Links in the chain

11th November 1994 at 00:00
The oxford children's book of science, By Charles Taylor and Stephen Pople, Oxford University Press Pounds 14.99, 0 19 910036 5.

This book is sheer delight in so many ways: visually, in the direct, clear language, the selection of content and in its organisation. The phenomena and events that are explained are organised in 22 sections which, in the main, cut across the traditional areas of science - physical, chemistry and biology. Topics examined, with good cross-referencing between them, include how CDs and holograms work, DNA, probability and relativity, as well as the full range of basic ideas about atoms, elements, cells, forces, flight, and so on. There are particularly good sections on the senses and the opening section "All in the Mind" which includes a fascinating discussion of illusions, sets the tone for exciting reading to come.

Although clear, the language level in places is quite high and the book will be most accessible to nine or 10-year-olds and above. It will inform many adults, too, and seems just the sort of book that primary teachers should have at hand, not only for their pupils to use, but to sharpen their own understanding of the central concepts of science.

It must have been difficult for the authors to judge how far to take the explanations, although their experience of presenting ideas to young children is evident. Brevity is a challenge which is generally well met in this book, although the rather sketchy treatment given to the greenhouse effect could easily lead to misunderstanding.

If I have a more substantial criticism it is that better reference could have been made to common "everyday" ideas in order to help the reader see why the scientific view makes more sense than the alternative views often held by children and adults alike. However, what the book admirably succeeds in doing is to help create links between one area of experience and another. Such links are vital to the development of scientific understanding in children and to scientific literacy in everyone.

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