Distilled wisdom

10th May 1996 at 01:00
A LEVEL CHEMISTRY. Open-learning pack, National Extension College Pounds 90. ADVANCED CHEMISTRY - ANENQUIRY BASED APPROACH. By James Maple, John Murray Pounds 19.99, Age range 16 plus.

Hugh Rippin reviews new tools for teaching A-level chemistry. Give us the tools," said Winston Churchill, "and we will finish the job." For different reasons, these two new publications have much to commend them to those charged with teaching chemistry.

The NEC 600-page pack comes in a ringbinder, divided into 11 modules with a Guide to Practical Work booklet. It is specifically targeted at the ULEAC and AEB A-level syllabuses, but it will find a wider readership. The course is designed for use with Chemistry in Context by Hill and Holman, along with their companion Laboratory Manual and Study Guide.

There is a reassuringly straightforward and concise style about the pack that will attract those who might be intimidated by the material. It is clearly laid out with a thorough introduction to the subject and skills required. The study guide and unit "Are you ready to become a chemist?" set the scene without pulling any punches about the size of the task facing the student and the commitment they will need. The modules, based on traditional chemistry, contain regular activity questions with spaces for responses. At the end of each unit there is a feedback section with answers and helpful comments. A Level Chemistry is also available as a distance learning course with full tutor support.

Well-motivated students who persevere with this pack will gain a sound appreciation of the basic information, concepts and skills needed at A-level.

Those who love chemistry will be enthralled by James Maple's textbook. His ambitious enquiry-based approach is imaginative and visionary. The story-telling form is redolent of the Salters A-level course. Its content appears to draw on the distilled wisdom of years of science teaching. There are fascinating tit-bits of historical insight and vivid, memorable aids to learning and understanding. The "law of clockwise circles" is a fine way to come to terms with the direction of proton transfer in competitive acidbase reactions and the parable of the widow's mite has considerably more impact than the usual rich man, poor man explanation of relative entropy changes.

Advanced Chemistry gives a comprehensive coverage of the modern syllabuses. The thermodynamics and applied organic chemistry sections are especially impressive. Throughout the text there are thoughtful, probing questions with detailed answers in the last section. There is an excellent,full index to add to its value as a reference book.

One reservation is that the sophisticated style of writing, the lack of colour illustrations and the sheer size of the book could be daunting for average students. However, for the more able, especially those about to start chemistry degree courses and teachers who wish to improve their knowledge of the subject and how to teach it, Advanced Chemistry will prove invaluable.

Hugh Rippin is head of chemistry at Chenderit High School, Banbury, Oxfordshire

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