Well tested reactions
Jerry Temple-Fry's Year 9 students assess a new course Many science teams around the country are about to review their key stage 3 courses now the national curriculum dust has settled. So the completion of Science World for KS3 is well timed.
Science World 3 contains the Year 9 materials and it continues the pattern set by the first two parts (reviewed in The TES on June 25, 1993 and December 30, 1994). The teacher's book has notes on each activity, detailed references to the pre-Dearing national curriculum, ideas for follow-up work, photocopiable activity sheets and a test for each topic.
The students' book's double-page spreads are nicely coloured and clearly laid out with photographs, diagrams and cartoons. A few spreads are perhaps too full of information. Each one contains a number of questions and each section ends with an activity that consolidates the work.
The presentation of the series is consistent and has been prepared thoroughly. The materials for Year 9 build on those for Year 7 and 8, encouraging progression without repetition. The activities seem well thought through, well tested and generally well documented - indeed many are familiar favourites arranged to support this course. It is unfortunate the statements of attainment and programmes of study references are no longer relevant, but that is not the authors' fault.
My students' initial reaction was very positive. They liked the pictures, and found the text easy to read but described the questions as "too vague", and complained about "more writing . . . again!","all facts" and "boring". The activity sheets were praised for their clarity but then dismissed with comments such as "too bossy", "always the same" and "why can't I make up my own experiment?" Finally, they decided they would like to use the materials some of the time, but they wouldn't want them to replace their current coursebooks.
For the teacher, this may appear to be a course that can be "used straight from the box" but there are some major problems. The activity sheets are not coded in terms of difficulty - indeed they seem to be aimed at middle ability students - leaving teachers to support the extremes of the range as best they can. Many of the sheets are prescriptive and will require very careful work from the teacher to encourage investigative and innovative thinking from their students. There is an emphasis on what to do but not on why you are doing it, which troubled my students. The cross referencing between the sheets and the spreads in the textbooks could be better. The topic tests are advertised as being a good preparation for standard assessment tests - so perhaps it is churlish to be disappointed with the limited range of questioning techniques employed!
The amount of work involved in adopting this course will depend on the importance the teacher attaches to individualising a scheme to suit students of different abilities and backgrounds and on innovative, exciting and investigative science.
Science departments which are very unhappy with their current key stage 3 course will find Science World gives a coherent base from which to work, but it will require work from the team. Other departments, like my own, might consider grafting the best of the old on to this new rootstock. As with any new course the cost of complete implementation needs considering - about Pounds 5, 000 for materials for my school of about 1,000 students - although little will be required in the way of new apparatus.
If you are in the market for a new course for KS3, then look at these materials carefully and consider them against their rivals. My team and I are going to wait a little longer.
Jerry Temple-Fry is head of science at Chenderit High School, Banbury