Books and resources for school, university and general interest

Homework helpers: chemistry
Greg Curran
New Jersey, US: Career Press 2011 | Pp208 | 15.99 (PB) | ISBN9781601631633
Reviewed by Trevor Critchley

Homework helpers: chemistry

© Career Press
With many schools opting for course-based textbooks to teach A level chemistry, it can be useful to supplement these with something providing greater depth and breadth. Unfortunately, despite being pitched at post-16 level, I do not think that this book would quite fit the bill for the UK market, but it may be of interest to an international readership.

It covers a range of important fundamental topics found in post-16 courses, but it is by no means comprehensive. In addition, I felt that the chapters themselves varied in depth and clarity. Some explanations appeared rather rambling, whilst others, such as oxidation numbers and polarity in molecules, seemed to lack sufficient worked examples to help cement knowledge and skills.

I don't tend to use the 'factor label method' as a tool for calculations, but this author does so throughout his book. After introducing the method in chapter two, it is used in all of the worked examples of stoichiometry calculations, as well as those on gas pressures. It clearly works, but my concern would be that students who are looking for help with these important types of calculation would have to be fairly confident mathematicians not to be fazed by this rather complex-looking method if they had already encountered different ways of dealing with the dreaded mole at school.

The author sets out in the introduction to 'simulate the feel of one-on-one tutoring sessions with a teacher'. As a result the style is very conversational, and I suspect that this is not a book that would be readily dipped into by students who were looking for quick answers, despite the series title. However, I think that a conscientious student who started working through from the first page might find this a fairly enjoyable bit of background reading to complement their course. 

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Foundations of organic chemistry: unity and diversity of structures, pathways, and reactions
David Dalton
New Jersey, US: John Wiley & Sons 2011 | Pp1440 | 100 (HB) | ISBN 9780470479087
Reviewed by Martina Lahmann

Foundations of organic chemistry

© John Wiley & Sons
I don't think there is a genealogical link between the author and Charles Dickens, but while making my way through the first chapters of this almost 1400 page long literary opus, I was convinced that if Charles Dickens had written a book about organic chemistry, he would have written this one!

Still, Foundations of organic chemistry  is not a novel but certainly a very unusual chemistry textbook. As the subtitle Unity and diversity of structures, pathways, and reactions  indicates, the author attempts to weave all the aspects typically taught in courses on organic chemistry into the overarching theme of natural sciences. A challenging task, but Dalton succeeds without losing his focus. 

The well referenced chapters are arranged in three parts, namely BackgroundMiddleground, and Foreground.  The Background  begins with structure and bonding, followed by an early chapter on spectroscopic methods, and a more traditional section on hydrocarbons. Chapter four includes a section on optical rotatory dispersion and circular dichroism, and the final chapter of this part finishes off with an introduction to computational methods. 

The Middleground  deals with organic transformations, while the Foreground  discusses fundamentals in biological chemistry but in far greater detail than generally seen in standard textbooks. 

The book is not easy to read, and as a non-native speaker I had to consult a dictionary several times. But if you are interested in organic chemistry you have a high chance of discovering links that you haven't seen earlier. There are many minor errors and I am not convinced by the way the curved arrows are drawn. Nevertheless, this book can be recommended for final year undergraduates, postgraduates and is possibly a useful source for starting lecturers. 

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Teaching lab science courses online: resources for best practices, tools, and technology
Linda Jeschofnig and Peter Jeschofnig
California, US: Jossey-Bass 2011 | Pp208 | 18.99 (PB) | ISBN9780470607046
Reviewed by Eleanor Crabb

Teaching lab science courses online

© Jossey-Bass
One of a series of guides to online teaching and learning, this book makes an interesting read for anyone thinking about or currently teaching science online. Although the focus of the book is laboratory science, presenting a case for why laboratory science can be taught online, it offers useful advice on online teaching in general.

The book starts with arguments for teaching science online, in terms of its effectiveness and increasing demand, then briefly outlines the main tools used for online courses. The objectives of scientific experimentation are considered. These are followed by a discussion of the pros and cons of methods of teaching this online - from the use of virtual labs and simulations (although disappointingly not 'interactive' videos of real experiments where students control the variables and can make mistakes) and remote access laboratories, to experiments that students can complete at home using kitchen science, or commercial lab kits. Examples of how these different laboratory options can be incorporated within online courses is presented, as well as advice on promoting academic integrity and encouraging student participation in online discussions.

The authors, retired US college professors with experience in teaching science online, are founders of a company producing home laboratory kits. Many of the anecdotes and advice provided throughout the book and the case study in the appendix highlight this particular laboratory experience.

The book concludes with the thought that 'science education is now at that proverbial fork in the road' and encourages academics to take up the challenge and 'spur science learning forward through fully online lab science instruction.'

I would recommend this book to all those thinking about online delivery of their science lab courses, with the caveats above, and I indeed wish that this book had been available when I was challenged to think about this very thing!

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Science education and civic engagement: the SENCER approach
Richard Sheardy (ed)
Washington DC, US: OUP USA 2010 | Pp224 | 95 (HB) | ISBN9780841225534
Reviewed by Keith S Taber

Science education and civic engagement

The title may not readily attract the attention of chemistry teachers, but this book is actually about teaching science in a way which relates it to the needs and concerns of society.

Teaching about socio-scientific issues is already well known at school level, for example in the ASE's Science and technology  in society project. The present volume however focuses on undergraduate level and a programme called SENCER: Science education for new civic engagements and responsibilities. This is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and seeks to support the development of courses in different institutional contexts through a structure for networking and sharing ideas and approaches. 

It is intended that this programme will help course teams prepare courses 'that teach "to" science and math "through" the complex, capacious and largely unsolved civic challenges of our day'. This reflects worldwide debates about how science education should provide the science needed for all future citizens, and not just the science required to do more science. 

In the US context there is an aspiration for all undergraduate students to include some study of STEM subjects as part of their degree programmes, and many of the examples discussed in the book are from courses expected to be primarily attended by non-majors, but there are also examples of innovations within courses aimed at science majors. 

The book is interesting not just for the examples it offers (mainly linked to environmental issues), but for its points about the value of the pedagogy employed in relation to student motivation and engagement in authentic learning, and should prove especially thought-provoking for those looking for ways to innovate teaching within degree programmes. 

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