Roger Frost trawls for the very latest high-tech helpers for science
People abroad look at us with envy. They note that data-logging, or using computer sensors to measure light, temperature and velocity, for example, features in the curriculum. They buy our software and sensors and they should - it has been developed to suit young pupils, so you will find kits that are elegant, easy and even inexpensive.
It's only slightly interesting that elsewhere in the world, data-logging is very much a high-school thing. What is more interesting is where this kind of thinking leads: if a British set-up takes 10 or 100 readings a second, California-based firm Pasco produces loggers that really let rip. Its Science Workshop 500 interface records up to 20,000 samples a second - enough to change the way we teach.
With this high performance, you can measure the speed of sound and turn the computer screen into an oscilloscope. With new kinds of sensors - measuring force, rotary motion and acceleration, the light gates we're using in the UK become old hat. Add to this a new 750 interface that logs at 250,000 samples a second, and the whole game of who admires who surely changes. We'll return to this with a report from the US in the September TES Online.
Pasco - UK (Instruments Direct) 0181 560 5678 www.pasco.com Breeding fruit flies
Keeping up the unpatriotic tone, we again pop abroad for more good A-level material - this time to Australia. This year, a raft of really useful titles finally arrived over here, showing that science can move slowly too.
Drosophila Genetics is an experimental simulation where you look at the breeding of the fruit fly. You take a male and female - one with the gene for abnormal, curled wings and one with normal or "wild type" wings. You put them together, hit the breed button and find yourself with 100 offspring.
The program makes you count through the new flies. You'll find an equal mix of males to females but, perhaps, not the same ratio of curled to wild-type wings. And here begins a series of puzzles, developed in a work booklet, where students can appreciate the difference between dominant and recessive, genotype and phenotype.
While doing the experiment for real is no bad thing, even with flies escaping into the lab, using the software is a neat follow-up to practical work. When the class have their real hands-on, they explore the vagaries of the fruit fly gene map with the simulation. For example, it takes time and generations of breeding to find that some characteristics, such as black bodies and shrunken wings, often go together because the genes are close together.
What the software offers is efficient experimentation into sex-linked inheritance, incomplete dominance and so on. Should even that become tedious, it comes with another program that lets you design your own flies.
If you've no desire for mating wild males and females, there is Gas Equilibrium, a neat simulation for chemistry. This is more in the mould of software showing things you cannot show in class. In particular, it displays a reaction vessel with slider controls that adjust the pressure, volume and the temperature. You can play with these in turn, noting the effect on the reaction rate and concentration of each ingredient. These changes are the juicy bits, and are shown "live" on graphs.
Newbyte Educational Software 0141 337 3355 www.newbyte.comuk Format: PC Prices from pound;50 (Equilibrium) to pound;150 (Drosophila). All come as site licences.
The cleverly-titled Fieldworks is also a clever tool to use on biology field trips. On the surface, it's a way to record the flora and fauna you find on a transect or belt of land. You add details such as how much Mytilus edulis (a mussel to you and me) or Fucus Serratus (a seaweed) that you find. You can also record the pH, humidity or other factors .
You do this on a kind of spreadsheet table where you can pick from lists of the life forms likely to be found on rocky shores, sand dunes and salt marshes.
What also takes this way beyond a simple spreadsheet are the bar, line and kite graphs allowing you to plot your data. Here too are numerous field data analysis tools that tell about the diversity of the species found. If names like Sorenson, Shannon and Weiner mean anything to you, and making light work of the maths here is appreciated, then this is the business.
Delving within, you will find a cavernous program with a mass of background facts and species photos. It's evidently a tour de force that fills the huge chasm in the software available.
From Interpretive Solutions Various modules. Price: pound;50.
01237 471564 email: email@example.com Worts and all
The final stop as ever is the pub, as enjoyed in a multimedia title called The Science of Brewing. Aimed at school or college, this takes a sober but interesting look at the brewing industry. If you can imagine any aspect of how beers are made - the selection of ingredients, the hops, worts - it appears to be here.
You find out how yeast ferments different sugars and about the temperature conditions that affect it. Also included are very many experimental projects that will surely give the laboratory a better whiff than useful.
B3 Media Price: pound;50 approx.
0121 770 8923 email:firstname.lastname@example.org Roger Frost