Valerie Hall reports on a Berkshire comprehensive which was one of the first schools to set up a World Wide Web site. We were the first 'dot sch' in the country," says Angela Corbett, computer facilities manager at Brakenhale Comprehensive School in Bracknell, Berkshire. Her proud words refer to the Internet address of the school's World Wide Web site, set up when Brakenhale joined the Schools OnLine Project last November in partnership with computer company ICL, which provided 17 machines linked to the Internet.
Besides a Web home page describing the school and its vision for the year 2000, there is an impressive science section with "bookmark" links to scientific Web sites useful to schools, students' project work and a summary of the courses which are run by the science department.
Schools OnLine, which was set up by the Department of Trade and Industry and has been extended to run till the end of the summer term, required participants to focus on a particular subject area, and Ms Corbett and head of science, Gavin Jennings, long interested in bringing information technology into science, formed what they call a "natural partnership".
"Because the project is only running for a limited time, we had to plan ahead and do a lot of donkey work very quickly as soon as we came on-line," says Ms Corbett. "The development of 'bookmarks' is the key to using the Net, since it allows users to access the information they need much more quickly." Whenever you come across an interesting site on the Web, or even a reference to it, you can simply click on the screen menu to bookmark it.
Her staff, she explains, ensure pupils can use the Internet and she bookmarks information on chosen topics beforehand, so that subject teachers do not waste valuable lesson time.
Ms Corbett and Mr Jennings are keen to pool information with other schools: "We want them to look at the sites we recommend and put in a comparable amount of time, indexing new sites which we can use," she says. "So far, although some of the Schools OnLine schools are actually on-line, only nine have a home page. Collaboration is essential as there is a lot of university material at too high a level and irrelevant American material. We can't do it all ourselves. "
Gavin Jennings says his students have responded positively to the Internet and have learned to question the reliability of information it supplies. "Just because it's there, it isn't necessarily true. A side-effect has been that they gained a greater appreciation of school worksheets and textbooks which are pitched to their level."
Year 11 students Stephanie West, Michelle Hegarty, Hailey Warner and Katie Chan carried out an acid rain project and were runners-up in the 1995 Zeneca Young Scientists Award. They found dangerously high levels of sulphur dioxide in rainwater at a local beauty spot and other woodland areas near the M4 motorway. Photosynthesis tests measuring the amount of oxygen produced by pond weed also revealed significant pollution damage.
John Newman and Russ West from Year 10 are undertaking a fitness survey using LogIT data-logging technology. Volunteers fill in a questionnaire on the Internet about the food they eat and the exercise they take. A LogIT probe strapped around the volunteer's chest measures heart rate and breathing during two minutes on an exercise bike followed by two minutes' strenuous exercise, and the time the heart takes to return to normal. The results are plotted on a graph.
So far the students have tested a rugby player, an overweight person and someone of average fitness and found that "the fitter the person the faster their heart rate returns to normal after exercise". In their predictions on the Internet, they do not appear to have high expectations of school staff: "We believe [they] will be the most unfit group because they do not even have the exercise of walking or cycling to school - most of them drive everywhere. "
Also at the experimental stage are Year 10 students Robert Sprott, Emma Marchant and Amanda Lyall, who are testing enzymes such as savinase and lipolase on stains made with such ingredients as wallpaper paste, butter and liver. They aim to make a "new, improved washing powder".
The Internet room is used by the whole school, as Ms Corbett believes that even low-ability students can learn from surfing the information superhighway - the school hopes to introduce voice recognition software for pupils with reading and spelling problems. Even if pupils "search" predictable topics like Spurs or Boyzone, the exercise is useful in discriminating as to "whether what they have found is what they want", says Ms Corbett.
According to its Vision 2000 Web page, Brakenhale aims to equip students of all abilities with the "knowledge, skills and understanding for life in the 21st century". Its involvement in Schools OnLine is helping that vision materialise more rapidly and has brought the school a step closer to realising its ambition of achieving technology college status.
Brakenhale School, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 7BA. Tel: 01344 423041.
http:www.brakenhale.berks.sch.ukscitec.htm E-mail suggestions for science projects: email@example.com.