From spice to space

7th March 2008 at 00:00

Now is the time to unravel the mysteries of the universe as National Science Week takes place from March 14-23

Jerry Wellington is still hankering after the outstanding stars of this year's Association for Science Education meeting The DJ at the annual ASE disco back in January, had the temerity to play the Spice Girls to an audience of ageless, or ageing, science teachers. With similar bravery, exhibitors at the meeting (at Birmingham University, January 2-4) shivered in front of their stands in a cold campus while displaying a wide range of resources for teachers, some they need, some they want, and some they really really want.

Traditional practical work is well supported by companies such as Heron, with its well established mobile worktrucks and a new Aztecs system for science and technology. Philip Harris has an extensive range of equipment for hands-on science as does Griffin and George.

These and other manufacturers such as Meta Scientific display, as always, a range of conventional microscopes for school science. But one growing trend involves the use of video technology and multimedia to ensure, as one teacher put it, that "pupils see what they are supposed to see". Education Interactive, for example, produces photo CDs for biology teachers costing Pounds 34 to Pounds 51, which allow them to display images on a monitor or television during practical sessions. New technology such as this will certainly complement the standard use of microscopes in schools, if it does not replace it.

In a similar way, Meta Scientific offers a flexible video camera (at Pounds 650) which can be used to project images on to a monitor for group viewing and discussion - it comes with an adapter for connection to a microscope.

Philip Harris has Flexcam (Pounds 900) which is also a camera on a flexible wand, designed to give a whole class a clear view of what they are "supposed to observe". This can now be purchased as part of a complete, pioneering package: at Pounds 3,995, Philip Harris offers the flexible camera, computer with software, keyboard and printer to provide a dedicated system.

Hardware and software products for data logging available from UK developers have been refined and their range of applications extended. The LogIT DataMeter 1000 (from Griffin) is simple to understand and operate. Within seconds an LCD display presents perfectly calibrated values and with a single press of a button, logging is immediately under way.

EasyLog (from Data Harvest) similarly needs only the press of one button to start logging. No complicated instructions are needed and the data are automatically displayed as a graph when the logger is connected to a computer. DL Plus (from Philip Harris) specialises in a variety of logging modes to suit a wide range of experimental requirements. Extra Sense (from NES Arnold) provides a robust low-cost interface in a steel case.

Software has a crucial role in making the hardware systems serve a useful educational purpose. One valuable package is the Insight data-logging software developed by Laurence Rogers at Leicester University (from Longman Logotron). It has won many friends for its versatility in servicing all the UK-based logging hardware systems. Insight 2 is outstanding for its tools for displaying, analysing and manipulating data. It contains numerous enhancements that encourage pupils to explore and think about experimental data.

For busy teachers, there exists an abundant supply of ideas for classroom activities using IT. Roger Frost has led the field with his IT in Science manuals, but newly-published (from Data Harvest) are three guides for teachers entitled Insight into Biology, Insight into Chemistry and Insight into Physics.

For science teachers who wish to supplement traditional practical work with video or multimedia, a good range of both is available. As always, Viewtech Film and Video offers science material at reasonable prices. New for 1997 are Exploring our Solar System and Atoms and Molecules (each at Pounds 59 a copy).

The Easy Learning Company is marketing eight videos from US space agency NASA to help explain some of the difficult concepts connected with space and space travel. The package, with teachers' notes and worksheets for pupils, will sell at Pounds 140.

For teachers needing help with assessment comes Exam Pro from Helix Educational Software. It uses a database of past GCSE and A-level papers to allow teachers (and students) to create their own customised papers for revision and practice assessment. Questions even come with a mark scheme and examiners' reports. Packages will cost from Pounds 97 to Pounds 250 for the complete works up to A-level.

On a similar theme Compact Question from Stanley Thornes, is an electronic database of more than 5,000 illustrated question which again can be used to prepare homework, revision or topic tests. Both packages will be of great value to secondary science departments as the assessment tail continues to wag the dog.

Finally, for those stressed out by the pressures of assessment, league tables and all these fancy new resources, Dragonlink Games has added to its excellent list a strategy for coping with stress. The Uplands Game has red "situation cards" and yellow "feelings cards" which the players (up to eight) discuss together. It looks like an ideal way of coping with assessment, the Spice Girls and all the things you really really want in 1997 but can't afford.


* Data Harvest Group, Woburn Lodge, Waterloo Road, Linsdale, Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 7BR.

* Griffin and George, Bishop Meadow Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 0RG.

* Education Interactive, 14 Rowland Road, Stevenage, Herts SG1 1TE.

* Philip Harris, Lynn Lane, Shenstone, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS14 0RG.

* The Easy Learning Co, 67 East Knighton, Winfrith Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8LL.

* Roger Frost, 7 Sutton Place, London E9 6EH.

* Heron Educational, Freepost, Carrwood Road, Chesterfield S41 9BR.

* Viewtech Film amp; Video, 161 Winchester Road, Bristol BS4 3NJ.

* NES Arnold Scientific, Ludlow Hill Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 6HD.

* Dragonlink Games, Pershall, Ecclesall ST21 6NE.

* Longman Logotron, 124 Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 4ZS.

* Meta Scientific, 7 Fosters Grove, Windlesham, Surrey GU20 6JZ.

* Stanley Thornes Publishers, Freepost (GR782), Cheltenham, Glocestershire GL50 1BR.

* Helix Educational Software, POBox,15, Engine Lane, Lye, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY9 7AJ

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