Price of success

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Let's start with the price. At almost pound;2,500, Multimedia Science School (MSS) isn't cheap and the inevitable question is who would pay that much for a CD-Rom? The answer is any teacher looking for a science title packed with useful resources - and advice on how to get the best out of them.

MSS consists of 38 teaching tools, each representing a science topic. There are currently 10 biology, 10 physics and 18 chemistry tools covering everything from atoms to alveoli, photosynthesis to the periodic table. The work is aimed at 12 to 16-year-olds so and there's a lot of scope to customise materials.

New Media knows not all schools will want (or be able to afford) 38 tools, so schools can select from various purchasing options. For example, a set of 10 subject tools costs pound;695 and you can pick and mix tools; the price of each is pound;75-99 depending on how many are ordered.

So what do you get for your money? First, you get a full site licence, so the materials can be used on standalone machines or a network. Teachers can also use the software at home. The only downside is that every module has a password which has to be entered the first time you use it. This can be a pain if you've got, say, a dozen or more units to install - thankfully you only have to do it once.

There's also an excellent full-colour teacher's guide for each tool. The program also includes a library of prepared lessons. Lesson materials consist of teacher's notes, pupil worksheets and a SlideShow, a sequence of screens which pupils work through and which are designed to encourage pupils to interact with the materials not just look at it.

As a result, pupils are encouraged to investigate and experiment - there's plenty of scope for altering experimental variables and observing the results. For example, the SlideShows can be edited, screens can be re-ordered or deleted and you can also create links to files, pictures or web pages. Teachers can even create their own SlideShows. The pupil worksheets are in Word so can be printed out or cut and pasted into other applications.

The SlideShows are excellent and make good use of graphics, animation and video, which are often supported by databases or text information. For example, pupils can see at a glance how altering the temperature and concentration of a solution affects molecule movement. And in the section on Group One elements, video clips show how metals such as sodium and potassium react with oxygen or water (with sound effects).

Despite its many features, the program is easy to use thanks to good screen design - a menu system based on the standard Windows Start menu. Screen layout can also be customised.

Multimedia Science School also comes with its own website where teachers can download worksheets and notes without using the CD-Rom. This is useful to prepare a lesson at home. The site also has a teacher's forum and technical support.

This title has been prepared with a lot of care and attention to detail and it shows. One caveat is that some schools have reported problems trying to run this title on a network, so it's worth checking with the publisher before purchasing.

MSS is an excellent classroom resource. Start to use it and you soon realise it's very good value for money too.

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