Science software resources have characteristically fallen into the categories of delivery of concepts, or tools for exploration and investigation. Though this generally still holds true there are encouraging signs of the two coming together.
Crocodile Clips is popular in schools for simulating and investigating circuits. With their new titles the Crocodile has attacked the chemistry and physics curriculum. In Crocodile Chemistry, for example, you can create simulations of reactions by dragging beakers and filling them with reactants. You can monitor the reaction with temperature probes or watch the new products form. No problem if your inquisitive Year 10 tips potassium into concentrated sulphuric acid. It's a similar approach in the physics program that covers force and motion, optics, electricity and sound. These are impressive tools, which can be used to demonstrate principles but will be best when used to support pupil explorations.
Modelling software typically covers secondary and post-16 topics in science. The Gateways models, distributed by TAG, combines informative simulation with opportunities to interact and investigate with the simulation. I looked at the Gas laws and was impressed by its simplicity and power.
New Media, renowned for its impressive chemistry software, is now developing teaching tools for biology and physics. Mitosis amp; Meiosis is the classic simple animation that biology teachers have been crying out for. Other tools, such as Diet Analyser help pupils to analyse and process data quickly and accurately, leaving pupils more time to interpret the results. The common element of this software is that it is firmly focused on helping teachers to teach.
The Multimedia Chemistry School will also be extended in the New Year to include biology and physics schools. Teachers who subscribe to this on-line service will get a CD-Rom of tools, animations, videos, photos and text. The website is their route to lesson plans, worksheets and a conference area for sharing teaching experiences.
If you want something with a bit more structure than the freedom of the modelling environment, try Anglia Multimedia. Chemical Changes presents information and explanation covering secondary topics. Understanding is checked with interactive tasks interspersed at frequent intervals. It would make good support or revision material for GCSE and the ease of retrieval of resources on the disc make it an excellent source of images and text for teachers and pupils. This range covers most aeas of the science curriculum, with Patterns in Chemistry and Electricity and Magnetism to follow.
Pupils' use of software for revision is not new but is improving. BBC Bitesize, now available on CD-Rom, will grab the attention of even the reluctant pupils with its streetwise language and graphics. It's well matched to the needs of most GCSE courses and its formative rather than summative approach is to be recommended.
Practical science has not been overlooked. Insight, regarded by many to be the leading datalogging software for schools, is now in its third generation. Insight 3 links tutorial guide, lessons activities and pupil assessment to the package. The sampling rate has been stepped up to 100 samples per second in real time. I look forward to smoother graphs of pendulum motion!
Data Harvest has a differentiated approach to solving hardware problems. It has developed a set of boxes designed for different levels. You could opt for the low cost approach by using an interface for live logging or go for the full-on data-logger with LCD screen display and menu control. Sensing Science Laboratory has been developed with the boxes giving an integrated approach of curriculum ideas matched to "easy-to-use" software. This has all the analysis tools we would expect but has to be purchased separately.
LogIT has responded to the needs of the school laboratory by integrating its equipment with a range of computers. This year sees the LogIT family move into the Windows CE environment with pen-operated pocket datalogging. It uses the Cassiopeia palmtop but will work with other hand PCs.
A joint development between LogIT and the Lego Robolab might just help to break down the science and technology interface. Indeed an interesting extra, which may be outside the normal purchasing for the science department, is the Lego e.LAB. These modular construction kits now include solar cells, rechargeable batteries etc. In half an hour my young investigators had built the model, generated electricity from mechanical and solar means and devised an experiment to work out the efficiency of the system. Not bad on the kitchen table!
Philip Harris's amalgamation with Unilab has produced a materials testing kit again bridging science and technology with its own data-logging software. It would certainly add value to the investigations at secondary level as well as post-16 topics with curriculum materials written for A level.
Training providers are lined up to help teachers make their teaching better (you'll find them in the NOF Training area). The chance to buy resources and take part in Lottery funded training doesn't come along very often so make the most of it.
Crocodile Clips Stand: M42www.crocodile-clips.comTAG Developments Stand: F50www.tagdev.co.ukNew Media Stand: L22Tel:01491 413999Anglia Multimedia Stand: F44www.anglia.co.ukBBCEducation Stand: C46www.bbc.co.ukeducationhomeData Harvest Stand: L45, L46www.data-harvest.co.uk John Wardle is senior lecturer in science education at Sheffield Hallam University. He is also part of the Science Consortium, a NOF Training Provider.