6th October 2000 at 01:00
BRILLIANT SUPPORT MATERIALS SERIES. Understanding Materials. By Frances Mackay. Understanding Living Things. By Penny Vernon Understanding Physical Processes. By Linda Cook Brilliant Publications pound;11.95 each.

Some of the great joys of teaching science are the often unexpected contributions from children who may not usually succeed in language-based aspects of the curriculum.

Science should be an area where all children are free to contribute ideas and to participate in practical work. Although designed with slower learners and those with learning difficulties at key stage 2, the level of English in these books is quite demanding and most of the activities are text-based.

Each book contains 40 pages of photocopiable worksheets, each page dealing with one concept, and written in a worksheet style for pupils to complete.

Activities are divided into "What to do", "Think and do" and occasionally "Read". A pencil icon indicates the "Think and do" sections, so it would seem that children are being asked t write rather than to carry out practical work. The worksheet format provides a mix of closed and open questions, but there are no suggestions that children should find answers by carrying out their own practical investigations.

The materials may prove as challenging for teachers as pupils as the questions are often quite taxing, for example, "What happens to wood when it burns?", "How can an engineer find out if there is a steel girder in the wall they are about to start working on?" There is a brief introduction to each book, but no learning objectives or background science information to guide teachers in the use of individual spreads. I find it difficult to endorse materials that fail to promote practical work, inspire or, dare I say, provide an element of fun. But there is probably a place on the staffroom shelf for revision materials to calm the SATs panic and there's enough here to fulfil this purpose.

Pam Wadsworth is a senior lecturer in science education at the University of North London

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