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A-Level biology

BIODIVERSITY: The Abundance of Life. By Jenny Chapman and Michael Roberts. Cambridge University Press Pounds 9.95

MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGY. By David Applin. Cambridge University Press Pounds 10.50

The cover of Biodiversity shows a wonderful colour photograph, but inside the pages are dull and predictable. It feels like a cut down 1970s undergraduate text, full of information, but lacking learning objectives.

The diversity of life is an exciting topic in A-level biology. This book will provide information students need on a taxonomic basis but encourages little thinking at a functional level which is where the interest really lies.

Medical Physiology also falls into the category of books which provide good descriptions of phenomena, such as nutritional deficiency illnesses, but which fail to engage with the underlying physiological mechanisms.

I suspect that one feature of the modularisation of A-level science, which is reinforced by books like these, is the atomisation of knowledge. The authors are not to blame for this but the examination boards.

MICRO-ORGANISMS AND BIOTECHNOLOGY. By Peter Chenn. John Murray Pounds 10.99

This book is also a source of information rather than a learning tool for students, though there are useful suggestions for activities and exam questions at the end of each chapter. It is in black and white, with few photographs but some useful diagrams.

There is little attempt to link ideas to the core of the A-level biology syllabus. Students will certainly gain a lot of information about topics ranging from causes of disease to the functioning of the brain, but the extent to which it will help them to realise that a few fundamental biological principles underpin the science in this applied field is questionable.

Geoff Hayward is a lecturer in science education at the University of Oxford

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