The right wavelength;Science
Age range 14 - 16
Maggie Hannon reviews chemistry textbooks which should make some of the harder concepts at GCSE a little friendlier to pupils and teachers alike. Have you ever tried explaining a sundial to a bat?" Brian Patten asks in one of his children's poems. The question should strike a chord with teachers trying to help their pupils understand some of the scientific concepts which, grouped together, are labelled "chemistry".
Here are three textbooks which set out to help. They all claim to be written for GCSE chemistry syllabuses. The fact that they are published before the new syllabuses are available is of little importance. The real measure of a textbook is how well it helps in the business of explaining. It must be written for pupils, but should make its initial appeal to teachers. In terms of content coverage, teachers will find little to choose between the three.
There is much ground to cover, and GCSE Chemistry achieves this with lots of text and illustrations packed on to each page. At the end of each chapter there is a checklist of the concepts and definitions covered and a set of questions. There is a collection of recent exam questions at the end of the book and answers to the numerical questions.
Coloured strips down the edge of each page vary through the book, but the introduction doesn't explain the relevance of the colours. It contains many good quality illustrations and photos of experiments in school laboratories, and should provide a useful text for homework and revision.
Like the previous edition, Chemistry Counts has double-page spreads with plenty of questions and activities. It incorporates material from the first edition and its accompanying book of activities. It is well-designed with good quality photographs and illustrations, re-using many from the first edition.
Each spread is attractive, because of its spacious layout and the brightness of the colours. The lively approach will be familiar to many pupils, and the messages are conveyed effectively. For most pupils the material will need the support of a teacher to ensure and reinforce understanding.
Chemistry has topics of several pages, with questions and activities, and some case studies. The layout is reasonably good, avoids overcrowding and uses many photographs and illustrations, but the quality of the reproductions is rather unattractive. It may find its most ready market in science departments which want to provide pupils with a set of books to cover the content of the science curriculum.
Existing textbook stocks in schools cover the same territory as these. No doubt, there will be some schools where the arrival of new text by these experienced authors causes a flurry of orders. The texts provide a basis for classwork, to which teachers can add by developing strategies to ensure differentiation and incorporate experimental and investigative work.
Maggie Hannon is senior inspector for Liverpool LEA. She writes here in a personal capacity. Nelson Science Physics and Biology will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue