I'm glad you asked me that

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Tony Sherborne looks at a series that plugs teachers' and students' gaps in contemporary science

SCIENCE AT THE EDGE SERIES. Cloning, Fight against Disease, Genetically Modified Food, In Vitro Fertilization, Organ Transplantation, Alternative Energy Sources, Artificial Intelligence, Biometric Technology, Global Warming, Internet Revolution. Heinemann pound;11.99 each

How do you make a science teacher squirm? Some pupils seem to have an uncanny ability to manage this. Their questions zero in on those uncomfortable gaps in a teachers' knowledge of up-to-date science. How can genetically modified foods give you allergies? How do we know the temperature inside the sun?

It's inevitable that pupils' curiosity will be sparked by new and controversial science. That's what makes the news headlines. And it's one of the best things about the subject - scientists are constantly discovering exciting new things.

But science moves too quickly for teachers to keep up with everything. So, rather than just fend off enquiries with unconvincing half-answers, what a department needs is a really up-to-date resource to point students towards.

Then they can answer the tricky questions themselves.

Science at the Edge aims to be just this. It's a series of slim books on topics spanning the frontiers of science, from cloning to global warming to artificial intelligence. Each book is rich with detail - enough to satisfy the most curious student's thirst for knowledge. Cloning, for example, includes sections on how cloning is done in the lab, spare-part surgery, and the debate over embryo research.

Presentation is attractive and colourful, and the content is well-structured, making it easy to find information. The explanations of the science are easy to follow, in language that most of the target 14 to 16 age range will understand, and the style is clear, if a little formal.

My only gripe is that the books pull back from the edge. Controversial issues are often subordinate to well-established fact, as with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) in Fight against Disease. And the interesting ethical questions about giving and denying treatment to people in the section on clinical trials of drugs are ignored. It seems a shame to adopt such a safe approach, since debates are so good at hooking students' interests and pulling them into the science.

That said, Science at the Edge is a promising candidate for a contemporary science library. The information is up to date and promises a better return, minute for minute, than roaming the internet. The series is also good at filling gaps in teachers' knowledge, ready for the next assault.

Tony Sherborne of the Centre for Science Education is developing a news service for teachers, Science UPD8, which will be available on the internet

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