The Association for Science Education

Collins AQA GCSE (9-1) Physics

ASE Evaluated

Title: AQA GCSE (9-1) Physics - Student Book
Resource type: Student Books
Publisher: Collins
ISBN: 978 0 008 15877 4
Publication Date: May 2016
Format: Paperback
RRP: £18.99
Ages: KS4 GCSE (age 14-16)

ASE Expert Evaluation:

To match the new GCSE specifications, Collins has worked in close partnership with AQA to produce its new series of textbooks. Dedicated and bespoke pupil books have major advantages over generic textbooks, and this becomes apparent as one works through the Collins-AQA physics textbook. Firstly, the content exactly matches the specification and, more subtly, but just as importantly, the terminology used by the textbook is also an exact match. For example, the specification refers to ‘energy stores’ (rather than stores of energy) and uses the energy transfer model in preference to the energy transformation model throughout. This terminology is rigorously applied throughout the textbook. With these points in mind, we can explore the book in more detail. 

Dedicated and bespoke pupil books have major advantages over generic textbooks, and this becomes apparent as one works through the Collins-AQA physics textbook.

The book is divided into eight chapters, which match the eight sections and the order of the AQA physics specification. This feature is helpful for planning learning routes through the course, making the process a little easier to develop and audit. Of course, this means that classes will move backwards and forwards through the book rather than following the book sequentially spread by spread. 

The structure of the book matches the style of the biology and chemistry books in the same series. Each chapter in the book begins with a spread that reminds students of previously encountered ideas and serves as a taster for new ideas that they will meet within the topic. The spread provides a useful road map for the coming chapter, breaking it down into separate, smaller sections. 

It addresses the increased maths demand, conceptual demand and working scientifically in an efficient and effective manner.

Content spreads are appealing with a good amount of white space. They follow a two-column format with writing on the left of each page, and diagrams, photographs and additional information in a narrower column on the right. The content of each spread is neatly differentiated into three different levels distinguished by green and blue and purple coloured fonts for the section headings. All pupils should be able to access the green section, most should access the blue and the some students the purple. Each coloured section has questions that are targeted at the appropriate level. The physics concepts and vocabulary are similarly differentiated in these different sections. This differentiation is helpful for directing students to the relevant sections, and also provides students with an element of challenge. The photographs and diagrams are clear and stimulating, although at times one wishes they were a little larger. In saying this, the overall impact of larger illustrations would make each spread more crowded and less accessible.

Each content spread begins with the title, learning objectives and key words. These key words are emboldened where they appear within the text and this focuses students on the most important vocabulary in the spread. Learning objectives are clear, using command words such as ‘explain’, ‘identify’, ‘describe’ and ‘calculate’ although, occasionally, less useful command words such as ‘understand’, ‘ know’ and ‘find out’ creep in. However, most teachers will use the learning objectives to derive useful and differentiated learning outcomes for the students within their classes. 

There is an interesting mix of historical and highly topical information. For example, on several key concept spreads, there are historical references to scientists who make significant contributions to physics. Another page makes reference to the use of a hay-box for cooking as a fuel saving measure recommended by the War Office during the Second World War. However there is also contemporary and topical physics referenced, such as the smartphone accelerometer chip and the shale gas debate. 

Each chapter contains one or more Key Concept pages, which address areas of highest importance, greatest confusion and identify and tackle common misconceptions. This is particularly helpful for both students and teachers. For example, within the electricity chapter, the Key Concept page addresses the difference between potential difference and current. As with other content pages, Key Concept pages have learning objectives, key words and are differentiated by colour. 

Required practical tasks are addressed through dedicated spreads that guide students through the tasks rather than prescribing methods. They are carefully designed to stimulate students’ working scientifically skills and would work well as formative assessment tasks. 

Each chapter contains one or two maths spreads that address the maths skills required within the chapter. These serve to remind teachers and students of the importance of the mathematics aspects within the new GCSE specifications and their inclusion is most welcome. The maths spreads focus on the skills most associated with physics, such as drawing and interpreting graphs, rearranging equations ratios, variable and estimation. Some, such as graph skills, are visited more than once. 

The concluding pages to each chapter provide students with a self-assessment matrix, worked examples and questions. The self-assessment page is differentiated by colour to match the colours within the spreads and supports students in assessing their progress within the chapter. I suppose the important thing is that pupils have a particular idea that then tracks across from green to blue to purple. The worked example is effectively an exam-style question with specimen answers, but also contains a commentary. For example, some sample answers are deliberately wrong, but the commentary explains to students why the answers are wrong, perhaps giving examples of better answers. End-of-chapter questions are differentiated into four levels: ‘Getting started’, ‘Going further’, ‘More challenging’ and ‘Most demanding’. As one would expect, questions increase in demand with the more challenging and most demanding questions requiring students to explain quite complex ideas: for example, ‘A star has a core of nickel and iron. Describe what will happen to the star’, a question demanding knowledge of the star life cycle and an understanding of how the starting mass of a star affects its final demise. 

In conclusion, the textbook covers the content and delivery of AQA physics GCSE well and supports assessment throughout. It addresses the increased maths demand, conceptual demand and working scientifically in an efficient and effective manner.