By George Przywolnik

Science Australia 1 and Science Australia 2
ISBNs: 1 86366 390 8 and 1 86366 391 6
Publisher: Curriculum Corporation
RRP: $31.95 each volume

Science Australia 1 is intended for year 7 students, and consists of eight chapters spread over 216 pages, including a comprehensive index. The chapters cover an introduction to science and scientific techniques, physical geology, energy, matter, the solar system, living things, sources of energy and biological classification and the history of life.

Science Australia 2 is intended for year 8 students, and consists of eight chapters spread over 270 pages, including an index. The chapters cover cells and microscopy techniques, matter and changing state, movement, natural resources and mining, transport in living things, acids and bases, ecology and electrical circuits.

The publisher states that the text was developed along constructivist lines and that each chapter addresses specific learning outcomes. Extensive support for uses including links, between the text material and the WA Outcomes, is available at the publisher's website <http://www.curriculum.>. I strongly encourage potential users to check this out.

The text is highly readable and very colourful. Colour diagrams are profuse and some parts of the text are colour coded, too. For example, 'activities', which require little preparation, are printed on a green background; 'inquiries' which use more elaborate equipment are printed on a light blue background; 'extensions' or research projects are printed against a darker blue background.

The design avoids large areas of text. Written material is invariably broken up with diagrams, inquiries, activities and the like. In all, Science Australia is a friendly and engaging text.

The text in detail

Science Australia is definitely put together from a constructivist perspective. The authors have taken great care to make each entry relevant to students by setting the science in a real-I ife context. Each chapter opens with an activity that sets the scene and allows students to explore their prior knowledge. As the students proceed through a chapter, later material refers back to this context-setting activity. Each activity or inquiry is carefully integrated with the text material. There is also cross-referencing between chapters, so students are encouraged to go back to an earlier section to brush up on their skills if necessary.

Investigations such as activities and inquiries tend to be free from, rather than prescriptive in nature, with students often being directed to apply what they have learnt in order to set up equipment or process data. Instructions, where given in detail, often combine texts and diagrams in easy to follow flow charts. Once data has been gathered, students often need to make inferences and integrate material from the text in order to tease out the meaning of the results.

In summary

The writing team has created a user-friendly and attractive set of books. There are glitches, of course. No large expository text can avoid misleading or even completely wrong statements, and Science Australia has a few. For example, star clusters are described as comprised of stars that are not actually associated, whereas constellations (by inference) contain stars that are spatially associated. The reverse is true, however. Confident users will have no difficulty in dealing with such occasional minor problems.

Such errors may arise in part from the difficulty of simplifying complex ideas (as the renowned physicist and teacher Richard Sears once wrote, 'Teaching thermal physics is as easy as a song. You think you make it simple when you make it slightly wrong'). The error level is entirely acceptable, given the advantages the text offers over the competition.

I can recommend this pair of texts without hesitation to any teacher wishing to provide middle school learners with attractive, engaging texts that conform to constructivist principles and connect well to the Curriculum Frameworks and Student Outcome Statements.

George Przywolnik

Penrhos College, Western Australia