Core thoughts

11th September 1998 at 01:00
CORE SCIENCE 1 AND 2 By Brian Milner, Jean Martinand Peter Evans. Canbridge University Press. Pounds 12.95 (1); Pounds 9.95 (2)


By Joe Boyd and Walter Whitelaw. John Murray Pounds 32

ASSESSMENT IN SCIENCE. By Colin McCarty, Jane Chatfield and Anthony Dawson. Heinemann Pounds 39.95

Core Science, a new set of materials, and New Understanding Science 3, a reworking of an existing scheme, are complete packages for key stage 3 pupils consisting of full colour textbooks and teacher's resource files. They represent alternative visions of what science textbooks at KS3 are about.

Thus Core Science emphasises the factual aspects of science through a careful and clear presentation of the main scientific ideas which pupils need to record and understand. This gives these materials a more traditional feel but they are none the worse for that. By contrast, New Understanding Science, while still providing the factual information needed by pupils, puts a greater emphasis on the applications of science and pupils' own thinking.

Core Science 1 covers "key concepts" in all three sciences for Years 7 and 8; Core Science 2 offers "consolidation" in Year 9, preparing students for the national curriculum tests through revisiting and extend-ing the key concepts covered in Years 8 and 9. The subject matter is grouped into sections on biology, chemistry and physics. The glossary of key terms also functions as the index.

The simply designed pages combine well-written text with appropriate diagrams. Activities for pupils include practical exercises, questions and a cloze activity at the end of each double-page spread to summarise key ideas and words. However, the concentration on the factual aspect of science emphasises the acquisition of a body of content which may be off-putting to some students. Furthermore, I am not convinced that these books provide the opportunity for students to engage in the sort of deep thinking that should be part of science learning at KS3.

The New Understanding of Science package consists of three pupils' books,one for each year in the key stage, a teacher's resource file and additional materials for students with special needs. The pupils' books are divided into thematic units such as "Solutions: Problem Solving with Water", which clearly map on to the requirements of the national curriculum.

The text is generally easy to follow, though the diagrams range from the clear to the confusing, and the page design is overly complicated in places. Suggestions for practical work, supported by illustrations to show pupils what to do, questions, discussion exercises and summary exercises that require pupils to think rather than just recall, are all included. Attention to the technological applications and the nature of science is given. Overall, I found this book potentially more student-friendly than the Core Science texts, but at the expense of the latter's clear organisation and their emphasis on the factual material to be learned.

The New Understanding Science 3 teacher's file is a photocopiable resource file providing work sheets for practical work, assessment materials, learning logs for individual pupils and games. The materials for students with special needs are in the form of a work book, containing word searches, cloze activities and word-matching tasks cross-referenced to the main text.

It is intended for students who have difficulty with English and to support the use of the other pupil books, not to replace them.

Assessment in Science will be of interest to teachers conducting baseline assessment of Year 7 pupils. It provides two diagnostic multiple-choice tests to check what pupils have learned and understood from KS2.

The materials were piloted in 10 schools and purport to pro-vide teachers with diagnostic information about pupils' knowledge in relation to each attainment target, programme of study, understanding, recall, application and data-handling. Further tests are available to monitor pupil progress in Years 7 and 8, plus a Year 9 entry test.

Geoff Hayward lectures in science education at the University of Oxford

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