Chemically challenging

31st October 2003 at 00:00
John Dexter looks at A-level chemistry texts and sorts out the best from the rest

Chemistry teachers and their departments can be proud of the resource support from publishers and authors. If it is a particular style of book you need for your A-level students, it is almost certainly out there. If you like a stock of good books for the department, school or college library - or even for yourself at home - you are well served. The A-level texts currently available largely fall into the following groups: lTraditional textbooks like those many of us used as students, but now revised to appear modern, with improved layout, diagrams, photographs and the use of colour.

lTextbooks purpose-written for the new specifications delivering Curriculum 2000. Some of these try to cover all the core chemistry while making sure they deliver all that is required by any non-project specification, while others are written solely to match one particular specification.

lThose written for the two "project" courses, Nuffield and Salters, both backed up by extensive resources including practicals, questions and activities. The "student guide" nature of these resources makes them more of a "course" in themselves.

In content, the texts all cover the required information for A-level specifications. In addition, most have short questions (some with worked examples), summaries or key points. Many present fuller examination-style questions in a variety of ways, and some include clearly stated objectives.

Some texts have excellent add-ons including key skills activities and material beyond that required by A-level.

Most books are produced to a very high standard of display and take a delight and impressive care in helping students understand our subject.

Some give more background story and frontier materials to capture interest, others emphasise their explanations and still others cover in greater depth the topics encountered for the first time at A-level.

There are tried and tested ways to present our subject as well as novel imaginative attempts, and it is greatly to the credit of the profession that a topic as challenging as "equilibria" now appears in some very imaginative approaches as well as the traditional form some of us struggled to cope with as students.

There is a wealth of rich material to choose from, and while most teachers will have made initial decisions when we all started Curriculum 2000, now is a good time to review those resources. Some texts help some students more than others, so the bigger challenge for teachers is how to use textbooks and identify the help we hope they will give to our students.

On a practical note, some texts are very weighty - do we expect students to carry them around? And most cover AS and A2 - does this encourage or discourage their choice to continue their chemistry studies?

I have presented the reviews in my order of preference under the headings explained below but, if possible, get hold of the books, think about how you use texts and ask your students about them. Remember we face a spectrum of students: from those who chose AS chemistry as a fourth subject, through those needing chemistry as a service subject for medicine and other areas, to the future chemist; from the very able, to the struggler; and some who will become successful independent learners given the right support. (Not to mention the wide variety of experiences students bring from GCSE science.) Design

Basic facts of the book, its presentation, outline style and approach to getting information to students.

Content

How is the chemistry content delivered for students, and what is the style of approach?

Structure

How are explanations given, backed up and supported, and what use is made of contexts or modern ideas and frontier chemistry? How easy is it to follow sequences or just dip into?

Extras

What is there in the way of questions, summaries, references or "learn this" activities and what other support and resources (eg CD-Rom) are available?

TITLE

SALTERS ADVANCED CHEMISTRY. By WG Burton et al. Heinemann. Price: Teacher guide pound;54.99; Ideas pound;19.50; Storylines pound;22.99. Tel: 01865 888084. www.heinemann.co.uk.

DESIGN

This project course supports the OCR specification, and delivers the chemistry through 14 stories or contexts in the Storylines book, linked to an Ideas text on the concepts needed to follow the stories; the ideas are "drip fed" and revisited.

CONTENT

The Storylines book (312 pages) is attractive with interesting material, from obvious backgrounds to real frontier chemistry, aimed at grabbing attention and fascinating the reader. Well laid out, extensively illustrated with notes where practical and other activities can be done, and cross-referenced to the Ideas book (392 pages, 15 chapters with a blend of modern (organic modifiers) and traditional (equilibrium). The explanations look clear and direct and each subchapter has sets of problems. A teacher guide is available in paper or CD format.

STRUCTURE

Writing for a specification, and motivating as well as covering the chemistry, is a challenge which Salters resources successfully rise to. The Storylines book is readable and in places gripping. The Ideas are clear and purposefully written.

EXTRAS

More than enough assignments, problems, practical and activity sheets, revision ideas, answers to questions and hints at other resources - a challenge to use all of them.

VERDICT

A must for Salters chemists, but a rich and diverse set of activities for all teachers to use and adapt with ease. The Storylines are a great read and ideal to have in your department or library.

TITLE

NUFFIELD ADVANCED CHEMISTRY. Fourth Edition. Edited by Michael Vokins. Longman Price: Student's book pound;27; Teacher's guide pound;55. Tel: 0870 579579 www.longman.co.uk.

DESIGN

Clearly targeted at the Edexcel Nuffield exam, this is a rich resource for Nuffield teachers and those looking for experiments for their own ASA2 specification. 340 pages cover the 21 topics with an impressive list of contributors. Full details of practicals, help with the student book, answers to questions, and suggested treatments - all familiar to Nuffield teachers.

CONTENT

The student guide builds from GCSE with all the details expected from a course book or student manual, so it is more than a textbook. 530 pages of well laid out text in black, white and green, with photographs (a few colour ones at the start). It encompasses the Nuffield ideology of encouraging students to speculate, investigate, predict and then consolidate their understanding.

STRUCTURE

Everything for the everyday lessons in Nuffield chemistry - information, explanations, background and practicals. The student guide follows this apparently unique route with its own logic, and this will limit appeal to other users.

EXTRAS

Key skills, review and exam questions characterise each topic. There are also review task activities, comments and backgrounds. The teacher guide is a great help.

VERDICT

Nuffield has a proven track record and these resources have evolved from past success. Vital for those following the specification, these resources would be useful to any chemistry teacher, but of limited appeal for non-Nuffield students.

TITLE

ASA2 LEVEL CHEMISTRY FOR AQA. By J Atkinson and C Hibbert. Heinemann. Price: AS-level pound;17.50; A2 level pound;18.99; Teacher's resource pack pound;43.99 each. Tel: 01865 888084. www.heinemann.co.uk.

DESIGN

These two books cover AS (316 pages) and A2 (296 pages) chemistry for the AQA specification. The structure fits the course (eg AS has 3 modules with 4, 6 and 5 chapters). The books have a "new curriculum" outlook, with good double-page spreads and excellent use of diagrams and some photographs.

CONTENT

Treatment is carefully structured to fully support AQA and is clear and well written in a very helpful style, linking thoughtfully to GCSE. Good use of simple questions and key idea boxes breaks up the narrative. All the answers are given. Like AQA's specification, the text is traditional, with few contexts, applications or anecdotes (a little more in A2).

STRUCTURE

Explanations tied to the exam syllabus. The resources soundly tackle this primary objective, and are suitable for most abilities.

EXTRAS

CDs with questions are available alongside the ASA2 resource packs. Plenty of short and long questions, with answers and end-of-module questions that can be customised for lessons or private study.

VERDICT

For those teaching the AQA specification, these are essentially supportive resources to help in delivery. For others, the CDs are an impressive bank of questions and answers.

TITLE

ASA2 CHEMISTRY. By A Hunt. Hodder and Stoughton. Price: AS pound;15.99; A2 pound;15.99. Tel: 020 7873 6000. www.madaboutbooks.com.

DESIGN

Two books, with a bright double-page-spread style, a modern fresh look, and extensive use of boxes and colour. Six sections in the AS book and five in the A2, along traditional lines and covering about 260 pages. Widespread use of photos and diagrams. The texts are not tied to any specific ASA2 course.

CONTENT

Each section starts with contents and overview with lots of links to text and diagrams. There are test-yourself questions (with answers) and a review section. A helpful study guide.

STRUCTURE

Aimed across the ability range, this is a good follow-on to most styles for GCSE. A majority of students will feel comfortable with it, although it covers chemistry in a traditional manner, with a peppering of context and application.

EXTRAS

A CD-Rom and a website link are available. Both are flagged up in the texts and display and explore structures, images, videos or additional learning exercises.

VERDICT

A very modernised textbook. Short chunks of narrative, clear, well illustrated explanations and lots of link boxes. Students could use to work through or revise but also enjoy its clarity and straightforwardness.

TITLE

CHEMISTRY A2AS. By L Nichols and M Ratcliffe. Collins. Price: Pupil books pound;19.99 each; teacher support pack pound;39.99. Tel: 0870 7871612. www.collinseducation.com.

DESIGN

Two standard texts: AS (252 pages) and A2 (284 pages). These support the AQA specification with narrative broken by key facts, diagrams and photographs, glossary and answers to questions.

CONTENT

A good mix of traditional and modern applications and stories. Much to read, but very clear and digestible, for a good range of abilities. The text includes extension boxes.

STRUCTURE

The combined resources aim to explain chemistry to ASA2 standards and to motivate interest and challenge students. There is an attempt to cover all areas, with a fresh, modern look to the layout.

EXTRAS

Five study aids, three for AS (50 pages) and two for A2 (100 pages). These have some text, lots of key summaries and very clear worked examples followed by a sample module paper with answers and examination hints.

VERDICT

An excellent quality suite of resources. Teachers (and students) would need to be selective in choice, but a rich and very well written set of texts and materials.

TITLE

ADVANCED CHEMISTRY. By M Clugston and R Flemming. Oxford University Press. Price: pound;27.50. Tel: 01536 741171www.oup.com.

DESIGN

This book has 32 chapters in 614 pages, with good use of diagrams, tables and some photographs. Attractive layout with lots of headings and subheadings.

CONTENT

With comprehensive coverage of ASA2 work, the style is akin to that students will have seen at GCSE. Explanations are clear and well illustrated. Some background and context is given, but the feeling is one of information, knowledge and understanding of concepts. Some spreads verge on extension work or optional material in specifications (biochemistry).

The chapter on techniques is very good. Students could easily "dip in" to this text but the sequencing is clear.

STRUCTURE

Aimed at covering all ASA2 specifications, this book has a double-page-spread approach. Laid out as Physical (15 chapters), Inorganic (5 chapters), Organic (12 chapters) and appendices, each spread has learning objectives, summary and practice questions, and a set of longer exam-style questions follows each chapter.

EXTRAS

The website allows teachers to tailor their use of the text to their chosen specification. There are plenty of short questions and longer ones too.

VERDICT

Style resembles many KS43 texts and will be helpful to many students.

Geared to the new ASA2 courses but with thoroughness of detail and comprehensive coverage.

TITLE

CHEMISTRY IN CONTEXT. By G Hill and J Holman. Nelson Thomes. Price: Textbook pound;26.50; laboratory manual pound;12.50. Tel: 01242 267273. www.nelsonthornes.com.

DESIGN

This textbook (630 pages, 34 chapters) has evolved dramatically since it first revolutionised chemistry with its clear context, story and application. It takes us from atoms through bonding to the periodic table, equilibria, energy and organic chemistry. Lots of narrative extensively illustrated by diagrams, photos and tables, with clever use of colour.

CONTENT

Will comprehensively cover any of the awarding bodies. Students will need help in deciding the ASA2 topics but they are presented with clear chemical explanations set in interesting contexts and good motivational backgrounds. Able and less able students are well served.

STRUCTURE

Now in its 5th edition, completely revised for ASA2 and coverage for the IB1. There is nothing missing here - a very comprehensive text with motivating and interesting stories. Summaries, review questions and a 40-page appendix with 115 questions and answers.

EXTRAS

The chemistry-in-context lab manual, also in its 5th edition, has 35 practicals and 11 short10 longer investigations. All tried and tested with clear safe instructions and some leading questions to truly engage students in the practical.

VERDICT

This has been popular since 1978. It still looks good and many students will both learn the subject successfully and gain a wider chemical education from the text. Staff can add to the traditional anecdotes. A must for the library for young teachers and for many schools and colleges.

TITLE

CAMBRIDGE ADVANCED SCIENCE. Series editor Brian Ratcliffe. Cambridge University Press. Price: Chemistry 1 pound;14.50; Chemistry 2 pound;13.50. Tel: 01223 325588. www.cambridge.org.

DESIGN

Two standard texts, AS (210 pages) and A2 (170 pages), and five options booklets (about 60 pages each). Adapted from the successful Cambridge modular series and endorsed by OCR for their specification. The texts divide into OCR module titles (eg foundation, chains and rings) comprising three to six chapters.

CONTENT

This is a well-thought-out text aimed at the OCR specification. The treatment is clear and straightforward with a lot of detail. There are introductions and summaries with exam-style questions and worked examples.

STRUCTURE

The text aims to take students from basic knowledge to complex concepts, sometimes quite rapidly. Staff might use the optional units to supplement both books. The narrative is broken down by diagrams and photos focused on explanation. There are interesting diversions into background and application for some topics.

EXTRAS

Self-assessment and exam-style questions.

VERDICT

Texts are supportive of OCR specification and will be useful in schools and colleges delivering this. The optional booklets may help students on other courses with specific difficulties or interests.

TITLE

CHEMISTRY. By C Conoley and P Hills. Collins. Price: pound;27.99. Tel: 0870 7871612. www.collinseducation.com.

DESIGN

Second edition, using colour, text boxes, headings and features throughout 20 chapters and appendices in 700 pages. Broad headings cover the subject traditionally - eg chemical bonding, patterns across the periodic table.

Good use of photos and diagrams.

CONTENT

Intended as a self-study text with clear flagging of ASA2-levels, this is not designed for any one specification. Covers some background applications and occasional contexts but essentially a formal content style, apparently targeted for the new Curriculum 2000.

STRUCTURE

Aimed at the new ASA2 chemist, with interesting background and clear basic explanations. Plenty of subtitles, new words in bold and boxes to help focus and keep the mind active, and also some frontier chemistry. An easy book for students to navigate.

EXTRAS

Teacher-support CD-Rom gives answers with illustrations for OHPwhiteboard, questions and practicals. Text has self-test questions and "remember this" boxes, exam questions at the end of each chapter and key skills assignment suggestions.

VERDICT

Student-friendly comprehensive text offering more than information and explanation, with fresh, modern layout and content. "Science features" are particularly good.

TITLE

AS AND A LEVEL CHEMISTRY. By E Lewis and M Berry. Longman. Price: pound;26.50. Tel: 0800 579579. www.longman.co.uk.

DESIGN

Hefty manual-style textbook, 30 chapters, 849 pages. Nice use of colour in text and helpful though limited use of photographs, diagrams and tables.

The book has a clear layout and a formal logical style and purposefulness about it but is mainly text and narrative.

CONTENT

Aimed at all awarding body specifications so teachersstudents must work out what to emphasise or omit. Requires a reasonable grasp of KS4 chemistry but referenced thoughtfully. Plenty of detail and a good solid traditional narrative that many teachers will recognise from their own school days. The 30 chapters have familiar titles - eg atomic structure, periodic table groups 1 and 2, equilibrium.

STRUCTURE

Aimed at fairly well motivated students, this is a clear readable text with good explanations. I liked the use of headings and subheadings. Perhaps more of a reference work than one to sit and read.

EXTRAS

Good worked examples and helpfully cross-linked summaries. Self-assessment and exam-style questions well distributed through the texts with answers in the back.

VERDICT

Helpful for keen students. A must for the chemistry library, would help individuals through parts of the course they might find difficult. Plenty of questions to practise.

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