A world in many guises

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Becky Parker looks at AS and A-level physics textbooks

What makes a good physics textbook? Is it the mixture of interesting text, problems, practical activities, clarity and innovative approaches? Is it the ability to reflect excitement about current applications of physics? Is it the enduring qualities that have meant a text is still going strong after 30 years? It all depends on your students and the type of teacher you are. There is something for everyone in the courses listed here in alphabetical order or publisher.

It's very refreshing that physics can be taken in a wide variety of guises.

More than ever before we have a fantastic range of physics textbooks and packages. You can buy sets of books specifically for individual exams, texts for certain courses and "doorstop" books covering the whole lot. We have a range that caters for the broader spectrum of students and an increasing amount of mathematical support.

This makes it difficult to choose a text unless one is specifically geared to your course and you may still want a further reference if money permits.

Letting students see the range available and coming to a consensus sometimes helps, although obviously teaching schemes get tuned to particular resources. If students want to buy an extra book for themselves it's worth exposing them to the range available so they can choose what suits them best. This is particularly appropriate for A2-level.

There are some excellent supplementary resources available, ranging from example books and maths support to CD-Roms and specific guidance for practical and synoptic aspects. Courses such as Advancing Physics and Salters Horners even have their own support networks and websites. There are also many course-specific revision guides available, including a full set of revision notes, study guide and exam practice from Letts Educational (www.letts-education.com).

The categories for comparison are:

Style, appeal and appearance

Is the information displayed in an easily accessible way? Are there diagrams, photographs or illustrations?

Projectiles and standing waves

These are areas which are renowned for causing difficulties. They are found within the AS course where the maths support and guidance is particularly crucial.

Maths support

Many students need extra help in developing their confidence in maths so they can tackle the physics.

Experimental work and practice problems and answers

This section looks at the extent to which suitable practicals have been incorporated into the text to reveal the physics principles. It also compares the numbers of problems available and whether they have answers included.

Does the world of physics come alive?

Does the textbook convey how exciting and relevant physics is? Does it provide an overview of the subject? Will students get a feel for the excitement, the cutting-edge and the whole picture of physics?

Becky Parker is a freelance educational consultant and senior lecturer in physical science at the University of Kent

TITLE

collins Collins Advanced Science: Physics Price: student book pound;27.99 Tel: 0870 7871612 www.collinseducation.com

STYLE

Physics is a delightfully bright and colourful book. It's attractively laid out and has good illustrations. It's also interesting to read and features some appropriate extension work.

APPROACH

The projectile explanation is fairly brief, but there are some good "test-yourself" questions, the answers of which are in back of the book.

The approach to standing waves includes a clear diagrammatic explanation.

MATHS SUPPORT

There's some helpful maths support at the back of the book, with good worked examples in the text.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

Physics has challenging diagrams and references for practical arrangements and key skills assignments.The teacher's CD-Rom has answers to the questions at the end of each chapter and suggestions for practical work.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

Physics certainly does come alive in this text. Take, for example, the particle physics section - it's accessible, inspiring and exciting. The initial scene-setting sections and the "science features" add to the interest.

EXTRAS

A teacher support CD-Rom is also available.

VERDICT

Physics is a highly recommended as a stimulating and supportive book. The illustrations and diagrams are of a very high standard. Pupils will find it accessible and challenging.

TITLE

Heinemann Heinemann Advanced Science: Physics (second edition) Price: pound;26.99 www.heinemann.co.uk

Tel: 01865 888080 STYLE

Advanced Science: Physics is a readable and clearly laid out book that features a great deal of colour. It has clearly referenced sections that highlight information and any extension material that students need to know about.

APPROACH

The book covers projection that's vertical, at an angle and horizontal, but there are no worked examples of standard projectiles. However, it does feature a clear description, with diagrams, of standing waves and a reference to suitable experiments.

MATHS SUPPORT

There is no specific maths support, although there are clear derivations and worked examples.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

There are detailed experimental references and good summaries of results.

Sets of questions are included at the end of each sub-section and exam questions at the end of each section, but there are only numerical answers.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

This textbook has some excellent "focus" pieces about real-life aspects of physics, which link in to show the use and applications of the physics studied. The concept maps link the physics that's studied in each main section.

EXTRAS

Within the Advanced Science series are separate titles Medical Physics - Imaging by Jean Pope and Particle Physics by Steve Adams. These relate to the optional modules and are highly recommended.

VERDICT

This is a fascinating book with a comprehensive and distinctive format.

TITLE

Heinemann Salters Horners Advanced Physics Price: ASLevel Student Book and A2 Level Student Book pound;21.99 each, Teacher and Technician Resource Pack with CD-Rom pound;113 Tel: 01865 888080 www.heinemann.co.uk

STYLE

AS Level Student Book and A2 Level Student Book support the Salters Horners advanced physics AS and A2 qualifications and embody the course's context-led approach. They set basic AS and A2 physics in interesting and refreshingly new contexts and have many different activities in which to learn and apply physics.

APPROACH

Projectiles are covered in detail, including an experiment with model ski jumpers and computer modelling. The explanation and diagrams about standing waves make the concept clear.

MATHS SUPPORT

There are comprehensive maths notes at the back of the book and cross-referencing throughout the course. There are also worked examples.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

Most of the clear and helpful experimental guidance is in the pupil sheets in the Teacher and Technician resource pack. There are questions throughout the units and at the end of the books, where there are also answers.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

The contexts in which to learn are inspiring and interesting. For example, the AS-level book divides the information into categories such as higher, faster, stronger, the sound of music, technology in space, and digging up the past.

EXTRAS

The Teacher and Technician Resource Pack with CD-Rom includes activity sheets and extra sheets with more mathematical approaches to certain topics. It also has notes and clear guidance for all the new practicals.

VERDICT

The books are interesting, comprehensive and current. They reflect the wealth of applications that physics has in different aspects of life and are highly recommended for this innovative new course.

TITLE

Hodder murray Advanced Physics (fifth edition) Price: pound;25 Tel: 020 7873 6000 www.madaboutbooks.com

STYLE

Advanced Physics is a substantial text which covers a huge amount of physics. It has a three-column layout and plenty of excellent diagrams. A well-established friend to many in the physics world, this update continues its commitment to mathematically-minded A2 students.

APPROACH

The approach to projectiles is fairly advanced with no specific examples.

Very clear and excellent diagrams are given for standing waves, with references to experimental results.

MATHS SUPPORT

A useful maths section is included at the end of the text, with answers to the extra questions that have been set. Calculus notation is sometimes used in the main text. Frequent, clearly worked examples are provided.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

Standard laboratory experiments are constantly referred to and there are clear diagrams of the experimental arrangements. Problems feature in each chapter, questions at the end of each section. Full answers provided.

EXTRAS

Extension readers and study aids are available separately from the publisher. Including Astrophysics by Christopher Bishop.

VERDICT

This is a very useful text for teachers, with clear references to standard experimental activities and challenging problems. Mathematically-minded A2 students will find it especially useful.

TITLE

hodder murray ASA2 Physics Price: pound;19.99 Tel: 020 7873 6000 www.madaboutbooks.com

STYLE

ASA2 Physics is a bright and accessible text with some illustrations. It covers the main bulk of specifications without the extras, such as medical and particle physics.

APPROACH

The approach to projectiles is fairly complex and wordy and the two worked examples are not clearly laid out. The explanation for standing waves doesn't feature a diagram showing their formation, which would aid understanding.

MATHS SUPPORT

There's little specific maths support, although there are good worked examples, followed by problems and answers for pupils in "Now it's your turn". This method helps to boost confidence in the application of formulae.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

Reference is made to some experimental work. A stand-alone book called Practical Work for Physics by Chris Mee and Mike Crundell offers guidance, questions and worked examples of synoptic questions at the back.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

A short comment and an illustration feature at the beginning of each of the 12 chapters, but these are the only "big picture" references.

EXTRAS

Linked publications include Synoptic Skills in Advanced Physics by David Homer. There is guidance on how to approach synoptic study and good examples with full answers. There are also six comprehension and data analysis questions.

VERDICT

This text has brief summaries and many highlights for essential aspects, yet many explanations are verbose. The structure of the worked examples and practice questions is student-friendly.

TITLE

hodder murray Introduction to Advanced Physics Further Advanced Physics Price: pound;19.99, pound;14.99 each respectively Tel: 020 7873 6000 www.madaboutbooks.com

STYLE

Introduction to Advanced Physics and Further Advanced Physics have interesting characteristics, such as an introduction to each chapter that features the headings: "The big questions", "Key vocabulary" and "Background". The first book contains two main sections. One attempts a transition from GCSE and then the other develops concepts for AS level.

APPROACH

Projectiles are discussed in the first section and there are some good diagrams, but the equations are in a later chapter, with no worked examples or references to projectiles. The diagrams about standing waves are good.

MATHS SUPPORT

It's surprising that calculus notation is used in the first section of the AS book. There's some specific maths support in the centre of the book, with answers to the maths practice questions, but worked examples are rare.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

Experimental references are rare. There are questions, extra skills tasks and comprehension exercises in each chapter. More advanced chapters and A2-level chapters also have exam questions. Numerical answers are at the back.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

Parts of the introductions and comprehension exercises give a feel for the whole subject, as does a short section discussing theories and models in physics. A number of references concern the development of certain models.

EXTRAS

These two titles make up the full package.

VERDICT

There are some interesting sections in the books and the introductions set the scene well. It has a different feel from many texts as it has hardly any worked problems and experiments.

TITLE

institute of physics Advancing Physics Price: AS and A2 student books pound;18 each, student CD-Rom pound;18.75 plus VAT, teacher CD-Rom pound;33.75, ASA2 course guide pound;8 Tel: 01235 465500 http:advancingphysics.iop.org

STYLE

The Advancing Physics AS and A2 student's books are fresh and totally new. They have the feel of a very different type of book, and it's not just because they're fairly slim. They have lovely, modern illustrations and are readable and interesting. There are frequent references to the accompanying CD-Rom.

APPROACH

The diagram explaining projectile motion is excellent. It clearly shows the importance of looking at horizontal and vertical motion separately. The description and diagrams for standing waves are also clear.

MATHS SUPPORT

There's no specific maths support, but the CD-Rom has an extensive range of questions and answers.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

The CD-Rom includes the course guide and computer simulations. Very few practical activities are mentioned in the book. There are "try these" questions throughout the book and numerical answers at the back.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

The whole picture is definitely conveyed, but this is to be expected from books with no practical activities and worked examples. Instead, they present the world of physics and some amazing images and insights.

EXTRAS

There are separate student and teacher CD-Roms for the AS and A2-level courses, and a course guide for ASA2.

VERDICT

The course is inspiring and innovative. These beautifully illustrated texts reflect this. The books are specific for the course, but they could be valuable reference material for all students.

TITLE

Nelson Thornes Advanced Physics for You Price: pound;23.95 Tel: 01242 267382 www.nelsonthornes.com

STYLE

Advanced Physics for You is an extension of the extremely popular Physics For You at GCSE. As a result it's a very useful bridging book. It's also accessible and clearly laid out.

APPROACH

The explanation of projectiles is extremely clear with good worked examples. The description and diagrams for standing waves also explain the phenomena well.

MATHS SUPPORT

There are maths notes in the back of the book, but no extra practice examples. The text includes many clearly laid out worked examples.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

Experiments are referred to throughout the text. There are a good number of questions at the end of each chapter and exam questions at the end of each section. Full answers for both are at the back of the book.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

The "physics at work" sections apply what has been learned; these are interesting and wide-ranging.

EXTRAS

Extra Nelson Thornes publications are available to supplement this text.

VERDICT

This is an interesting, fun and applicable approach to physics. It doesn't lend itself to a good read, but will appeal to many pupils. It has a fresh, accessible perspective on the subject.

TITLE

nelson thornes New Understanding Physics for Advanced Level (fourth edition) Price: Core Book and Course Study Guide pound;32 Tel: 01242 267382 www.nelsonthornes.com

STYLE

The latest edition of New Understanding Physics for Advanced Level is more accessible to read because of a new layout, but it still combines the rigour, clearness and thorough coverage which have been a trademark of Jim Breithaupt, the course's author.

APPROACH

Projectile motion is clearly explained. The worked example shows students an appropriate method for laying out their calculations. There are also clear descriptions and diagrams for stationary and standing waves.

MATHS SUPPORT

The maths support is found in a chapter in the Course Study Guide, with practice questions and answers.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

The Core Book includes many references to experiments and practical investigations. There are three comprehension exercises and numerous questions with numerical answers are at the back. Full model answers.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

Introductory scene-setting pages for each theme and high-quality illustrations and diagrams bring the whole subject to life.

EXTRAS

The Solutions of Physics for Advanced Level CD-Rom is really helpful. There are problems that have been worked through, but you can also go to the live tutorial where each step is explained.

VERDICT

Students find this book clear and useful. This new edition offers more support, especially in maths, on the CD-Rom and in the Course Study Guide.

It's highly recommended.

TITLE

Oxford university press Advanced Physics Price: pound;27.50 Tel: 01536 741171 www.oup.com

STYLE

Advanced Physics is an extremely well laid out, clear and interesting book. Each topic is laid out on a double-page spread with practice questions, boxes of guidance information and interesting diagrams and photos.

APPROACH

The coverage of projectiles is fairly advanced with some mathematical extension. There are some good practice questions and the section on standing waves is clear and well explained.

MATHS SUPPORT

An excellent maths toolbox section includes worked examples and practice questions. This offers help with integral calculus and much more.

Interspersed in the text are boxes to extend the mathematical treatment in the main text.

EXPERIMENTAL WORK amp; PRACTICE PROBLEMS

References to practical activities are provided, but the text focuses more on developing the concepts and ideas without giving detailed practical guidance. Practice and exam questions feature throughout. Answers are provided.

DOES THE WORLD OF PHYSICS COME ALIVE?

Advanced Physics provides an inspiring and stimulating overview of physics.

It gives a taste of what further work would be like, but it also shows the validity of models that are currently being used.

EXTRAS

The book comes with a free CD-Rom. Advanced Physics Through Diagrams by Stephen Pople is a very useful visual revision guide.

VERDICT

This is a fantastic book that can be read or dipped into. It's difficult to put down because of the wealth of interesting material and the extension provided for topics such as wave-particle duality.

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