A breath of fresh air

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Have science textbooks turned over a new leaf? Jonathan Osborne investigates

THINKING THROUGH SCIENCE. By Arthur Cheney, Howard Flavell, Chris Harrison, George Hurst, Carolyn Yates and John Murray. Pupil's Book pound;9.99. Teacher's Resource Book pound;35.

SCIENCE WEB. Textbooks 1 and 2. By Jasmin Chapman, Peter Horsfall, Alan Jones, Jan Murphy, Averil McDonald, Pat O'Brien and Ed Walsh. Nelson Thornes pound;8.95 each.

GENETICS: The Impact on Our Lives. By Paul Dowswell. Hodder Children's Books pound;6.99.

THE WAY SCIENCE WORKS. By Robin Kerrod and Sharon Holgate. Dorling Kindersley pound;12.99.

Rather than reworking the efforts of yesteryear, Arthur Cheney and his co-authors have produced a KS3 course with a difference. Thinking Through Science is a textbook, a teacher's handbook and a set of worksheets that draw heavily on research evidence of effective approaches to science teaching. As the title implies, the CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education) project features strongly, with many activities that help stimulate and develop children's reasoning. The teacher's resource book alerts teachers to common pupil misconceptions, opportunities for formative assessment and links with literacy and numeracy. It is refreshing to see a handbook that attempts to elaborate on the ideas underpinning the learning activities. And as the authors believe good teaching is that which advances children's thinking, the exercises emphasise information processing, reasoning, creative thinking and evaluation.

The texts are aimed at middle-ability pupils and upwards. The resource book provides clear, structured guidance while the pupil's book is a mixture of activities and explanatory text, although the division between these two is unclear. But for those teachers who are tired of the double-page spread (where design dictates content) and the mind-numbing fill-in-the-gaps assessment exercises, this course will reinvigorate the parts that others have failed to reach.

The two pupil books produced for Science Web are more clearly textbooks, but it is good to see that they also have forsaken the dreaded spread. At last somebody is waking up to the idea that the function of a textbook is to offer explanations. The texts are well illustrated and replete with contemporary examples that show the underlying science. These books make a serious attempt to cover the historical development of scientific ideas while avoiding the potted minimalist biographies of "great men of science"; and they make an effort to show that science is a process of creatively relating ideas to a range of evidence.

Each chapter begins with a useful learning summary and there is a good range of questions, but the books lack a coherent underlying approach to the teaching of science.

The Way Science Works is the usual lavishly illustrated effort from Dorling Kindersley. While it would be a good book for the library, it does not follow the language or the content of KS3 - for instance, it talks about "forms" of energy rather than "transferring" energy. It has a selection of interesting experiments that can be done at home. However, the illustrations get in the way of what the book is trying to communicate. Too many pictures are there to make the page look attractive and have little or no functional purpose. The result is a book that is long on illustration and short on explanation, the latter often being reduced to pretty small type.

Genetics: The Impact on Our Lives is an attempt to write a text that explains the potential and threats posed by genetic engineering. It is a balanced and thoughtful short text but more suitable as background for KS4 or above, and to be raided for material that will stimulate debate in the classroom.

Jonathan Osborne is professor of science education at King's College, London

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