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Meet Mark and Peter

Michael Reiss on a ground-breaking A-level biology course.

A major factor in this excellent teaching is the new course which the school has recently adopted. Superb activities and excellent use of information and communication technology lead to progress of exceptional quality. All students achieve very well." Thus the official Ofsted report on one of the schools piloting Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB).

September sees the national roll-out of the first important new advanced level biology course since Nuffield Advanced Biology in the 1970s. Of all the sciences, biology has probably made the most rapid progress in recent years: think of what is now known about cell biology, genetics and ecology compared with the 1970s. Yet biology has lagged behind chemistry and physics at advanced level in curriculum development.

For the past four years, a team of advanced level biology teachers has been working with the central SNAB team at the University of York to develop and pilot the course. Piloting with 4,000 students in more than 50 schools and colleges has produced an outstanding new course to help teachers and enthuse students.

SNAB is taught through real-life biological contexts. For example, most advanced level biology courses start with cell biology or biochemistry. We start with an account of Mark, a 15-year-old who had a stroke, and Peter, an adult who had a heart attack. On from their details, we look at why people suffer from cardiovascular disease. This allows us to introduce the biochemistry of fats and carbohydrates, as students need to know them to understand about strokes and heart diseases.

Students develop skills including data analysis, critical evaluation of information, communication and collaboration. The course includes student textbooks and electronic resources: interactive tutorials, simulations, animations, spreadsheets, tests and online glossary. Support on biochemistry, maths, ICT, study skills, examination and coursework is provided, as are teacher lecturer and technician notes.

Teacher Nicola Wilberforce at Esher sixth form college said:"If you were to have a checklist of what you would include in a well-differentiated biology course, SNAB would have it all - auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learning, group, individual and pair work, ICT, presentations, discussion and role play."

For information on the course, email: mjr8@york.ac.uk

Michael Reiss is director of the Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology Project, professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London, and chief executive of Science Learning Centre London

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