from The Textbook Letter, January-February 2001

Reviewing a middle-school book in life science

Glencoe Life Science
1999. 837 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-82777-5.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Another Fake "Science" Textbook

William J. Bennetta

Glencoe Life Science is a superficially modified version of the book that Glencoe heretofore has called Merrill Life Science. Reviews of the 1993 version of this book appeared in TTL for January-February 1993, under the headlines "This Ignorant, Shoddy Book Deserves Only to Be Junked" and "A Glitzy, Mindless Book That Glorifies Ignorance." A review of the 1995 version ("The Puffins Don't Help; the Book Is Still Trash") ran in TTL for May-June 1996.

In fashioning Glencoe Life Science, Glencoe's staffers have tried hard to make it look like something new. They have reshuffled and rearranged old material that appeared in Merrill Life Science, they have endowed some of the old chapters with new titles, they have replaced most of the old pictures with equivalent new pictures [see note 1, below], and they have invented some new headings and labels (such as "MiniLAB," to replace "MINI-Lab"). They also have done a lot of rewriting: They have changed at least one or two words in almost every passage that they have carried forward from Merrill Life Science; they have fused some sentences and have divided some others; and they have added some petty plagiarisms.

At the same time, however, they have diligently preserved all of their old book's essential properties. All the major themes of Merrill Life Science -- fakery, phony "science" and deep ignorance -- endure in Glencoe Life Science, unaffected and undiminished by the Glencoe staffers' fiddling and diddling. To show you what I mean, I'll compare some items from the 1995 version of Merrill Life Science with the corresponding items in Glencoe Life Science.

Fake History       The 1995 version of Merrill Life Science bore this subliterate paragraph of "information" about Lamarck:

In 1809, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, a French scientist, proposed one of the first theories to explain how species evolve or change. Lamarck hypothesized that species evolve by keeping traits that their parents developed during their life. Characteristics that were not used were lost from the species. According to Lamarck, if one of your parents was a bodybuilder and had large muscles, then you would be born with large muscles. Lamarck's theory of evolution is often called the theory of acquired characteristics.

The entire paragraph was codswallop. Lamarck's writings about evolution, which were rooted in mysticism, couldn't be supported or contravened by evidence, so they didn't constitute a theory or even a hypothesis. Nor did Lamarck ever declare that a "bodybuilder" would sire heavy-muscled infants.

In Glencoe Life Science the paragraph again consists of pure codswallop, even though the Glencoe writers have replaced their bodybuilder with a dog:

In 1809, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, a French scientist, proposed one of the first theories as to how species evolve or change. Lamarck hypothesized that species evolve by keeping traits that their parents developed during their life. Characteristics that were not used were lost from the species. According to Lamarck's explanation of evolution, if your Great Dane dog's ears were cropped when she was a puppy, her offspring would be born with cropped ears. Lamarck's explanation of evolution is often called the theory of acquired characteristics.

That hokum about a dog with cropped ears is familiar because similar nonsense has been printed in many other schoolbooks [note 2]. In truth, Lamarck's explanation of evolution does not predict or imply that a dog with cropped ears will give birth to cropped-eared puppies, and there is no connection at all between ear-cropping and Lamarck's ideas about the inheritance of acquired characteristics [note 2].

Fake Zoology       In the 1995 version of Merrill Life Science, the Glencoe writers lumped fishes, amphibians and reptiles together in chapter 15, which was titled "Cold-Blooded Vertebrates," and they lumped birds and mammals together in a chapter 16, which was titled "Warm-Blooded Animals." That division of the vertebrates into the categories "cold-blooded" and "warm-blooded" was a taxonomic relic from days long gone, and it was meaningless. It didn't reflect natural relationships.

In Glencoe Life Science, Glencoe's writers continue to divide the vertebrates in the same way, though chapters 15 and 16 have new titles. Chapter 15 is called "Fish, Amphibians, and Reptiles," and chapter 16 is called "Birds and Mammals." The writers still are promoting a discredited construct, and they still are obscuring real phylogenetic connections.

The Return of the SAP ruh fitz       In the 1995 version of Merrill Life Science, in a passage about monerans, Glencoe's writers delivered a triple-whammy in only two sentences. They taught a goofy pronunciation of the word saprophytes, they promoted some woo-woo about "nature's balance," and they produced an absurd definition of saprophyte that applied as much to a human as to any saprophyte:

Monerans called saprophytes (SAP ruh fitz) help maintain nature's balance. A saprophyte is any organism that uses dead material as a food and energy source.

The same triple-whammy now appears in Glencoe Life Science, but -- look! -- the writers have changed the first word:

Bacteria called saprophytes (SAP ruh fitz) help maintain nature's balance. A saprophyte is any organism that uses dead material as a food and energy source.

The term saprophyte actually denotes a creature that absorbs, directly from its environment, dissolved substances which have been liberated by the decomposition of organic matter. Humans are not saprophytes.

Fake Ornithology       In the 1995 Merrill Life Science, the Glencoe writers dispatched the diversity and taxonomy of birds in one tiny passage. The writers evidently imagined that certain birds belonged to the class Aves while other birds belonged to some other class or classes that remained nameless:

Almost 9000 species of birds belong to the Class Aves. Within this class, birds are classified into orders based on characteristic beaks, feet, feathers, and other physical features. The four most common orders of birds are: the flightless birds, water birds, birds of prey, and perching birds.

So Glencoe's writers achieved a score of 25%. They listed four orders, and one of those four -- the order of perching birds -- was real. The three others were phony.

Now look at the corresponding stuff in Glencoe Life Science:

The class Aves contains almost 9000 species of birds. Birds are classified into orders based on characteristic beaks, feet, feathers, and other physical features. Some common orders of birds are shown in Figure 16-7.

Figure 16-7 (an aggregation of eight photographs) is a confused mess which seems to present six "orders" -- flightless birds (represented by a kiwi and a rhea), water birds (exemplified by one duck), birds of prey (exemplified by an osprey and a great horned owl), insect-eating perching birds (exemplified by a nuthatch), seed-eating birds (which may or may not be perching birds, and which are exemplified by a cardinal), and an order that contains only one species, the great blue heron.

All of those "orders" are fictitious. The flightless birds don't constitute an order, and flightless species occur in several different orders (e.g., the orders Struthioniformes, Sphenisciformes, Pelecaniformes and Gruiformes). There is no order of "water birds." There is no order of "birds of prey," nor do ospreys and owls belong to the same order. (Ospreys reside in the order Falconiformes, owls in the order Strigiformes). And so forth. The Glencoe writers' new score is -10%. They have nothing right, and I have awarded them a 10-point penalty for their particularly dumb notion that the great blue heron constitutes an order by itself. (Like all of the other herons, the great blue is a member of the family Ardeidae in the order Ciconiiformes.)

Phony Physics       In the 1995 Merrill Life Science, the Glencoe writers pretended to explain how a bird's wing produces lift:

Wings are curved on top and flat or slightly curved on the bottom. The shape gives the bird lift to get off the ground.

The writers actually had no idea of how a bird's wing creates lift, and their explanation was just a vague restatement of a false, long-discredited notion that fakers had been peddling in schoolbooks for decades [note 3].

Looking at Glencoe Life Science, we see that Glencoe's fakers still lack any idea of how a bird's wing generates lift, but they have elaborated their phony explanation, and they now are claiming that it applies to an airplane's wing too:

In Figure 16-5, you can see the similarity in a bird's wing and an airplane wing. Both are curved on top and flat or slightly curved on the bottom. When a wing with this shape moves through the air, the air has a longer way to go around the curved upper surface than it does across the flatter bottom surface. The longer path taken by air moving across the upper surface reduces the air pressure there. This results in greater pressure on the lower surface of the wing. This difference in air pressure results in lift.

All of that is rubbish, entirely unrelated to scientific reality. A bird's wing or an airplane's wing works by pushing air downward. As the wing exerts a downward force on the air, the air exerts an upward force on the wing, in accordance with Newton's third law [note 3].

Fake Ichthyology       In the 1995 version of Merrill Life Science, the Glencoe writers gave a categorical, fictitious account of how bony fishes reproduce:

The females release large numbers of eggs into the water in a behavior called spawning. Males then swim over the eggs and release sperm.

In Glencoe Life Science, those two sentences of rubbish have been transformed into three sentences of rubbish:

To reproduce, the females release large numbers of eggs into the water. Males then swim over the eggs and release sperm. This behavior is called spawning.

The bony fishes actually show great diversity in their modes of reproduction: Some species employ internal fertilization and do not spawn at all -- and the species that do spawn display spectacular variations in the number of eggs that a female produces, in the behavior that attends a female's releasing of her eggs, and in the behavior that attends a male's releasing of his sperm cells. The writers of fake "science" textbooks, however, routinely and purposefully deny these facts [note 4].

More Fake Ichthyology       The 1995 Merrill Life Science carried a boxed "MINI-Lab" in which an inflated balloon, floating on some water in a bowl, was supposed to "model" a bony fish's swim bladder. Glencoe's writers knew nothing about the mechanics of swim bladders, and they hadn't noticed that ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans weren't covered by great rafts of floating fishes.

In Glencoe Life Science the "MINI-Lab" has been transformed into a boxed "MiniLAB," and it now involves two floating balloons -- one containing only air, the other containing some air and some water. Near the top of the box, the student reads: "Find out what happens when a fish fills or empties its swim bladder." But the balloons just float in their bowl of water, without being filled or emptied, and this "MiniLAB," like the 1995 "MINI-Lab," is just absurd fakery. If it conveys anything to students, it conveys the false notion that fishes carry water in their swim bladders.

More Phony Physics       The 1995 version of Merrill Life Science had a "MINI-Lab" in which the student allegedly showed the effect of temperature on "the rate of diffusion of molecules" by putting an antacid tablet into a beaker of cold water, putting another antacid tablet into a beaker of hot water, and then watching to see how quickly each tablet dissolved. But the "MINI-Lab" was an inane sham, and the prescribed procedure didn't disclose anything about rates of diffusion.

In Glencoe Life Science that "MINI-Lab" has been relabeled as a "MiniLAB," and the antacid tablets have been replaced by drops of food dye. The procedure now calls for putting a drop of dye into a beaker of cold water, putting another drop of dye into a beaker of hot water, and then watching to see how the dye spreads through the water in each beaker. After doing these things, the student must answer the question "How does temperature affect the rate at which this process [diffusion] occurs?"

Glencoe's writers imagine that the food dye will spread more rapidly through the hot water than through the cold water -- but in truth, the behavior of the dye is both unpredictable and meaningless. This "MiniLAB" is merely another sham, and it is a sham that we have seen before in other phony books. When Lawrence S. Lerner encountered it in a middle-school book published by Prentice Hall, he explained that the behavior of the dye can't show how rapidly the dye is diffusing, because "dispersion of the dye (in both beakers) will be dominated not by diffusion but by turbulence created during the filling of the beakers -- and such turbulence will persist for hours or even for days" [note 5].

Fake Physiology       The 1995 Merrill Life Science had a shoddy activity that appeared beneath the heading "Designing an Experiment: Does Water Temperature Affect Fish?" Despite its heading, it didn't require students to design an experiment, and it didn't demonstrate any effect of temperature on any fish. It just required the students to execute a rote procedure in which they handled and frightened a goldfish, put the goldfish into some water in a small beaker, chilled the beaker, counted movements of the goldfish's opercula, and then inferred, wrongly, that they had learned about how the goldfish's "breathing rate" was altered by "cooling the temperature of the water." That inference was wrong because the so-called experiment didn't incorporate any controls. Even if the students had observed a change in the fish's "breathing rate," they couldn't have legitimately deduced that the change was an effect of cooling. It might have been caused by the fish's consumption and depletion of the dissolved oxygen in the small volume of water that the beaker contained, or it might have been a part of the fish's response to being manipulated and frightened.

In Glencoe Life Science, a similar activity appears under the heading "Design Your Own Experiment: Water Temperature and the Respiration Rate of Fish." This activity too is just an exercise in mistreating animals, but it contains a line in which the writers ask the students how they will "relate the fish's behavior to the amount [sic] of oxygen in the water?" The answer is: They won't. The "experiment" does not include any measuring of dissolved-oxygen concentrations, so the students won't be able to relate such concentrations to the actions of the fish. Even so, the question posed by Glencoe's writers shows that they perceive, however dimly, that the fish's actions may be affected by at least one variable besides temperature. Of course, this hasn't kept them from bamboozling students by decorating the activity with a misleading title that refers only to "Water Temperature."

I suspect that the writers of Glencoe Life Science are the same hacks who cooked up the 2000 version of Glencoe's Biology: The Dynamics of Life, another textbook that contains a phony experiment in which students watch a fish breathe. I quote from David Jameson's review [note 6] of the latter book:

The "MiniLab" on page 818, "Measuring Breathing Rate in Fishes," leaves me wondering what the writers might have been imagining when they contrived it. They begin by claiming that the rate at which a fish breathes is related to the availability of oxygen in the water ("More oxygen results in a slower breathing rate"), but then they direct students to observe the breathing rate of a goldfish as the fish is subjected to different temperatures. The students never measure the dissolved oxygen in the water that the fish is breathing, so the exercise is irrelevant to the writers' opening claim. It achieves nothing beyond the confounding of two variables.

Phony Discovering       In the 1995 Merrill Life Science, a chapter about humans included a silly activity in which students allegedly discovered "what proportion of newborns are boys and what proportion are girls" by the process of flipping a coin and making a "record of the times it falls heads up and the number of times it falls tails up." In reality, that idle pastime did not have anything to do with discovering the sex ratio among newborn humans. The only way to learn the sex ratio among newborn humans is to look at newborn humans -- and when we do this, we find 106 males per 100 females.

The same activity appears in Glencoe Life Science, with one significant change: Glencoe's writers now are claiming that coin-flipping will reveal a ratio which they vaguely call "the proportion of boys to girls in the general population." The activity still is nothing but a time-waster, and it still deludes students by teaching that an idle game can be substituted for real-world observations.

Numerical Nonsense

I should not leave you with the impression that Glencoe Life Science consists entirely of recycled rubbish, and that it doesn't contain anything which is genuinely new. In chapter 18, in a section headlined "Carrying Capacity," I have noticed some truly new material that deserves to be described.

In the 1995 version of Merrill Life Science, the principle of carrying capacity appeared only in a throwaway line within an item titled "Rehabilitation of Wild Animals." In Glencoe Life Science, however, carrying capacity commands five sentences of text plus a graph. The graph is a curve that allegedly shows how a population of fish expands until it reaches the carrying capacity of its environment, and this curve is augmented by little pictures which show the number of fish that constitute the population at three points in time. At the earliest point, the population comprises only two individuals. Then, as the curve rises, the population expands to eleven individuals -- and then, as the curve rises further, the population expands to five individuals! These five are swimming along a line labeled "Carrying capacity." The caption beside the illustration does not explain why Glencoe's illustrator imagines that five is a larger number than eleven, nor does it tell how eleven fish might survive in an environment that can support only five.

Though Glencoe Life Science has been dressed up to look like something new, it is practically interchangeable with its sleazy predecessor, Merrill Life Science. It has no place in a classroom.


  1. Where Merrill Life Science showed a picture of Konrad Lorenz and some of his geese, Glencoe Life Science has a different picture of Konrad Lorenz and some of his geese. Where Merrill Life Science had a picture of a diver swimming near a big sponge, Glencoe Life Science has a different picture of a diver swimming near a big sponge. Where Merrill Life Science had a picture of a dandelion's root system, Glencoe Life Science shows a different picture of a dandelion's root system. Where Merrill Life Science had a picture of a girl holding a tuning fork against her chin, Glencoe Life Science has a different picture of a girl holding a tuning fork against her chin. And so on. [return to text]

  2. See Michael T. Ghiselin's essay "The Imaginary Lamarck: A Look at Bogus 'History' in Schoolbooks" in TTL, September-October 1994, or at http://www.textbookleague.org/54marck.htm on the Web site of The Textbook League. [return to text]

  3. See "On Wings of Ignorance" in TTL, November-December 1999, or at http://www.textbookleague.org/105wing.htm on the Web site of The Textbook League. [return to text]

  4. See "Sexual Fantasies, Sexual Facts" in The Textbook Letter, November-December 2000. [return to text]

  5. See "I Weep for the Students," Lawrence S. Lerner's review of the Prentice Hall book Heat Energy, in TTL for January-February 1993. To read about another occurrence of the fake "experiment" with food dye, see Anne C. Westwater's review of Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Essentials of Biology in TTL, January-February 1998. To learn about a valid way to demonstrate diffusion, see Lawrence Davis's review of Holt's Biology: Visualizing Life in TTL, September-October 1997. [return to text]

  6. See "This Book Is a Travesty" in TTL, November-December 1999. [return to text]

Where's the Text?

Anne C. Westwater

In 1984 and 1985 an American fast-food company ran a series of television commercials in which an irate consumer, angered by the skimpiness of some other company's hamburgers, demanded to know "Where's the beef?" Looking at Glencoe Life Science has reminded me of those commercials and has prompted me to ask: "Where's the text?"

The narrative text in Glencoe Life Science is hard to identify and even harder to follow because it is overwhelmed by sidebars, boxes, activities, articles and other add-ons. For starters there are 27 "Problem Solving" sidebars, 27 "Using Technology" sidebars, 12 "People and Science" pages, 27 "Science and Society" articles, 15 "Science Connections" articles, and no fewer than 133 activities! (Some of the activities appear under the rubric "Design Your Own Experiment" and are supposed to require some creativity. Some others, appearing under the simple label "Activity," are cookbook procedures. Still others are "Explore Activity" or "MiniLAB" exercises.) Then, to create more distractions and diversions, there are scads of margin-cluttering accretions and adjuncts that include "USING MATH" boxes, "CONNECT TO" boxes, "Science Journal" notes and "interNET CONNECTION" gimmicks, among other things. I have not tried to count these.

Glencoe Life Science is a prescription for disaster, and I suspect that any teacher who tries to use this book in a classroom will soon have regrets. Because the book's text is so badly fragmented and so elusive, lesson-planning will become a time-consuming task resembling a game of chance -- call it Glencoe roulette. And for students, trying to complete a reading assignment in Glencoe Life Science will be like trying to complete a trip through a maze at a fun house.

After pondering several possible ways to frame this review, I have chosen the one that Glencoe Life Science so clearly invites. Since the book is dominated by its load of add-ons, I am going to describe a few of them. I don't have space to consider all the categories of add-ons that Glencoe has devised, but several categories (such as the "CONNECT TO" and "interNET CONNECTION" gimmicks) consist of appendages which are so silly that they don't deserve consideration anyway. I will appraise some of the "Science Connection" articles, some of the "Science and Society" articles, some of the "Problem Solving" sidebars, some of the "People and Science" pages, and some of the activities.

The "Science Connection" articles fall into three groups called "Science and Art," "Science and History" and "Science and Literature." In the idiom of middle-school students, they vary from really cool to dumb-and-dumber.

One of the cool ones is the "Science and Literature" article on page 465, which features an excerpt from Paul Fleischman's poem Honeybees. In the excerpt, which can be recited in tandem by two students, the division of labor within a honeybee hive is reflected in the complaints of a worker and in the happy ruminations of the hive's queen. ("Being a bee is a pain," the worker begins. "Being a bee is a joy," says the queen.)

On the other hand, the "Science and Art" piece on page 26 is dumb and phony. The "art" is a hokey painting in which a ragged silhouette of a bird is formed by some snow (on a hillside) and the snow's reflection in some water. There is a line of tiny, antlike figures crossing the snow, and the adjacent write-up says that these are American Indians. It also says that the ragged bird is an eagle, and that the combination of Indians-plus-bird "implies the Native American belief that all creatures are brothers." Then a "Science Journal" note on the same page directs the student to write about "the feelings that the painting evokes in you." Bogus mysticism and "feelings" are all that this article offers, with no attempt to connect the painting to science or to nature.

Another missed connection is the "Science and Art" article "Mollusks and the Art of the South Pacific Islanders," on page 374. It tells that some South Pacific indigenes used mollusk shells to make blades for adzes or to make fishhooks for catching bonito, and that "some bonito hooks were so beautiful, they were often passed down as family heirlooms." But the illustration for this article is not a picture of an adze-blade or a picture of a beautiful, intricate bonito hook. The illustration is a crude map which features some dots (islands) on a blue-grey smear (the ocean). The article fails to connect science and art in any meaningful way.

There are three "Science and History" articles, and the one titled "Clarifying Classification," on page 197, is worth reading. It deals with taxonomy, and it presents a useful synopsis of the evolution of biological classification systems. The "Science and History" article "Viruses Through History" (on page 58) is mistitled, misplaced and unreadable. (The article is mistitled because it doesn't provide any historical perspective. Smallpox is mentioned in the first sentence, but the rest of the write-up is devoted to the human immunodeficiency virus and the Ebola viruses -- pathogens that didn't become significant until the second half of the 20th century. The article is misplaced and unreadable because it includes words such as "mutate" and "mutating," which students cannot understand. The concept of mutation doesn't appear in the main text of Glencoe Life Science until page 111.) Finally, the "Science and History" piece titled "Ethics and the Hippocratic Oath" (page 741) is utterly incoherent and fails to connect any science with any history.

The "Science and Society" articles in Glencoe Life Science are spread through the book so that there is one in every chapter. Each article is two or three pages long and supposedly tells about a biological issue or a form of technology that affects society. A typical article about an issue consists of background information, two "Points of View," and some questions for students to answer. This formula can succeed when the questions deal with factual matters only, as in the article about the program to re-establish a population of wolves in Yellowstone National Park (page 502). The formula fails when the questions are pretentious political puzzles that middle-school students cannot handle, as in the article about Alzheimer's disease (on page 686). The questions at the end of that article are: "Should the federal government provide additional funds for Alzheimer's patients? If yes, how should the program be funded? Should taxes be raised or should funding for other programs be reduced? If no, then how can proper care be provided for these patients?"

The "Problem Solving" sidebars (one per chapter) usually follow this plan: a paragraph or two of background information, then a "Solve the Problem" section, and then one or more questions under the heading "Think Critically." While many of these sidebars have titles that seem interesting, the "Think Critically" questions seldom require, or even permit, students to do any critical thinking. Some of the questions are no-brainers. For example: In the "Problem Solving" sidebar titled "What is in nature's medicine chest?" (page 264), the sole question is this: "How might the destruction of the rain forests affect research for new drugs from plants?" That question doesn't require any thinking of any kind, and it is an insult to the students. Various other questions are no-chancers -- questions so vague that students will have no chance of answering them in any sensible way. For example, in the sidebar "Saving the Rain Forests" (page 525), students are directed to give economic advice to "a family" somewhere, though the students have no information about the family or about the local economy. Knowing nothing at all, the students are supposed to answer this question: Should the family "clear several hectares of rain forest, sell the timber, and grow food crops for two years," or should the family "harvest latex and edible fruits and nuts from a larger area of rain forest for four years"?

The "People and Science" pages resemble interviews, in question-and-answer format, with people whose occupations are connected with science. Most of them are shallow and boring, and some of them lack relevance to the material that they accompany. For instance, the page about "Sean B. Carroll, Geneticist" follows a section about genetic engineering and an article about the human genome project, but "Sean B. Carroll, Geneticist" does not do any genetic engineering or study the human genome. He seems to deal with "how genes direct the development of butterfly wings." He also seems to be unemployed, because there is nothing on the "Sean B. Carroll, Geneticist" page to indicate his whereabouts or to suggest that he has any academic or commercial affiliation. In fact, only three of the twelve individuals who appear on Glencoe's "People and Science" pages have locations and jobs. (A fourth individual, "Flora Ninomiya, Horticulturist," is said to work in a nursery owned by her family, but the location of the alleged nursery isn't stated.) Most of these "People and Science" people seem to be fictional characters devised by Glencoe.

The "Design Your Own Experiment" activities are loosely structured, open-ended projects for groups of students. Each activity appears to guide the students through an investigation that involves such steps as forming a hypothesis, devising experimental tests, designing data tables, making observations, and recording results. I usually am leery of open-ended projects, but a few of the "Design Your Own Experiment" activities have enough structure to be workable and to enable the students to get meaningful results. One of these is "Where are the most bacteria found?" (page 220). The students' goal is to assess the populations of bacteria on their own hands, on doorknobs and on other surfaces, using equipment listed in a bill of "Possible Materials." This simple activity offers a learning opportunity disguised as a scientific scavenger hunt, and many students will favor it because it has a high "yuck" factor.

Some of the other "Design Your Own Experiment" projects will not succeed and will not produce valid investigations. The one called "Comparing Free-Living and Parasitic Worms" (page 360) sounds very promising, but then you notice that the students are "comparing" a live planarian with a dead tapeworm mounted on a glass slide. This activity does not involve any experiment, is not illustrative of any scientific process, and will not disclose much about similarities or differences between the two worms.

Likewise, there is little, if any, scientific value in the "Design Your Own Experiment" activity called "Photosynthesis and Respiration" (page 82). The alleged objective of the project is to determine whether photosynthesis and respiration both occur in green plants, but inspection of the list of "Possible Materials" (water, bromthymol blue, sodium bicarbonate, and two sprigs of Elodea) shows that this project has little to do with identifying those processes, let alone understanding their chemistry. The students will simply create meaningless changes in the color of some water.

Open-ended activities can be useful for giving students an idea of how scientists work, but only if the classroom teacher has a good grasp of the science that the activities are supposed to illustrate. If the teacher doesn't know the relevant science, the results will be frustration and classroom chaos, with very little learning. It takes a knowledgeable teacher to appraise the merits of open-ended activities in terms of time required and learning gained, and it takes a knowledgeable teacher to weed out the activities (such as "Photosynthesis and Respiration") that are simply busywork.

The cookbook activities, each given the straightforward label "Activity," are traditional procedures that involve measurement, observation, data-collection, and the forming of conclusions. The procedures include using a microscope to loot at cells, using a dichotomous key, comparing algae and protozoans, observing stomata in leaves, and using a sphygmomanometer. While they are routine, some of them provide valuable experience in using laboratory equipment, in making accurate observations, and in recording data -- skills that middle-school students will need when they reach high school.

The "Explore Activity" exercises are arranged so that there is one near the start of each chapter. Some of these activities are interesting, some are blah, and some are really dumb. The few that are worthwhile include comparing the effects of salt water and fresh water on slices of a potato tuber (page 63), modeling cryptic coloration in animals (page 151), and examining bacteria isolated from yogurt (page 209). An "Explore Activity" that is really dumb is the one called "Observe a large cell," on page 31. After reading the grammatically confused claim that "The largest known living cell is the yolk of bird eggs -- not the white, just the yolk," the student must break a chicken's egg into a bowl, then "observe" it and measure its diameter. Why the so-called cell consists of "just the yolk" isn't explained, but this doesn't matter. Unless the egg has been fertilized and a blastodisc is visible, the student isn't going to learn anything about cells.

Middle-school students have plenty of energy, but most of them also have short attention spans. The writers of Glencoe Life Science want to keep students engaged by giving them amusements and diversions, but the writers have gone much too far. This book's heavy load of add-ons renders it unreadable, and too many of the add-ons are ill-conceived, pretentious, or simply phony. Loading a book with extraneous fluff is not an effective way to help students experience the processes or the beauty of science.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, and the president of The Textbook League.

Anne C. Westwater has retired after an extensive career in science education, including some fifteen years as a teacher of biology, earth science and environmental science at Napa High School (in Napa, California). She now works as a consultant in the application of brain research to education.


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