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Ark at it! animals can count

Annie Owen looks at two series to make maths stimulating

THE NUMBER CREW. Channel 4. Tuesdays 10-10.10am. Rpt Thursdays 11-11.10am. Night-time block transmission December 2, 4-5.40am. Age range: 5-6.

EUREKA! MATHS FROM HISTORY. Channel 4. Tuesdays 9.30-9.45am. Rpt Fridays 9.30-09.45am. Night-time block transmissions March 3, 1999 5.15-6am. Age range: 7-11.

Today's children are sophisticated in their tastes when it comes to the moving image. Many television programmes for schools have been less than successful because the acting is poor, the pace too slow, or the dialogue too patronising. Getting it all right is a tall order - but when producers do, they can stimulate children's learning quite superbly.

The latest mathematical offering from Channel 4 Schools is The Number Crew. In this series, a crew of two adults and four children run a ship where the passengers are a large selection of animals. As a variety of problems arise - how can we know how many meals we need; how can we allocate animals to cabins? - the crew find solutions using basic number facts and skills.

The series is split into three sets, one per term, and contains a variety of styles: cartoon animations; real children moving about on number lines, number squares; songs and explanatory studio sequences. The main story line is appropriate for the age group, though it could do with a little more humour, and contains some repetitive strands ("It's all going wrong!") so loved by young children.

There are problems, however, with the studio sequences. A very capable actor struggles with a variety of whizzy media to explain the number concepts in detail. His abilities and the fairground gimmicks may work for some children, but many will become bored watching his counting aloud or moving along the number line. The story line is the important stimulus here - the exploration and the explanation can come later, away from the TV screen.

The Number Crew comes with some useful and relevant resources for reinforcement and extension. The programmes would form a good introductory session for the numeracy hour if preceded or followed by oral work, and ideas are provided for this.

Channel 4 is also transmitting this term a series for older children linking mathematics with their history topics. Such cross-curricular work has gained a poor reputation in the past for making spurious connections and contrived activities. Eureka! Maths from History does neither. The real number systems, ways of calculating, important mathematical findings and use of maths to solve problems within three of the major historical periods of the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians are introduced in the programmes and comprehensively covered in the pupils' books. You will not find the "if one Roman chariot has four wheels, how many wheels are there on three chariots?" variety. The integrity of both the mathematics and the history is maintained.

Explanations in Maths from History are kept very short, or are non-existent. For example, triangle numbers are mentioned very briefly but are then picked up in the pupils' book with other geometric arrangements. Some things which whet the appetite - for instance, the mosaics - do not appear and must be supplemented by the teacher.

My only reservation about this series concerns the mismatch between the target audiences of the video and the pupils' book activities. The former is a little amateurish and may be rejected by nine to 11-year-olds. However, the books are aimed at these older children, though some activities can be adapted for seven to nine-year-olds. A slightly more sophisticated television programme would be spot on.

'The Number Crew' videos of each term's programmes Pounds 14.99 each; activity book Pounds 5.95; teacher's guide Pounds 3.95 and story books Pounds 4. 95. There are three 'Eureka! Maths from History' videos on the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians for Pounds 9.99 each and three corresponding pupil's books for Pounds 6.95 each. Programme guides for each series are 95p each. All resources available from: Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick, CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 436444

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