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It all makes perfect science

Justin Dillon helps you choose the best textbooks for GCSE double-award science

Do we need so many science textbooks? The fact that there are so many might indicate that there is little consensus about what makes a good one. In carrying out this survey, I was struck not by the differences, but by the similarities. The national curriculum has a lot to answer for here, but there's more to it than that. Science education, and consequently, science textbook publishing, has become stuck in a rut - unlike science itself. This means that many of the books on this list scored roughly the same on the criteria that I chose. A small number stood out from the crowd, but not by much.

I started with 50 books and some page proofs from a range of publishers. Skimming through them led me to draw up a set of criteria that allowed me to differentiate the good from the not so good. In some cases, the books were allocated marks by series rather than individually. There are some examples where, say, the physics book is much better than the chemistry book, but, on the whole, books are generally similar in standard within a series. The top 10 books or sets of texts (listed in the table) were examined again for a final verdict.

What did I learn? While we can still produce good quality science texts to match the needs of a wide range of students, the choice is more limited now than should be or needs to be the case, thanks to the national curriculum and the assessment system. When deciding on the right text book for GCSE science, I recommend that, like me, you take the following criteria into consideration:

1 Design

Will pupils find the book attractive? Think about use of colour, photographs, illustrations, page layout and quality of paper.

2 Content

Of course, this must match the chosen specification, but what is fundamentally important is the correctness of the science. Look at how traditionally difficult topics are explained - Newton's Third Law, for example. Do the supporting diagrams make things clearer or more confusing? Is Sc1 (particularly the Ideas and Evidence in Science strand) adequately covered? Will students find the big stories of science, rather than random collections of facts? Do the books present actual data from investigations? Are there challenging activities with opportunities to use ICT?

3 Structure

Look for books that explicitly build on Year 7-9 work. All books reviewed here are weak in this respect. Think about progression within the books. Some present a range of routes through the specification, which help students see links between topics. Decide whether separate foundation and higher-tier volumes are more appropriate for your class. If differentiation is within one volume, is the higher-tier material clearly identified and more challenging?

4 Extras

What supplementary materials are available? These may be through a publisher's website, for example, or in the form of teacher resource or homework books.

Justin Dillon is a lecturer in science education at King's College London and director of the International Education Unit

TITLE

Heinemann

Heinemann Co-ordinated Science for AQA series. Biology for AQA, Chemistry for AQA, Physics for AQA. Price: pound;12.25 each. Tel: 01865 888080

DESIGN

Very attractive, bright, colourful and well laid out books. However, the pages are very text heavy, which might put off foundation-tier students.

CONTENT

I like the "Science people" (for example, "Darwin and son") and the inclusion of sections that address the Ideas and Evidence strand, such as the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who campaigned for better hygiene in maternity hospitals. Biology in particular makes clear links between theory and experiment. But not enough data from real investigations and few examples of uses of ICT.

STRUCTURE

The text is aimed at average GCSE students with higher-tier material on separate pages. Foundation-tier students might struggle with the language level, but there are clear summaries of key ideas.

EXTRAS

* Teacher's resource pack and CD-Rom

* Website at www.heinemann.co.ukscience but this is currently undeveloped

VERDICT

Very highly recommended - interesting, informative and well-illustrated text. Science comes across as a people-centred, creative subject.

TITLE

Heinemann

Heinemann Modular Science for AQA. Year 10 (Foundation), Year 10 (Higher). Price: pound;13.25 each. Tel: 01865 888080

DESIGN

An attractive, but rather pedestrian layout, with fewer photographs than in other texts. Questions are used effectively, giving the text a welcome interactive style.

CONTENT

Comprehensive coverage of the AQA specifications, but little material explicitly aimed at Sc1. Good glossary and formulae list, together with up-to-date content, such as the data on the MMR vaccine and measles. No obvious examples of the use of ICT.

STRUCTURE

Foundation and higher books follow the same pattern, although reading age and depth of coverage differ.

EXTRAS

* Teacher's resource pack and CD-Rom

* Website at www.heinemann.co.ukscience is currently undeveloped so far, but first two units can be downloaded

VERDICT

Recommended for teachers who prefer separate foundation and higher texts and an interactive approach.

Hodder amp; Stoughton

Hodder amp; Stoughton Science for GCSE:Double Award. Price: pound;15.99. Tel: 01235 827720

DESIGN

Bright and attractive single volume text. Good range of photographs and illustrations. A well-ordered book.

CONTENT

Sound scientific content based on Sc2, 3 and 4 with some sections relevant to the Ideas and Evidence strand, but mainly historical accounts. Little use of data from real investigations and few examples of uses of ICT.

STRUCTURE

Aimed at the higher tier and suitably challenging for the A* to C grade candidates. Average students may find the density of text and ideas hard work. A good selection of recent exam questions.

EXTRAS

* Double-award pupil's handbook with or without answers

* Foundation textbooks available for lower ability students

VERDICT

Highly recommended for teachers who want an authoritative text aimed at the higher tier. Excellent value for money.

TITLE

Hodder amp; Stoughton

Hodder amp; Stoughton AQA GCSE Science. Price: pound;16.99. Tel: 01235 827720

DESIGN

This single volume looks and feels heavy. The typeface is small and the text is dense, but laid out clearly and well-illustrated throughout with fewer photos than in the other books, particularly in the chemistry sections, which are heavy going.

CONTENT

Three sections corresponding to the attainment targets offer sound content throughout. The Ideas and Evidence sections are clearly marked in the text. There is some data from actual investigations, such as marble chips in acid, but few examples of ICT use or links to websites. However, online teachers' guide has ideas for the use of ICT and more strategies for teaching about Ideas and Evidence.

STRUCTURE

The higher-tier material is colour-coded, so some pages appear fragmented. Foundation-tier students are likely to find this a difficult read.

EXTRAS

* An online teacher's guide available at the website www.aqagcsescience.co.uk Sample pages are available as pdf files that address ICT links and Sc1

VERDICT

Recommended for teachers with mostly higher-tier students.

Letts education

GCSE Classbook: Science. Price: pound;12.99. GCSE Classbook: Science Foundation. Price: pound;10.99. www.letts-education.com

DESIGN

A single-volume book with a cramped text, which most students will find unappealing. Illustrations in the higher-tier book are too small. These books have a very dated feel.

CONTENT

Explicit references to material suitable for the Ideas and Evidence strand, but much of it describes historical events rather than addressing the fundamental question of "how do we know?" There are several good examples of real data, integrated with the theory, especially in the chemistry sections. Also some useful examples of activities requiring ICT, such as linking a balance to a computer to plot readings.

STRUCTURE

Foundation and higher tiers are clearly different in style and level of difficulty, but both are dry and likely to be hard going for students used to a more interactive approach.

EXTRAS

* Homework book with pages of unimaginative questions and fill-the-gap exercises

* Teacher's guide

VERDICT

Sound but uninspiring. The books look and feel cheap.

Nelson Thornes. Chemistry for You (revised edition). Physics for You (revised edition). Biology for You (revised edition). www.nelsonthornes.com. Price: pound;13.50 each. Tel: 01242 267273

DESIGN

Traditional books with details of dozens of experiments. Fewer photographs than other texts, but many cartoons, some (in Physics) promoting unhelpful stereotypes. Chemistry is much more up to date.

CONTENT

Special sections on "BiologyChemistryPhysics at Work". Despite many experiments, the Ideas and Evidence opportunities are undeveloped in the chemistry book although there is a whole section on this strand in the physics book. One strength of this series is its integration of practical and theory, such as the disappearing coin trick and work on refraction. However, there are few examples of data from investigations in the text. There's also little on ICT use and few links to websites. Lots of exam questions.

STRUCTURE

Higher-tier pages and single-subject content are highlighted. A series for higher-tier students, presented in a traditional style.

EXTRAS

* Website at www.chemistryforyou. co.uk

* Support packs for each subject

* Teacher file

VERDICT

This series has a loyal following (Physics was first published in 1980). Sound textbooks, but there are better available at similar prices.

Nelson Thornes. Key Science series (revised editions). Chemistry, Physics, Biology www.nelsonthornes.com. Price: pound;14.50 each. Tel: 01242 267273

DESIGN

A serious, no-nonsense approach. Often cluttered pages with a range of clear and colourful diagrams and occasionally drab photographs. I like the interactive, questioning style.

CONTENT

Material relevant to "the weighing of evidence" is indicated, although the many "Key Scientist" boxes contain mostly historical material (Faraday, Pascal, etc) rather than comment on how scientific knowledge is made and tested. Other boxes illustrate Science at Work, such as the structure of Kevlar fibres, but as diversions rather than integrated with the text. Strong on worked examples and on the use of experimental data, particularly in Physics. There is adequate content for the separate sciences.

STRUCTURE

This series is well-pitched for middle-ability students. Extension material is confusingly indicated. Core material for doublesingle science and extension file activities and assignments for separate science content.

EXTRAS

* Frequent references to the Key Science website at www.keyscience.co.uk with links to other sites and software for a range of topics.

* Teacher file

VERDICT

A sound but expensive series, more suited to higher than foundation-tier students.

Nelson Thornes. Nelson Science series (second edition). Biology, Chemistry, Physics. www.nelsonthornes.com. Price: pound;12.50 each. Tel: 01242 267273

DESIGN

An authoritative and attractive set of textbooks, more suited to higher ability students. Beautiful large colour photos and a well-ordered feel. Activities and extension material are clearly identified.

CONTENT

Exceptionally thorough coverage - an excellent preparation for further study. Very strong on the nature of science and on Ideas and Evidence. The biology textbook, in particular, is possibly the best around. Many examples of data from investigations, with opportunities to use data from other sources. Many of the question sections are marked with an ICT icon, but the ICT content is not always clear.

STRUCTURE

Although extension material is clearly indicated, I imagine that lower-attaining students would find the sheer depth of treatment off-putting. Ideal, though, for more able students.

EXTRAS

* Website at www.nelsonscience. co.uk

* Five Channel 4 programmes on famous male scientists Science in Focus: the Nature of Scientific Enquiry

* Teacher file

VERDICT

Very highly recommended for thoroughness of content and attractive presentation. More suited to higher ability students.

TITLE

Oxford university press. New Co-ordinated Science series. Biology for Higher Tier, Chemistry for Higher Tier. Price: pound;13.50 each (Also available in Modular Science for AQA Higher Tier edition). Tel: 01536 741068

DESIGN

Very attractive, high-quality publication with stunning photographs. Higher-tier students will appreciate the well laid out, authoritative feel to this series.

CONTENT

The biology content is particularly good. Physics is less successful, particularly in its treatment of heat. Chemistry is rather staid, apart from a spread on global warming. All books cover a range of traditional and more up-to-date material relevant to the Ideas and Evidence strand, although not identified as such. Little use of data from real investigations and few examples of uses of ICT. A series of further topics is included for students in Wales and Northern Ireland.

STRUCTURE

Clear structure will bring out the best in higher-tier students. Route maps provide guidance on alternative paths through the material, which will prove a useful revision aid.

EXTRAS

* Specification matching grids on the website www.oup.comuksciencegrids

VERDICT

Highly recommended: a stimulating series for higher-tier students.

TITLE

Oxford university press. Target Science series. Biology Foundation Tier, Chemistry Foundation Tier, Physics Foundation Tier. Price: pound;13 each (Also available in AQA Modular Science edition). Tel: 01536 741068

DESIGN

A new series with an attractive mix of colourful photographs, line diagrams, cartoons and well laid out text, with a larger-than-usual typeface.

CONTENT

Biology is up to date and includes some very good material. Physics is less successful, particularly in its coverage of heat. Material appropriate for the Ideas and Evidence strand of Sc1 varies from topic to topic. Physics, for example, includes little on controversial subjects, while Chemistry describes how ideas about atoms and the periodic table evolved. Little data from actual investigations and few examples of ICT use or links to websites.

STRUCTURE

Well-matched to average-ability students. The lack of questions within the text will make the books less accessible than some of the other series, although the end-of-chapter glossaries are useful. Routemaps give alternative paths through the material.

EXTRAS

* Specification matching grids on the website www.oup.comuksciencegrids

VERDICT

A sound set of texts with good coverage in a well presented format. Not for teachers looking for more challenging material and questions.

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