Pick 'n' mix suites

8th September 1995 at 01:00
Cambridge Modular Sciences: Foundation Biology, By Dennis Talor and Mary Jones Pounds 7.95. - 0 521 421993.

Ecology and Conservation By M J Reiss and J L Chapman, Pounds 5.95. - 0 521 42158 6.

Cosmology, By Bryan Milner Pounds 5.95. - 0 521 42162 4.

Foundation Chemistry, By John Raffran and Brian Ratcliff, Pounds 8.25. - 0 521 42198 5.

Foundation Physics, By Keith Gibbs and Robert Hutchings, Pounds 7.95. -00 521 42197 7.

Transport, Regulation and Control, By Mary Jones Pounds 5.95. - 0 521 42202 7, Cambridge University Press.

Teachers from Chenderit High School science department sample material from a new modular A and AS-level scheme.

With the increasing number of modular A- level science courses which provide access to a variety of qualifications at A- and AS-level, publishers are working hard to produce suites of materials that similarly allow people to pick and choose. Recently, publishers have started to produce materials which closely support just one examination course, although they may be used for similar modules offered by other boards. Cambridge Modular Sciences support the very popular and successful modular A-level scheme run by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate.

There are foundation books for Biology, Chemistry and Physics and a number of topic books. Each book has about 96 printed pages and all follow the same format. Each chapter has learning targets at the beginning, a summary at the end, self-assessment questions throughout the text and longer questions at the end of the chapter. Different authors have prepared the materials but the resulting series has the same very clear house style.

Foundation Biology, Ecology and Conservation and Transport, Regulation and Control are the biology titles under review. They are all clearly presented using some superb three-dimensional diagrams. The text is clear and well written and reasonably able A-level students will have no problems with the material as it is presented here. The answers given to the self- assessment questions are helpful and often well detailed although weaker students will need more help than some of these answers provide. Ecology and Conservation, however, suffers from one major drawback. It is printed in black and white, which reduces both the attractiveness of the book and the clarity of some of the diagrams and pictures.

Foundation Chemistry shares the attractive house style of the other books and contains particularly topical links with the chemistry of everyday life. Good use is made of analogies which aid understanding rather than confuse, and of clear and effective diagrams and illustrations. Social and economic aspects such as "What makes a good fuel" and "Alternatives to Fossil Fuels" are well covered. The self-assessment questions are well supported by answers at the back of the book although some are necessarily brief and not as clear as students might need them to be.

Foundation Physics contains clear and attractive explanations of basic physics topics. The self- assessment questions are almost all numerical rather than conceptual, which is a pity, and the answers provided will offer less guidance to students who are struggling. Analogies again feature in the text, although some are less successful than others. However, the diagrams and pictures raise the overall standard of the book - making the final product attractive and effective.

Cosmology covers a fascinating area of physics, but the book is disappointing, again, because of its lack of colour. Comparing the colour image on the cover of the Orion nebula with the black and white picture inside of the Crab nebula emphasises how much impact and detail are lost. The material covered is challenging, yet is generally clearly presented and the majority of self-assessment questions (and their answers) will prove helpful to students of reasonable ability.

Overall this new series raises the standards of post-16 science publishing. The best innovations of recent GCSE books have, at last, found their way into the A-level texts. Students will find the clarity of text and diagrams a positive encouragement to learning. The learning targets and the end-of- chapter summaries are effective tools, as are the majority of self assessment questions - although not all the answers given will provide adequate help. There seems to be material for weaker and for stronger students and it provides excellent support for modular A level courses, both the UCLES version and for similar modules offered by other boards.

If you are considering buying this material, you should be aware that the expense per head is between Pounds 40 and Pounds 50 for each A level subject. You could, of course, mix and match, buying in some of these books, but there are two problems - first, these books are most effective when the self assessment questions are used routinely which implies familiarity with the format. Second, if your students react the way a few of ours did when they saw the foundation books, they are not going to return willingly to other sources!

This is a very welcome series that will be even better when every book is produced in full colour. What a shame to spoil the ship for a ha'pporth of tar.

Jerry Temple-Fry is head of science at Chenderit High School, Banbury; Hugh Rippin teaches A-level chemistry and Christine Gregory teaches A-level biology.

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