Science - Give pupils the big picture

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Unravel difficult concepts with the help of scientific software

Trying to explain to pupils in Years 7-12 how an enzyme changes shape when it is heated above 45 degsC can be a lesson in frustration, drawing the shapes with a pen on a whiteboard until they finally get it.

It was a difficulty I faced repeatedly as head of science and technology: I often struggled to find the best way to demonstrate a sequence of scientific events. But at the Association for Science Education conference in 2008, I had a "eureka" moment. I was introduced to an animation that perfectly illustrates the different elements of the process the enzyme undergoes. It was simple and complex at the same time.

This was the first time I had seen Sunflower for Science, a software package produced by Sunflower Learning. The enzyme illustration was one of 30 resources in the package, spanning subjects from DNA to nuclear physics.

I now use this technology in a number of different ways. I typically start a class by running a demonstration on an interactive whiteboard to show pupils what they will be doing. They then run the animation themselves - repeatedly if they need to.

For example, with Simple Circuits, a resource about electrical circuits, pupils first watch the animation on the interactive whiteboard, then go on to perform a practical experiment in the lab - or on their laptops if another class is using the kit. On the laptop, pupils can drag a photograph of a battery into a circuit diagram and watch it transform into the symbol for a battery, which really helps them with drawing circuits.

I am also able to differentiate work for pupils within each class and keep them focused, regardless of whether they are all working at a different pace. Those pupils who storm ahead are kept occupied with data analysers.

The technology also helps me to illustrate scientific concepts that are impossible to demonstrate in the classroom, such as DNA replication. Animations bring the concepts to life and pupils can watch them over and over until it clicks. One of my sixth-formers summed it up perfectly: "It's like using the rewind function on a video, but even better."

I also use it for setting homework: it is great for consolidation. Sunflower Learning's SCORM link enables the software to run on a learning platform that can be accessed at home. The latest edition of Sunflower for Science, launched this month, offers new ways of sharing activities via a link, making it possible for any school or pupil with an internet connection to access the resource at home.

Software is not the solution for everything in class. But for complex scientific explanations I have found it communicates clearly - and cuts my explanation time in half.

Diane Wilson is head of science and technology at Garth Hill College, Berkshire. For more information about Sunflower for Science, go to

What else?

Gerwyn Bish's PowerPoint provides a thorough introduction to DNA, plus a quiz.


Fascinate pupils with millthorpeschool's interesting DNA facts. Did you know that humans share 50 per cent of their DNA with bananas?


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