Energy to inspire young minds

10th March 2000 at 00:00
All the best scientific breakthroughs come after a long hard slog punctuated with crushing blows. This year's route to the ultimate schoolbook with "that bit of sparkle that will light up the world of science for children" was no easier.

The judges were looking for pupil-friendly books - "the teacher shouldn't have to explain every word" - offering the teacher flexibility and autonomy.

Besides accuracy, their requirements included "a book doing something that none of the available materials are doing", an engaging text working in tandem with good images and "an attitude that assumes pupils can grasp big concepts".

Innovation proved elusive. "I wanted to be surprised, but I saw no new approaches," said one judge. "The endless double-page-spread treatments drove me mad. There were some incredibly dull books and little that a child would want to pick up, and some worrying errors: in one case, the angles of incidence and reflection were wrongly marked."

The primary entry of 23 titles (of 49 in total) was particularly disappointing. "A lot of pedestrian books doing teachers' thinking for them," was the comment of another panellist. "What we need is a passionate scientist used to writing for children."

The one prize-winning primary school book has taken steps towards this. Teaching About Energy: Practical Activities for 7 to 11-year-olds, by Clare Eastland, was applauded as "fresh, ingenious and innovative, with the potential to change young children's view of science".

Published by Southgate in association with the Centre for Alternative Technology, it was commended for its emphasis on "the coherence and connectedness of life" in an area of publishing where the judges sense that "coverage has driven out coherence".

No primary runners-up were chosen, but there was enthusiasm for Discoveries, Katherine Cuthbert's collection of "creative projects to promote science, design and language skills with children from five to 11 years" (Belair Publications).

"Much thinner than Teaching About Energy and not rigorous, but attractive and imaginative with brilliant models and the sort of good fun projects that pre-date the national curriculum."

Suzanne Kirk's key stage 1 Further Curriculum Bank Activities for Scholastic atracted some praise ("this cheered me up - it almost had some big ideas in it"), but fell down on its "incredibly wordy text", "priggish tone" and basic instructions such as "seat the children in a circle".

The secondary winner, Physics Now! 11-14, by Peter D Riley (John Murray), was thought to be a clear leader among the textbooks for this age group and another step in the right direction: "This makes science a creative and imaginative subject. The teacher's book will be helpful at key stage 3 when most physics is taught by non-physicists. There is wonderful material on the history of science, especially on women scientists, which goes beyond the standard potted biography of Marie Curie. Sound, heat and lasers are all very well done. The particle physics is cutting-edge. It's exciting stuff."

Of several science dictionaries among the secondary entries, the judges favoured the Oxford Science Study Dictionary, "a revision book that gives authority back to the reviser" - but thought some entries needed more explanation.

"It gives you enough information on the page to make sense of a scientific term and its context but needs more space to explain the context fully. " This would be a useful addition to the lab library, the judges decided, as would the two secondary runners-up.

Health Sciences by Pamela Minett, David Wayne and David Rubinstein (Collins Educational) is aimed at, for example, GNVQ students who are not following a traditional science course, but the judges pronounced it "a very useful resource for the pre-16 classroom I non-scientists could use this for tutorial groups. It's good on drugs, body awareness and complementary medicine and serious without being preachy."

And the Salters foundation tier revision guide Revise for GCSE Science, by Gill Alderton, David Berrington and Michael Brimicombe (Heinemann Educational), was thought to be better than similar guides on the market. "Clearly structured and compact with good questions."


Mary Jane Drummond, lecturer in primary education at the University of Cambridge School of Education Lynne Marjoram, head of science at Kidbrooke comprehensive school, south-east London Becky Parker, head of science at Simon Langton Girls' School, Canterbury

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