Science matters;Secondary;Reviews;Science;Books

10th September 1999 at 01:00
CORE BIOLOGY. By Jean Martin. CORE CHEMISTRY. By John Mills and Peter Evans. CORE PHYSICS. By Bryan Milner. Cambridge University Press. Student's Book, pound;8.95 each. Supplementary Materials pound;39.95.

The resurgence of interest in separate sciences continues, despite the move to balanced science in the national curriculum. Not surprisingly, given the background of the existing cohort of science teachers, confidence in teaching varies. At key stage 3, it is generally high for Sc1 and Sc3, but it is significantly lower for Sc2 and Sc4. So it's reassuring that this new series from Cambridge University Press aims to provide everything for teachers and learners at that stage.

Each student volume has around 200 pages organised into double-page spreads covering the basic concepts. Later in the books, double and single-page sections provide consolidation and development. This structure works well, with the basic material being mainly descriptive and qualitative, and the later work becoming more evaluative, analytical and quantitative. The authors have tried to make the text as accessible as possible, but at times this leads to awkward phrasing. Core Chemistry, for example, begins:

"Things like how strong a material is, or if heat passes through it, are called its properties."

Questions, copy-and-complete exercises, diagrams and drawings fill almost every page. There are few photographs, particularly in Core Physics, and the ones that are used are small and rather predictable: for example, Concorde, a black sprinter and a truck in a Cheshire salt mine. In terms of presentation, the books do not feel particularly modern or exciting.

Each pupil book has a short section on investigations. Three are examined in detail: woodlice habitats, burning candles and pulling a box. For each, the links between predictions, experi-mental method and data are described. However, investi-gations do not play a major role in the rest of the books.

Another section in the pupil books explains the type of questions found in the KS3 national tests. The common-sense advice is backed up by examples of correctly completed questions. The books are also designed to prepare students for Common Entrance - possibly by starting the course in prep school or by covering the material in just two years.

The supplementary materials include answers to the questions scattered throughout the textbooks, suggestions for practical activities, photocopiable worksheets, question banks and topic tests. The teacher's material looks like a textbook in itself - full of facts and figures - which will reassure those less confident in their background knowledge.

This is a worthy set of teaching materials, reasonably priced, covering the curriculum and including activities for higher attainers. My only reservation is that, in the competitive world of textbooks, the visual appeal of these books leaves something to be desired.

Justin Dillon is director of theInternational Education Unit,King's College, London

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