Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_95185

Book Review: Biotechnology/Cloning and Stem Cells

7 September 2015
Appeared in BioNews 818

Biotechnology

Edited by Cara Acred

Published by Independence Educational Publishers

ISBN-10: 1862316095, ISBN-13: 978-1862316098

Buy this book from Amazon UK


Cloning and Stem Cells

Edited by Cara Acred

Published by Independence Educational Publishers

ISBN-10: 1862316109, ISBN-13: 978-1862316104

Buy this book from Amazon UK


'What is Ethics?'

A seemingly innocent question asked by a 14-year-old student in my first year as a teacher. I struggled for a reply. I mentioned something about rights and wrongs, but I realised I didn't really know the answer.

Since then, I have been on the lookout for any resource that clarifies this question – any text or activity that can help students develop their own understanding.

The Issues series 'explores contemporary social issues, stimulating debate and critical thinking among readers of all levels.' Aimed at 14–18-year-olds, the books contain a wide variety of sources, from newspaper and journal articles to government reports. At the end of each volume is a glossary of key terms, a key facts page, a selection of assignments and an index.

So is the series effective?

I certainly finished both volumes feeling more informed than I did when I started. The viewpoints were diverse and provided a balanced view of the debates. 'Biotechnology' included the science behind genetically modifying mosquitos to prevent the spread of dengue fever, and the deliberation behind creating 'three-person babies' (see BioNews 788). 'Cloning and Stem Cells' presented the ethical issues around cloning champion racehorses and the future of stem-cell therapies.

Both books expose students to a wide range of views and styles they would not necessarily come across in their day-to-day schoolwork. Sources include The Conversation, Friends of the Earth, the Medical Research Council and even BioNews. Many of the articles – particularly extracts from government reports and journal articles – are challenging to read and will extend the literacy skills of all readers.

But I also think this limits the utility of the texts. Lower ability and younger readers will struggle to comprehend the sophisticated language and sentence structure used by many of the sources.

I have other reservations.

While it is useful to have a collection of various viewpoints, almost all of the articles used in the books are freely available in the public domain. The assignments at the end of the volumes are uninspired: make a poster, make a leaflet, research something that interests you, discuss in pairs/groups. This whole section feels a little half-hearted. Posters rarely lead to engaged students.

The 'Key Facts' page, however, is useful and helps to clarify the difficult sections of articles. This would be even better if deployed as a key facts box on the page of the article itself, rather than tucked away next to the glossary.

My main criticism of the books is that they just instruct the reader to 'critically evaluate the sources' without explicitly showing them how to do this. I would like to have seen a few worked examples illustrating this and some specific assignments aimed at improving students' critical-thinking skills. There was a lot more that could have been done, for example, the early articles could have flagged up key information needed to correctly reference the article, or highlighted where information was from a blog or opinion piece. At least I would expect this in a book aimed solely at A-level students. Those starting out on their GCSEs need more help. For many 14 year olds, this will be the first time they will ever be asked to think about bias, the origin of reports, or to identify (let alone discuss) the difference between facts and opinions.

Overall, I would recommend these books as an addition to a school library for independent research tasks or to stretch more able students. I believe they would be most useful for A-level projects, rather than supporting the GCSE curriculum. The sophisticated language, self-contained explanation and lists of further resources are perfect for older students. These students are more practised readers and thinkers, and are more used to digging down into a resource, making the assignments section – particularly the discussions – more relevant.


Buy Biotechnology from Amazon UK, and buy Cloning and Stem Cells from Amazon UK.

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