Primary life cycles

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Learning something new while working with children is among the greatest rewards in teaching. Such experiences are at the heart of the "Watch It Grow" series, by Barrie Watts (Franklin Watts: pound;10.99 hardback and pound;5.99 paperback for each of 12 titles).

These books vividly cover the life cycles of selected insects, small animals and plants. Lavish photography leads younger readers through the different stages of life, providing many images which older pupils and adults will typically not have seen before. Well-structured chapter headings and clear explanatory text enable this series to engage readers from reception through to key stage1.

"Active Science" (Franklin Watts, pound;5.99 each) is a new series on physical processes for KS1. Each of the eight titles encourages readers to conduct their own investigations and activities with simple, readily available classroom resources, across such areas as magnetism, light, sound and floating. All the activities have an element of fun, and reinforce both essential scientific knowledge and process. Straightforward text and clearly constructed diagrams will allow access to most children.

Lionel Bender's "Wild Animals" series (Chrysalis Children's Books, pound;10.99 each) is thoughtfully conceived and subtly presented to draw the reader into the world of the crocodile, elephant (pictured), gorilla, polar bear and tiger. The daily life, wider life cycle and key features of each animal are explored and an excellent balance is struck that will interest the idly curious reader while satisfying the more inquiring mind. A key element is the intimate photography, bringing the reader face to face with wild animals in their daily lives, though the hunting scenes may be a little too graphic for the very young or over-sensitive. The supporting text includes a structured contents page and features such as "new words" and quizzes.

In what other profession would I find myself swinging my arm in front of my face in imitation of an inquisitive elephant, while hosting a visit from the Mayor and assorted dignitaries from the LEA? No, this had nothing to with Brain Gym. I was doing some follow-up work with a reception class, using On Safari from the series "Let's Get Moving" by Emma Lynch (pound;8.50 per title, Pounds 32.30 the set of four).

A safari theme is used to explore the habitats of African animals, with the reader being encouraged to participate in imaginative, co-ordinated movement in order to investigate the characteristics of each animal. This series is part of the Little Nippers range from Heinemann Library, and includes Under the Sea, In the Jungle and Up a Mountain. Using On Safari also provided opportunities for the Early Learning Goals of movement and exploration, and gave rise to a superbly enjoyable class assembly.

The assessment of Sc1: Scientific Enquiry raises many questions, particularly with regards to planning opportunities for assessment, which elements to assess and what evidence to gather. The QCA publication Assessing Progress in Science: Key Stage 1 provides good guidance, with suggested activities and key indicators of attainment for work. A valuable supporting document - or for use in its own right - is Scientific Minds: A Guide to Assessing Attainment Target One (Nfer Nelson pound;8). Written by Roger Mitchell, its central aim is to help teachers see opportunities for assessment in existing practice "with little or no adaptation of tasks or interruption of learning".

With this in mind, rather than providing a copious list of unit-linked activities, it gives detailed guidance and worked examples of how to use such existing activities. It models judgements of best-fit levels, based on outcomes, and provides excellent insights into good assessment practice.

Andrew Peck is deputy headteacher and science co-ordinator, Hazelwood Infant and Junior schools, Enfield

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