Looking out for the links
Key Science is a weighty, sophisticated resource designed to support the teaching of coordinated science syllabuses, both single and double award, and single subject science at key stage 4. It builds on the previously published Key Science 4.
The package consists of three separate full colour textbooks, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, a teacher's guide and the now seemingly obligatory resource bank, a folder of photocopiable material.
Each book is divided into themes and topics which are then further divided into smaller sections. This gives a structured, manageable feel to the books with information presented in small chunks. Most pages are laid out with a wide margin on the left-hand side which is filled with a variety of boxed features, most familiar from other texts. However, two are rather novel. The first of these, called "Look at links", is designed to identify related topics within and between books. These are very extensive and could certainly help students to track down related information and tie ideas together. The other exciting feature is the identification of where information technology can be used as an aid to learning. This is something which has been overlooked in textbooks for too long.
Sets of questions occur regularly throughout the text. These take two forms: Checkpoints, which assess understanding of material in one or two sections using short answer type questions; and more extensive, end of theme, examination questions.
One of the unenviable problems facing the authors of these books has been trying to write something which covers both the demand of double and single award science and separate sciences at GCSE. Given that different boards have chosen different extension topics to add to the programmes of study at key stage 4, this means that the books have to be large. Some help is given, using coloured margins, to identify extension material and the teachers' guides do give a comprehensive syllabus analysis. Nevertheless, you will have to buy quite a few pages which you might never use and a set of textbooks which, when taken together, is much bigger than similar products on the market.
All the books provide an intensive coverage of the national curriculum and the GCSE single science syllabuses. However, the cognitive demands of the material are high. The language is demanding and, while every effort has been made to ensure that the science is presented in a contextualised and relevant way, difficult topics and concepts are not ducked. Consequently the texts have an academic feel to them and may not be suitable for all students.
The slim, black and white teacher's guides provide the background to the various features found in the textbooks, syllabus analyses and topic notes which include answers to all the questions in the textbooks. There is also a useful section on practical work which identifies activities contained in the resource bank. These could be used as the basis of pupil's own investigations. The final section provides support for IT activities suggested in the textbooks, including hardware requirements and software suppliers.
The resource bank is, like all such resources, something of a curate's egg. There is the usual recipe of practical sheets, comprehension exercises, crosswords and so on. Undoubtedly you will want to use some of these but many, I suspect, you will disregard. The choice of resources to support learning is such an individual matter that what works for one teacher may well not work for another.
Overall this is an important new set of publications, well produced and written. They build on previous resource sets, have some novel features but will require some experience on the part of both teachers and students to get the most out of them. That, combined with the academic tone of the written material, means they will probably not be suitable for all students at key stage four. If you are teaching single sciences, however, this could well be the resource you are looking for.
Geoffrey Hayward is a lecturer in science education at the Department of Educational Studies, Oxford University.