New tricks and Pavlov's dogs

30th December 1994 at 00:00
Life and Living, By John Sears and Sue Taylor, Hodder Stoughton Science Matters series, Pounds 10.990 340 50301 7.

Life and Living forms with its two companion books in the Science Matters series, Materials and Physical Processes, a balanced resource for key stage 4 pupils.

Life and Living is obviously a biology (Sc2) book and is split into 10 sections that are familiar at this level - Growth, Cell Division, Nutrition and so on.

Each section follows the same pattern; a first page with one or more photographs sets the scene. Thus a glorious photograph of the compound eye of a fly introduces the section on "Sensitivity and Response" and the rest of the section is in double-page spreads covering the content you would expect.

There are short questions and other activities - role play, experimental design and surveys - at the end of the section. An interesting feature is the inclusion of case studies, easily identified by their coloured background. These give the reader an opportunity to examine information and data from real studies in the field. Many are incredibly familiar - van Helmont's plant studies, Pavlov's dogs, the fluoride debate - but there are some novel ones, such as "Reclaiming Mining Tips" and the exercise on "Biosphere II".

The book is lavishly illustrated in full colour and there are some superb photographs. Hydra and plasmolysed cells on page 83 and a fossil Icthyosaur (page 225) are just three worth a mention.

A few suffer from being reproduced in small size and this makes it hard to identify what is being illustrated..The small photograph of a dissected rat (page 75) does little to clarify tissues, organs and systems and on page 239 there are three photographs accompanied by the question, "In each of the species shown above, what must happen to most of the young?" Well, one photo is of a fish spawning but the others are so small it's impossible to identify the species, let alone says what happens to the young! Such a situation is frustrating for both student and teacher.

The authors show a streak of originality in a few places. Illustrations of nutcrackers, pliers and tweezers alongside the beaks of Darwin's finches clarify and reinforce functional adaptation.

In the cell division spreads (number 3 and 5 of the section Growth and Cell Division) there are cartoon sequences using people holding and inflating balloons as an analogy for cell division. It looks pretty but will need teacher input to make the analogy meaningful. In fact the whole analogy falls apart on spread 5, for even though figure references are given in the text, there are no figure labels on the cartoon drawings and one unlabelled pair of drawings, presumably comparing mitosis and meiosis, has neither figure number nor caption.

Even the text here is a bit odd: consider the last three sentences, "This means the instructions in the sperm and the egg are not exactly like those in the parent. As a result each individual is slightly different. Even sheep can be told apart by a good shepherd". What does that last bit mean?

This is an attractive book. It needs to be read carefully, however, for among the good ideas and presentations there are a few aberrations and some inconsistency especially in the numbering of figures and the provision of meaningful captions.

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