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Leading by example

Hugh Rippin compares two A-level chemistry course books.

Nuffield Advanced Chemistry, General Editor Bryan Stokes. Student's Book, General Editor Michael Vokins, 0 582 23346 1. Pounds 19.50.

Teacher's Guide, 0582 23325 9A, Pounds 25, Longman.

Salters Advanced Chemistry, By The University of York Science Education Group, Chemical Ideas, 435 63105 5. Pounds 12.95, Activities and Assessment Pack, 0 435 63107 1. Pounds 99, Chemical Storylines, 0 435 63106 3, Heinemann Pounds 15.95.

To practitioners in the art of teaching chemistry, the first Nuffield course was a breath of fresh air. The clarity and nobility of thought behind the Nuffield philosophy coupled with the imaginative use of experimental work inspired decades of chemistry teaching. The third edition of Nuffield Advanced Chemistry attempts to recapture some of that initial enthusiasm and address the changes that almost a quarter of a century has brought to education and the world of chemistry.

Those familiar with the material will recognise diagrams and passages of text. Condensing the student book into one volume is beneficial, but the absence of colour is a pity. The attention to safety and good laboratory practice is first class and students will appreciate the "Help with Mathematics" appendix.

The "Comments" and "Review and Reading Tasks" add variety and interest but there is always the suspicion that the modern developments and applications have been bolted-on to what is essentially a "pure-chemistry course".

While the experiment plans are carefully laid out in easily followed stages, there are significant gaps in the factual material. Students using the course need access to at least one good back-up textbook. Nevertheless, the style in the new edition is generally clearer, more appealing to female students and, as ever, the chemistry is superb.

If the Nuffield books start with chemistry, Salters Advanced Chemistry centres on the students and seeks to interest them in the subject. The first topic, "What are we made of?", hits the ground running with the chemistry of life. Before long the student is up with the stars, having been introduced to the Periodic Table and Spectroscopy on the way. Catching their breath for a quick end-of-unit test, they start discovering things they never knew about petrol.

The course centres on the attractive, eminently readable and student-friendly Chemical Storylines, which includes such diverse topics as The Atmosphere, Engineering, Proteins and Medicines by Design. The many pictures, diagrams and imaginative use of colour enhance the attractiveness of this book.

As students progress, they are directed to the theory in Chemical Ideas. This has more of the appearance of the traditional chemistry text and is in black and white. However, the content is easy to read and accessible to all students.

The Activities and Assessment Pack which accompanies the course contains a marvellous breadth and variety of resources, including IT tasks and presentations that the students make to their group. Concepts are introduced more gently in Salters than in the Nuffield course and there are devices to allow students to interpret experiments before they gain a detailed knowledge of the underlying theory. The course seems broader than Nuffield and contains more facts, but does not go so deeply into the more demanding concepts.

Both the Nuffield books and the Salters material would be a useful addition to any chemistry department library, especially if there are dull areas that need livening up. We are fortunate indeed to have two such excellent A-level chemistry courses available. However, in my experience, by concentrating on student needs and allowing the uses of chemistry to lead theory and experiment, a very important mantle has passed on to Salters Advanced Chemistry.

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