No mystery;Secondary curriculum Materials

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Science Mysteries series, Sleep. Growing Older. Language. Time, By Lesley Newsom, A amp; C Black, pound;8.99 each

This attractive series explores some complex ideas about sleep, ageing, language and time. The books are well illustrated and explain difficult concepts clearly and concisely. As well as drawing together ideas from art and history, Lesley Newsom uses research evidence to show the scientific process in action as it generates ideas. Science is presented as a human activity, and its relevance is made explicit.

Sleep looks at sleeping patterns, examining problems such as having too much sleep, insomnia, and the effects of sleep deprivation. There are interesting accounts of dreaming (including dream-ing in animals) and the difference between sleep and unconsciousness.

Growing Older describes the development of human beings from conception to old age in terms of a life programme. The life cycles of various organisms are compared to exemplify the variety of programmes. It then moves on to discuss the possibility of using advances in medicine and science to cheat fate and change the programme.

Language considers the evolution of human communication. The stages in children's acquisition of their first language are outlined and used to raise questions such as, why don't all people speak the same language? The evolution of languages and their convergence or divergence over time are described by comparing British and American English. Newsom also looks at animal communication, talking and signing.

My favourite book in the series is Time. The discussion ranges from the practicalities of telling the time and time-management to modern explanations of the "fabric of space-time".

Archaeological evidence is provided to show how people 50,000 years ago made records to represent the passing of the phases of the moon. About 4,000 years ago, Stonehenge helped people track time and the changing seasons.

Newsom introduces Galileo's contribution to the development of the mechanical clock and Newton's ideas about absolute time, Einstein's curved space, Hubble's discovery of moving galaxies, and Hawking's explanation of singularity at the beginning of the Big Bang are also explained in simple terms. The book concludes by considering gravity as a warp in space-time and by looking at the future.

The series title is a little misleading as these books are less about the mysteries of science than about the way scientific evidence helps us understand the world. But they would make excellent additions to the school library, particularly for 11 to 14-year-olds.

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