Principles and content are delivered via storylines: instead of a wodge of straight biochemistry, for instance, students meet lipids in the context of triggers for heart disease, information about proteins in the context of why some people have cystic fibrosis.
There are four CD-Roms, which can be web-accessed. Most of each CD-Rom consists of pdf files (for students, teacher and technician) for activities. At Ringwood School, Hampshire, this spring, a class of sixth-formers were carrying out Activity 2.7, on how enyzme concentration affects the rate of a reaction. Their morning was spent preparing an investigation into the subject; the afternoon on sharing presentations on protein synthesis. Using PowerPoint, OHTs and hand-made 3-D models, they eagerly jumped into discussion, followed by question-and-answer sessions to check their understanding.
As well as practical work, SNAB offers a multimedia introduction and a GCSE review test for students to complete before starting each AS topic; extracts from newspapers and other written sources to interrogate; suggestions for discussions; weblinks; animations to show processes over time (for example in DNA replication and in the transport of materials across membranes); tutorials about key chemical and mathematical ideas in biology; extension materials; ICT guidance (for example, on drawing graphs in Excel and using a flexicam); end-of-topic tests and so on.
Teachers can post to a "noticeboard" to communicate with their classes, and can set work with the students' home-pages displaying assignment details and due dates. Marks from the electronic end-of-topic tests feed automatically into the system's markbook, which can also receive manually entered marks or other data.
The electronic component should enable students to work more autonomously than is typically the case in A-level courses. It should also be easier for teachers to manage with a wide range of abilities and with students who miss work.
The first end-of-unit tests were taken in January 2003. Encouragingly, grades proved better than either the students or their teachers were expecting. All being well, the course goes national from September 2005.
But there's still time to join the pilot and get all the materials at subsidised prices.
Michael Reiss is director of the Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology Project and professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Email: email@example.com