonstrates the effect of different weather on a town as well as information about climate, weather systems, charts and folklore. Children can add their own ideas to the database and print weather maps and charts from the data they have collected (pound;25.52 for Acorn, PC and Mac, tel: 01474 357350).

We're fascinated not nly by our own drought or flood status, but also by weather extremes the world over. Beware of all-singing all-dancing CD-Rom encyclopedias on the weather: some are little more than glorified exercises in "read, click and watch the pretty animation". Granada Learning's Weather World, for key stages 3 and 4 and A-level (pound;49, for PC, tel: 0161 827 2927) is in another league. It uses an imaginary centre for world weather control to present six problems around the world: fog, hurricane, drought, floods, snow and fire. Choose one and then opt to investigate or to solve it.

If the cupboard is bare, all is not lost. The Internet is a repository for satellite images from amateur and professional weather-watchers which allows you to track the mundane highs and lows over the North Atlantic or investigate more dramatic - or catastrophic - conditions. If you look at only one site, go to www.meto.govt.uk - though relatively late on the scene the Met Office will welcome you with open arms.

This site has lashings of information and advice for schools using automatic weather stations to information and graphics on tropical cyclones as well as an enormous list of sites all over the world. Information can be downloaded, e-mails and questions asked (and answered) and used not only in ICT sessions but in geography and literacy or numeracy hours.

Pam Turnbull, a former computer journalist, teaches at The Heys primary school in Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester


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