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Background

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About two years ago we became aware of the new government initiative known as IT2000 and, in particular, the schools integration project, or SIP. It was a golden opportunity for our school, which has always been open to new ideas and opportunities, to continue to expand its IT resources. We had just received 14 new computers under the Hewlett Packard K12 programme and felt that to get the most from ourselves and our students we needed a target or challenge that would allow us to stretch ourselves and develop new skills.

With this in mind we set about completing our school IT plan, which was a pre-requisite for applying for SIP, and looking into various possible activities we could use as our SIP project. We wanted a project that was possible to complete so that we would not become frustrated and disillusioned yet we wanted to try something we had not done before. Within our school we have used many different teaching resources over the years and one, which has proven itself, has been the use of audio-visual material. The introduction of the transition year program to our school in recent years has meant that many teachers had to draft their own courses and syllabi and develop their own resources for these.

This led us to wonder if we could use IT to develop material that would provide teachers and students with a new resource that would bring together many different tools in a multi-media CD ROM. At the same time there was a lot of concern being expressed by the government and other agencies about the lack of uptake of science subjects, particularly chemistry and physics, at leaving certificate level. In our school all first year students study science and home economics but they must choose only one going into second year.

Usually, slightly over half the students opt for science. At leaving certificate level we offer chemistry, physics and biology. The uptake of biology is very high, about 85-90%, but chemistry has a much lower uptake, only about 10% and physics a little less at only 8%. This is quite similar to countrywide trends.

We felt that if we could encourage more students to keep on science at the end of first year we might be able to increase the chances of more students studying science subjects all through second level to leaving certificate. Also we noticed that the weaker students, in general, tended to select home economics often because they felt that, even though science was interesting, it was for "brain-boxes" only.

We hoped that we would be able to change this perception with our SIP project. This gave rise, then, to the proposal that we make a CD ROM that would be useful in teaching science to first year science. We had never tried this before but we thought it must be possible as we had heard about "CD burners" and "multimedia CD ROMs" and thought we would like to try to make our own CD. There were many CD's available at the time that were based on the English education curriculum that were only partly suitable for our courses so we felt that there was a gap in the market that both we and maybe other schools might be able to benefit from if we were successful. Another reason for choosing a project that was software based was that the skills learned would be applicable to any other subject. So, if we learnt how to make a science CD, then we would be better able to create a CD in other subject areas at a later date.