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Starkly different Biology

PHYSICS AND EARTH SCIENCE. By Richard Balding. Wimbledon Publishing Company. Pounds 11.95 each.

Although designed and written by a preparatory school teacher for pupils taking the common entrance exam, these books are being marketed as suitable for average and more able key stage 3 students. They are simple in design and honest in intention - to give pupils the facts and concepts they need to pass an exam.

But like all textbooks, they are cultural artefacts with an implicit set of assumptions about the nature of science as a subject, and about teaching and learning. Thus, they convey the message that school science is a set of facts, ideas and processes that pupils must learn so they can do well in examinations.

The extent to which the books achieve these goals is an empirical question, and the very occasional errors they contain, for example on the nature of the relationship between amino acids and proteins, need to be corrected. But their interest lies in the starkly alternative way in which they represent the nature of school science. Set against the over-designed,highly coloured vacuity of so much modern science textbooks, here is an alternative, black-and-white view of school science - one that emphasises learning science as involving the mastery of a precise, technical language.Have too many science textbook writers forgotten this aspect of science learning?

Geoff Hayward is lecturer in science education at the University of Oxford department of educational studies

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