INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Science KS3
CDROM for Windows

Investigating Science 1
From Granada Learning
2 CDROMs and documentation
Single User Licence £49, £10 per additional user.

Investigating Science 1

This resource contains twelve topics closely matching the existing QCA year 7 schemes of work for Key Stage 3. Each topic contains an introduction in the form of a slide show with illustrated text and sound; an interactive activity featuring, for example, drag and drop tasks; a multiple choice test (10 questions set from a bank of 40, allowing two wrong attempts before the answer is provided), and references to related text books. There is a tool bar allowing pupils to make notes and, where appropriate, record results and create graphs. Another tool allows pupils to compare their definitions of key words with the ones that are supplied. (This looks very good but I was sorry to see the given definition of “concentrated” used “strong solution” as, when used with acids, the use of strong can lead to misconceptions later in the school). These tools require java applets, so installation needs to be completed well before the resource is used, and there might be problems in installing the resource onto a network. It also requires Internet Explorer 5.5, which is supplied on the CD. I had no trouble in running it on both a desktop and laptop computer, the latter with a Celeron 500Mz processor, 64MB RAM, 8Mb Ram for video display and Windows 98, hardly excessive in the modern world.

A separate CD provides teachers’ notes, worksheets and practical activity sheets. These are in acrobat format and acrobat reader is supplied for those who do not have it.

Overall, the interactive resource is well put together and at the right level for most year 7 children, although it might not stretch the more able children. It is robust and navigation through the screen is simple. Users can select from a clear set of menus and submenus. Activities, when begun, run to completion but users can use the mouse to jump indiscriminately between menu items throughout an activity. Some guidance such as a worksheet or clear verbal instructions will be needed to keep some children on task.

While the resource will be useful I have to say I was initially disappointed with it and I think a couple of minor changes could have increased its impact and usefulness. My primary concern was with the interface for the introduction, which centres on a “Tin Lizzie” style robot. This walks onto the screen, a door in its stomach chest opens, a screen comes out and unfolds and the first slide displays on the screen. I found this irritating and, while I am sure year 7 pupils will work at the computer, I have no doubt they will be used to quicker and more interesting formats and some will soon find this boring and slow. This might detract from their appreciation of the contents.

My second concern was with the support CD. The documents on it are written in Adobe format, meaning they cannot easily be customised. This could be problem for some users as they are limited and might need to be adapted to make them more accessible to pupils with special needs or added to in order to challenge more able children. Some of the activities do not seem to have been thought through – a worksheet on the solar system asks pupils to create a scale model of the solar system using different sized everyday objects, then to measure the scaled distances from the classroom and write down where the planets would appear in the school. Yet, according to the information given, Pluto is over a kilometre away on the scale used. Although it might be possible to copy the material and paste it in to a word-processing document, allowing it to be changed, it will lose its format and any associated graphics, as well as potentially breaching copyright and licensing restrictions. Producing the material in word format would have gone a long way to making it easy to adapt and more useful, and this could have been agreed in the licence.

The teachers’ notes, too, tend to state the obvious but do not always provide information that could be most helpful. For example, the introduction to the overview lets the user know the interactive exercises can be carried out individually or in pairs. The teachers’ notes on a chromatography experiment (a common enough “who did the forgery?” type of investigation) supplies information that;

“Four different inks will need to be used. All four should be the same colour, but made up of different constituent colours. The murderer’s ink must match up with only one of the suspects”, but it offers no information as to how the inks can be made or how the activity is to be carried out, although;

“Before this investigation, it is recommended that students have already been taught the experimental procedure of chromatography”.

If teachers are competent enough to create ink samples and have an idea of how pupils might go about the investigation do they really need to be told that "activities can be carried out by individuals or pairs of pupils"? As the results table and graph plotting tools are not useable with every activity a written summary of when they can be opened, would save teachers from ploughing through a few pages of notes and, potentially, be helpful while teachers are still becoming familiar with the CD.

So is the resource worth the money? The licence is quite restrictive. A single user agreement allows installation on one computer only and expressly forbids installation on a local or wide area network. A second installation on a portable computer is allowed if the licence holder uses both computers for over 80% of the time that they are in use. Copies of print materials are allowed for use within the purchasing experiment. Overall, the amount of work which has gone into the resource and a licence which allows in-house copying of print resources probably justifies the cost, which is not excessive when one considers the time it might save; although resources in Word format would have made for an easier decision. However, the cost rises when a network license is considered. At £10 per extra installation a set of 30 computers would cost in the region of £340. This is comparable to the cost of a class set of KS 3 science textbooks. A survey (The Use and Availability of Books in Schools. Keele Surveys 1997-2001) found 49% of year 7 pupils have to share books in science, with 79% agreeing that being able to refer to textbooks makes understanding easier. Given the money and the choice, I would rather buy a set of textbooks than install this resource on a network.

John McCormick
Liverpool John Moores University