Straightforward and direct

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Chemistry Biology Physics By Martin Milner and Oliver Mills pound;60 each from Cambridge University Press Tel: 01223 312 393 www.cambridge.orguk

These are three science foundation CDs, one each for biology, chemistry and physics. Each covers fairly traditional areas of the key stage 34 curriculum. To see a CD resource with some direct, straightforward science explained plainly with helpful questions is encouraging.

Each CD has three or four main topics, broken into sections. Physics contains forces, energy, electricity, waves and radiation; chemistry - metals, patterns of chemical change, earth materials; biology - humans as organisms, maintenance of life, environment. These sub-divisions have anything from one to several interlinked pages; most have an animated screen, which is an "activity". There are also questions, with the answer revealed at a click or more commonly choosing words from a list to complete sentences. For example, in the electricity topic on the physics CD there are five sections and one set of activities has four pages on "motors and dynamos". These build from basic electromagnetism through a motor to a bicycle dynamo. Students can control and set variables, then run the animation (even making the cyclist pedal harder). This can be followed up by some click and drag questions.

On the biology CD, I found the "greenhouse effect" section typically helpful: page one animates a greenhouse with four labels to reveal the interactions; page two models the Earth as a greenhouse. The questions here were just click and reveal, with simple textual information.

The simplicity of the displays, the clear uncluttered screen and ease of navigation and running the activities is good. A lack of narrative adds to clarity. The pages look ideal for younger pupils and for older ones who might struggle to access these occasionally difficult scientific concepts and ideas.

The animations are also clear, bright and easy on the eye; in fact they are like the best textbook diagrams springing into life on the click of an arrow. Software in a classroom must do something a teacher cannot do better, so I do not like animated hands doing experiments (better the pupil does the practical) but here are some excellent video-style graphic animations of atoms and ions, plant and cell, and magnetic field lines.

Such CDs present the teacher with a classroom challenge. They could work as demonstrations from data projectors or for individuals to use off a network. In particular for those (many) pupils who struggle to use, let alone understand standard texts, each CD will be an asset. They will help clarify the often-difficult world of science and hold some hope for a breakthrough for pupils to picture some complex models used in their subjects.

John Dexter is head of chemistry at Trinity School, Nottingham

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