First stops for science software

If you’d toured the land last year, you would have wondered if there was more to computers in science than using Microsoft PowerPoint & Excel. Make no mistake: there’s little wrong with that, but there is a burgeoning stock pile of excellent software. Some of it is hard to find, all of it costs serious money and much of it appears at the BETT show in January 2003. It’s the place to recommend for ‘Windows’ shopping, though this first item also works on a Mac. The most promising bundle of the year, ‘Multimedia Library for Science’ is great software for chemistry. And it is not just titles like ‘Diffusion’ and Atoms & Ions (from Sunflower Learning £50 each) that smack of relevance, for here is a set of activity-based learning tools with substance.

Why the plaudits? Well up to now we’ve seen experiment simulations and more, but in ‘Dissolving’ we can offer pupils a model where they can play with temperature, concentration and evaporation. It is no 5-minute wonder; it is an opportunity to go deeper into ideas like ‘it’s hotter so more dissolves’. If the work is challenging, it feels like it is for the good.

‘Bonding’ is another favourite where you can take atoms of sodium and chlorine, complete with electron shells and join them by dragging an electron from one to the other. Another, ‘Periodic Table’ lets you graph properties of the elements as a 3-D histogram making for very interesting patterns in density, conductivity and melting point. The MLS software runs easily in your Internet browser and can be previewed online so you can check if it works for you. It’s new and by the time you see it, ready to run with online worksheets.

For physics models, see Fable Multimedia, who as last years BETT Award winner have spawned a series of affordable teaching tools. Motion Time Graphs, Transverse & Longitudinal Waves and Terminal Velocity (each £65) provide a measured learning activity in deservingly difficult areas. For more of this and stretching across the subject, see Physics Online (www.physics-online.com – £295) where models meet movies and online programs (applets). You can sign up for a trial and find not just great resources but a clever and easy way to store teaching material beside them. Do also see Science Online (from £225, Actis) with loads of original resources, stretching from Key Stage 3 to advanced level and something of a tour de force.