Higher level learning
Now that the content of the national curriculum has stabilised for at least five years, science teachers can begin to concentrate once more on their main task of making scientific ideas accessible to students without the need to worry about endless revision and up dating of course content.
They will need textbooks which make science intelligible through interesting writing, relevant examples, high quality presentation and the provision of learning tools to foster conceptual development. It is against these criteria that the Nelson Science series is reviewed.
All three books are beautifully produced in full colour and cover the entire content of the biology, chemistry and physics components of key stage 4. As you would expect from authors of this experience, explanations of terms, concepts and scientific ideas are correct and thorough. My only concern is in the treatment of earth science in Chemistry and Physics. It appears to be less coherent than the rest of the text in both books. One wonders whether separating the material on earthquakes, which appears in the physics book, from the rest in the chemistry book, while mirroring the structure of the national curriculum, is sensible in terms of developing a coherent understanding of earth science.
Additional features, which occur regularly throughout the text, include activities of various kinds, questions and comprehension exercises. The exercies are usually about important discoveries in science, the development of scientific ideas, or topical issues. The questions demand well thought out answers in which students will have to synthesise information from across a particular section or subsection of the text. In this way the questions form appropriate tests of student understanding of the main concepts covered.
The activities are, in the main, variations on fairly traditional themes. However, there are some which involve students in discussion exercises and role play, both of which have been demonstrated to be effective teaching strategies in science. These books certainly provide plenty for students to do, and offer teachers a source of demanding, but interesting, homework and class exercises.
Experimental and investigative science is not explicitly covered in any of the books, though the activities, comprehension exercises and questions will help students to develop the required skills, knowledge and understanding. However, whether this is achieved in a coherent way is questionable since the knowledge and skills are not highlighted in the text. Perhaps authors and publishers should address this issue. The historical case studies, some of the comprehension exercises and activities do afford students the opportunity to develop their understanding of the nature of science, and its moral and ethical implications.
The language level of the text is, however, demanding. The authors have set out to develop scientific understanding at a high level and they have not pulled any punches. This fact, combined with the typeface and the density of text on the page do not make these easy books to read despite the clarity of the writing.
Nevertheless, these will make excellent texts for students who are expected to achieve grade C or above at GCSE, but they are clearly not suitable for lower attaining students.