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A safe path through five kingdoms

PRACTICAL BIOLOGY FOR ADVANCED LEVEL. By Michael Roberts, Tim King and Michael Reiss. Nelson Pounds 14.99. - 0 17 448225 6.

BIOLOGY ADVANCED STUDIES SERIES. THE FIVE KINGDOMS. By Roger Avery, Innes Cuthill, Ruth Miller and Gary Rowland. - 0 17 448229 9.

FOOD PRODUCTION. By Erica Larkcom and Ruth Miller. - 0 17 448228 0. Nelson Pounds 6.99 each. Age range 16 - 19.

Practical Biology for Advanced Level will help teachers meet the challenge of developing investigations which provide progression from level 7 GCSE.

There are three types of activity in the 14 chapters, covering the whole range of topics found in syllabuses at this level. There are practical exercises which help the student through an activity step by step; investigations which are more open ended and where students are given general guidance, and projects which are even more open-ended and require students to evaluate their findings, refine their ideas and design further investigations.

The authors believe that each of the activities in the first two categories should be carried out in 90 minutes or less (unless they are field work based) and so they will fit into the average length for a school "practical" period.

The authors build on the Scientific Investigation (Sc1) of GCSE through the second type of activity. For example, the investigation into the effect of enzyme and substrate concentration on the hydrolysis of sucrose gives some background information about the reaction, a summary of the most suitable technique, hints on how to carry out the investigation, a list of requirements and a reference for a standard A-level text for further reading. There's no reason for any student to flounder.

There are over 200 projects including ones on gut enzymes, osmo-regulation in invertebrates and the success of commercial rooting powders. A number of projects are listed at the end of each chapter. The authors predict that each one takes about 10 hours over a period of weeks. All three types of practical investigation consolidate theoretical work. Safety is also acknowledged with caution notes in the margin and hazard symbols where appropriate.

There are some interesting and novel activities, like the paper ecosystem where students construct a pyramid of energy flow, but the authors state they have sacrificed originality for reliability. This is reassuring and should avoid much of the frustration associated with this type of work.

The first chapter of the book is an introduction for students and this is a model of its type. There's an outstanding section on the way in which quantitative results could be presented, another on "hypothesis making" and one on "how to choose your project". Every section in this chapter will be helpful to students whose investigative skills are poorly developed or need reinforcing.

Altogether, Practical Biology is an essential resource and, as it contains only 256 pages, it is easy to carry too!

The Five Kingdoms and Food Production are the latest in the Biology Advanced Studies series written to cover the content of a whole range of courses in the 16 to 19 age range.

Biodiversity is the idea underpinning The Five Kingdoms and the "Kingdoms" refer to the classification system devised by Whittaker and modified by Margulis and Schwarz, namely animal, plant, fungus, protist and moneran. The text is illustrated with line diagrams, which are clear, though occasionally the annotations are excessive (e.g. the life cycle of Funaria, page 43).

There are black and white photographs too; most are fine but sometimes the small size makes the detail hard to discern (e.g. dog whelks feeding on barnacles, page 77).

In addition to a chapter on each of the five kingdoms, there's also one on the akaryotic viruses and another on behaviour. While the five kingdom chapters are at the level of detailed required, the one on behaviour is only three pages long and so is superficial in its treatment. Surely such a fascinating topic merits a book on its own?

In Food Production, examples from plants, cattle, chicken, fish and bees are used to illustrate the biological principles involved and traces the story of food production from the earlier forms of agriculture in settled human communities through to modern times. A short section on veal production includes the topical question: "There is some controversy about veal production. List the points that could be used in an argument, assuming that you represented a pressure group: (a) for veal production and (b) against veal production".

The book contains useful information which will help teachers with a topic that is notoriously difficult to resource with objective information. So this and its companion volumes will form valuable reference material.

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