Publishers go online

29th June 2001 at 01:00
Most educational publishers are at the early stages of developing their websites for history teachers, but some, including Nelson Thornes and Heinemann, have embraced the idea with enthusiasm.

Both offer material aimed at pupils as well as teachers, but it is unclear what role these resources play in the classroom. My 11-year-old son enjoyed the interactive history on the Nelson Thornes site with its imaginative design and quick question and answer style. There are clever touches too, for example, when each wrong answer brings enemy Saxons closer to the castle under construction.

However, this short and rather superficial summary of castle-building would not justify booking a computer suite in most schools. If you had a computer in your classroom and a couple of pupils who finished early, this would certainly keep them happily occupied for 10 minutes or so.

Heinemann's Explore site provides resources on a full range of national curriculum topics. The reference sections are well written, with terms such as "accession" clearly explained in the glossary. The exploring section provides accurate information, if a little dull.

In the "Focus on industrialisation" there is a page about patents but no examples - a little unimaginative when you think of the wealth of unusual inventions produced by the Victorians. It is difficult to see the advantage of having this material on screen rather than in a good reference book.

The links to the glossary and the "test yourself" sections do not persuade otherwise. Once again, a useful addition to classroom resources, but not a reason to move the GCSE ICT class out of the computer suite.

Heinemann also offers teaching materials but these are in the form of pretty worksheets with lists of questions. One starts with the instruction:

"Draw and label a diagram to explain feudalism." This is a little ambitious for the average Year 7 class and it is not clear whether these are for use with the Heinemann text or on their own.

Much more exciting are the History Player assignments on the Nelson Thornes site and the lesson ideas provided by Phil Smith and Liz Waterhouse at the Longman site History Player allows you to watch film of the Vietnam War and comment on the fairness of contemporary news coverage. The film quality is rather murky but the activity is well designed and promotes critical thinking in a way few websites achieve.

Longman's activities are more closely linked to their books, but could be used by any teacher covering the topic. Links with other websites (for example a BBC audio drama on the Plague) are incorporated into the assignments, relieving teachers of the tedium of setting it up on their school systems.

The ASA2-level activities are less exciting, but Longman is to be congratulated on linking its materials with real classroom problems, such as how to motivate pupils in evidential work. Access to most websites is free although some, including Heinemann, plan to use subscriptions. Whether they can justify this remains to be seen.

Diana Laffin is history curriculum manager at Farnborough Sixth Form College.

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