Practical work and other activities are fully integrated into the course to aid learning of concepts and skills. The use of living materials is a central focus of the activities. Practical work includes the study of a wide variety of living organisms, including humans, plants and micro-organisms. There are well-established practicals such as enzyme and microbiology experiments, plus less common ones such as strength testing of nettle fibres. The approach mirrors the aims of the course, where investigation and process are emphasised rather than prescriptive methods.
Other innovative activities ensure a wide variety of interactive learning styles, with problem solving, analysis and other higher skills being employed in the context of biological issues. Activities include role-play, discussion, and model-building.
All advanced level science GCEs currently include content on How Science Works (HSW). SNAB has HSW integrated into the specification statements, so teachers and students are clear about the way this will be assessed. For AS level, the HSW is examined in the contexts provided in the topic specification statements, and through the coursework. In A2, the HSW is exemplified in the topics, but can also be examined through other contexts.
Practical-related HSW content is assessed both through the written exams and coursework. The idea is that all HSW content is developed over the AS course, with core practicals assessed formatively by the teacher or by peer assessment. The formal assessment for AS HSW takes place through written exams, a visit or issue report, teacher assessment of using apparatus, recording results and presenting and analysing data. At A2, the HSW is assessed through written exams, an individual investigation drawing on the practical and investigative skills developed at AS.
Modern biology raises a host of social and ethical issues. The course introduces students to four ethical frameworks to allow them to reason ethically and evaluate ethical argument in biology. For more about ethics see the SNAB CDP unit on ethical debate.
The use of ICT enhances student autonomy and motivation, and allows flexibility in learning style and pace. Interactive tests, tutorials, simulations, animations, spreadsheets and video clips are included in the electronic resources.
Students are increasingly learning from pictures rather than written text. See Visual Literacy for ideas about how to help students to work effectively.
Assessment must encourage thoughtful teaching and learning. In order to ensure that teaching is not distorted by the examination, an assessment scheme has been devised which matches and enhances the course. For example, the approach to practical skills assessment at AS means that students don't end up pointlessly repeating practicals. Practical skills are developed formatively, so practical lessons are genuine educational experiences. More on assessment. The Awarding Body is Edexcel.
The course is supported both by conventional printed materials and by more innovative ICT-based materials. The publisher of the current resources is Pearson Education.