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Creating Science4CE as a revision resource
In my role as Head of Science in a prep school, I was responsible for getting my Year 8 pupils through their Common Entrance 13+ Science examination, using whatever revision resources I regarded fit for the task. I decided to create my own.
At the time, around March 2006, I was Head of Science & ICT at Rose Hill Preparatory School, in Alderley, near Wotton-Under-Edge. I was aiming to create revision notes for my Year 8 pupils in preparation for their Common Entrance (CE) 13+ Science examination. In the build up to the CE exam, which consisted of Biolgy, Chemistry and Physics papers, I wanted to give the pupils the best possible resources from which to revise, hoping that this would reinforce their understanding of what I had taught them since the start of Year 7.
Although there were many resources available, I was keen to create a resource that the pupils could easily refer to, something that was clear and simple to understand and 'to the point', as much of what was around at the time presented far too much information, rather than just the key concepts they needed to understand. I also wanted to produce something that I could make available online, for those who preferred to use the internet for revision.
- Started the design of the revision notes with the aim of fitting one topic per page, to keep things simple - it soon emerged that this would not be possible as there was too much content to include, so I decided to slip each topic over as few pages as possible. Design included topic title in the middle with information in logical groups around it - as much graphical content as possible in the form of images, diagrams etc.
- Drafted the first computerised version of the notes using Apple 'Pages', with the topics separated into Biology, Chemistry and Physics sections.
- Obtained images and diagrams from a wide range of sources - some hand/computer drawn, some open source, some photos taken by me, some images purchased.
- Completed computer-produced version of the revision notes and error-checked. I then converted the whole 'Pages' document into a pdf document.
- Complete set of revision notes was printed out and distributed to Year 8 students.
- The start of the following year all of Year 7 and Year 8 were given the notes for on-going revision.
- Created Science4CE.co.uk website and used screen-shots of revision notes as content on the site.
- Created 13+ CE revision questions on Yacapaca.com, for use in revision quizzes to complement the notes. Created a link on science4ce.co.uk to Yacapaca using a specially generated code, which allowed visitors to science4ce to immediately access the science quizzes I had created on Yacapaca.com. Originally this had been a problem as pupils had to register on Yacapaca using an email address, but yacapaca changed this and allowed pupils to register without an email address and use the code to link to specific quiz sets. Yacapaca was a free resource at this time.
- Updated science4ce.co.uk layout and navigation for easier access. Split revision notes into separate topic sections and uploaded them to Scribd.com - this allowed me to display the revision content in an easier, more eye-pleasing way using scribd.com's embedding codes. This also meant that any changes I made to the revision notes only had to be updated on scribd.com, without changing anything else on science4ce.co.uk, with the format staying the same.
- My pupils used the revision notes leading up to the Common Entrance exams and also accessed the science4ce website, making use of the yacapaca questions.
- The results recorded on yacapaca.com showed an improvement in the pupils' knowledge of the subject matter over time.
- Ongoing use of the revision notes took place for the following 3 years (until Rose Hill School closed in July 2009).
- Common Entrance Science results at Rose Hill improved each year from 2006-2009 and were, in fact, the best CE results out of all subjects at the school in 2007-2009. This, of course, may have been down to the pupils' ability, rather than the resources!
- When I moved schools in September 2009, the Science department at my new school adopted the revision notes I had created, for use with their Year 7 and 8 pupils, although I wasn't Head of Science at the school.
- The Science4CE website took off - it started to receive hits from all over the world, most, obviously, from the UK. Analytics show that it currently receives between 1300-2400 hits per month from September to June, which then tail off to approximately 600 hits per month during the Summer holidays.
- The use of the quizzes I had created on Yacapaca rose significantly throughout the prep school community; users of the quizzes now include actual prep school science departments as well as individuals revising for Science at CE level.
- I received many requests by teachers in other prep schools to download my notes for use with their own classes.
- Yacapaca started charging for their service after years of being free - a problem I am yet to solve.
The whole project went from something intended to be quite small and meant for a small group of students to something fairly large, viewed by many thousands online. The project is still ongoing and there are necessary changes I need to make in the future, including:
- making the content of the Science4CE website more interactive, for the benefit of the students using it
- delivering quizzes in an alternative format to Yacapaca, as the costs involved in maintaining use of Yacapaca, now that it is no longer free, are too high
- changing my paper-based notes into an ebook, downloadable to any mobile device via the website - the increase in popularity of study via mobile devices in schools demands this.
From striving to achieve my initial goals with the project, I certainly gained an insight into web-based educational resources and what people want from this kind of service. I also recognised the need to implement cost-saving features and that this kind of resource cannot stand still; online educational resources must develop alongside the available technologies.