Fundamental matter

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Michael Reiss takes a look at some of the latest science books which set out to be a catalyst for science study

Making Progress in Primary Science: A handbook for inservice and preservice course leaders. By Wynne Harlen, Christine Macro, Kathleen Reed and Mike Schilling. RoutledgeFalmer, pound;39.99

PGCE Professional Workbook: Primary science. By Brenda Keogh, Stuart Naylor, Max de Boo and Jayne Barnes. Learning Matters, pound;15.

Foundation Stage Science: A guide for mentors. By David Coates, Pam May, Judy Vause, Tina Jarvis and Frankie McKeon. SCIcentre (, Pounds 10

Teaching Science and Design and Technology in the Early Years. Edited by Dan Davies and Alan Howe. David Fulton, pound;16.

Science for Primary Teachers: An audit and self-study guide. By Graham Peacock. Letts Educational, pound;12.

Challenges in Primary Science: Meeting the needs of able young scientists at key stage two. By David Coates and Helen Wilson.

National Association for Able Children in EducationDavid Fulton, Pounds 16.

The Really Useful Science Book: A framework of knowledge for primary teachers. By Steve Farrow. RoutledgeFalmer, pound;16.99

Making Progress in Primary Science is an extensively revised edition of its 1990 predecessor. Written by a very experienced team, it should be of great value to those involved in training teachers of primary science, both preservice and on professional development courses.

The book is rooted in a philosophy of learning that starts with children's own ideas, and excellent use is made of the now classic Space research. I found a great deal in here of value. The material is photocopiable and there is a wealth of activities for teachers to use in the classroom.

PGCE Professional Workbook is an excellent book for students training to become primary teachers of science. It is written in a friendly, yet structured way and provides links to the professional standards for qualified teacher status. It starts with a well-written account of a science lesson and immediately gets the reader to start thinking about whether it was a good lesson or not. Another good feature is that it doesn't take long to read.

Foundation Stage Science is another valuable publication from SCIcentre (funded by the Society of Chemical Industry and based at the University of Leicester and Homerton College, Cambridge). It helpfully begins by spelling out some of the differences between key stage 1 and foundation stage. The many examples of trainees plans with mentor responses is an extremely helpful feature. Photocopiable sheets are provided in the appendix, but can also be obtained at

Edited books don't always work well, but Dan Davies's and Alan Howe's Teaching Science and Design and Technology in the Early Years does. The authors are mostly from Bath Spa University, with contributions from a couple of experienced early years teachers. Many of the contributors valuably explore connections between science and design and technology. I especially like the rigour of Dan Davies's and Stephen Ward's "Young children as scientists, designers and technologists", the richness of suggestions in Karen McInnes's and Jill Williams's "Science and DT beyond the classroom" and the wisdom and practicality in Dan Davies's and Alan Howe's "Design technology in Key Stage 1". The super fable of donkey and rabbit on page 71 is required reading.

Graham Peacock's Science for Primary Teachers provides a valuable audit and self-study guide and should be well worth buying for anyone training to be a primary teacher. It is written with clarity and illustrated with helpful diagrams. The self-study section manages to be concise yet readable.

I struggle with the notion of gifted and talented, but David Coates and Helen Wilson each have considerable experience in this area and have joined forces to produce Challenges in Primary Science. The book is packed with valuable suggestions that would enhance learning and make any KS2 science classroom more interesting. I admire Helen Wilson's honesty in recounting the story of when "she had to be restrained from diving in to rescue her child who disappeared under the balls in a ball pool, because the appearance was so similar to drowning". However, when I thought about it I realised that producing an account of why she didn't need to do this, but would have needed to had her child disappeared under water, demands university-level science.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Steve Farrow's popular The Really Useful Science Book. Although the second edition of this has been around since 1999, it still sells well and I'm not surprised. It provides a really useful account of the content needed to teach primary science. The worry is that some teachers will use the material directly in their teaching. The author emphasises that "the book does not set out to provide material which can be used in the classroom in an unmodified form". However, the material ranges from that which no teacher need know to that which every teacher surely already knows, such as the main external parts of the body. And I can't resist mentioning that this diagram, while omitting the vagina and penis, labels the stomach.

Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London

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