Strength and reliability

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Science Plus. General Editor Jenny Jones. Collins. Pupil's Book 1 and 2 Pounds 6.99 each. Copymasters 1 and 2 Pounds 34.99. Teacher's Guide Pounds 19. 99. Science Support - Chemistry Science Support - Physics. By Helen Norris. Cambridge University Press. Pounds 37.50 each.

These are two very different approaches for less able key stage 4 students. Science Plus is a complete course - student texts, copymasters and teacher's guide. Designed for students operating at or below GCSE grade F, it contains a certification scheme from the Midland Examining Group.

This definition of target audience allows a new perspective at key stage 4, starting from where these students are rather than watering down a higher level course. The result is an interesting, original resource, appealing and motivating to young adults, without being patronising.

The Teacher's Guide is brief at 127 pages, but invaluable for setting the materials in context and saving time. It includes content statements, apparatus lists and answers to questions in the textbooks.

Departing from the traditional, the pupil books will promote lively discussion and provide the bare bones of content. Four-page chapters can be taken in almost any order, and book 2 includes key skills pages on communication, number and computer work.

Dramatic illustrations start each page, accompanied by open-ended questions on students' experience ("What is the most expensive set of clothes you have ever bought?" for instance). Science content follows in a short paragraph, chart or annotated diagram, and finally several questions on the text. Pages are busy but interesting, and text is well written and accessible.

The strength lies in the contexts and illustrations, carefully targeted at 15 and 16-year-olds - bungee jumping for gravity, Glastonbury for electromagnets - and backed up in the Teacher's Guide by suggestions for developing discussions.

Copymasters contain all the practical work, along with a few worksheets and diagrams for labelling. Most experiments will be familiar to teachers, with a high proportion of "fun" practicals (making cheese, shadow puppets) and a few investigations. Experiment sheets have large clear diagrams for labelling, space for a method and results chart, and questions.

Science Plus is a coherent course for lower-stream groups. The writers have succeeded in their aim of producing a "high-quality, full-colour, high-status bespoke resource for less able students". It is also reasonably priced.

In contrast, Science Support consists simply of copymasters that can be adapted to a variety of situations. They allow students with poor literacy to do real science and show understanding. Aimed at key stage 4, the work is key stage 3 level, using small, simple steps.

Clearly presented sheets leave space for additions. Experiment sheets have large diagrams and results charts. Instructions and safety are left to the teacher.

Worksheets range from word puzzles to comprehension exercises. Most can be completed with little or no writing. Sheets are grouped in topics - metals, waves, radiation and so on,with a word list and a concept-mapping exercise suitable for assessment.

This is a well-designed set of worksheets, saving the effort of preparation - sound rather than inspiring.

Lynne Marjoram is head of science at Kidbrooke School, south-east London

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