Stand out science software

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
George Cole looks at Sunflower for Science, a flexible multimedia suite that stands tall above many of its competitors

The world is awash with science software, but Sunflower for Science stands out from the crowd. This suite of 23 multimedia science programs covers physics, chemistry and biology for key stages 3 and 4.

It deals with a wide range of topics, from cells to chemical reactions, and circuits to colour. Teachers and students will find lots to like about this software. First, it's extremely flexible. Schools can pick and mix the programs they want, which means you only pay for what you need. It also runs straight from a CD-Rom, so there's no need to install anything on your hard drive, although obviously there is also the option for networking.

It's quick and easy to get up and running and Sunflower has updated the user interface. As a result, it's much cleaner, with a menu bar running down the left of the screen. You select the topic you want from a menu that uses the same interface as the start menu on a Windows PC.

The manual informs you that you can run up to 15 programs at once, which means you don't have to keep opening and closing programs to cross-reference. The downside of this is that it's easy for the screen to become cluttered if you're not careful. The programs can be used for individual, small or large-group work and you can use them with an interactive whiteboard or data projector.

There are examples that provide quick access to a topic and you also get short activities, which are great for getting students to focus on a particular concept or phenomenon. For example, you might want to show how blood travels through the body. With this program, a student can see an animation of blood flowing through an artery, and can then open up an animation of blood flowing through a vein on the same screen and compare the two. There are also differentiated worksheets that students answer on screen. Most worksheet tasks involve studying a photograph, diagram, simulation or animation, and then answering multiple-choice questions or writing text in a box. The worksheets can be saved, printed or marked by the teacher.

There are so many terrific diagrams and animations that it's hard to know where to start. What's more, a data analysis tool means students can perform interactive experiments on screen and the results appear on a graph in real time. This is great for topics such as rates of reaction or photosynthesis, as students can change the parameters and see their effects.

A resource builder enables teachers to adapt or create resources for the programs, such as modifying a worksheet, preparing a presentation or setting tests (which can be self-marked). It takes time to get to grips with this feature, but it's well worth the effort.

You don't have to be confined to a specific classroom when using Sunflower for Science, because there's an optional online version. It costs pound;3,070, which is a lot of money, but not so much when you consider that it's a one-off payment, which gives you all 23 programs with full site licences, plus the ability to use all the resources online anytime and anywhere, so you can set assignments and post them online.

Students can access their work anywhere there's an internet connection, complete assignments online and email them back to the teacher. Teachers are equipped with a host of online tools to create assignments, check student progress, mark work and return it electronically with comments.

This software will be useful to both experienced science teachers and staff teaching an area of science not so familiar to them. Students will enjoy using it, too.

Highly recommended.

Sunflower for science

Science software for key stages 3 4, PC and Mac CD-Rom with optional online version

From pound;90 (ex VAT) per program (includes site licence)

Tel: 0845 1300 680

Fitness for purpose *****

Ease of use ****

Features ****

Quality *****

Value for money *****

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