Old Fred is the sort of person every school needs. An expert at this, a dab hand at that. He transformed a derelict barn into his dream home and designed and built his own car. Now the bad news: Old Fred is not a real person. But the good news is that he's helping improve the maths skills of East Sussex primary children.
Created by education consultant Peter Fairhurst, Old Fred was the result of his work for Setpoint Sussex, an organisation showcasing science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Being a governor at Pebsham Community School at Bexhill-on-Sea, Peter had the ideal place in which to put Fred to work.
Old Fred is a DIY enthusiast wishing to move house. Unable to find anywhere suitable, he has almost given up hope when he stumbles across a derelict barn. "What potential!" he muses, and sets about planning a conversion. It's a huge task and with all the measuring and planning he could use a little help.
Peter's principal aim is "to get children enthusiastic about doing things, making things, and the mathematics behind them".
He acknowledges maths is disliked by many. However, he observes that children seem to be quite happy if it is injected via other subjects. "A lot of kids like their science, technology and engineering. If maths becomes part of that, they will probably enjoy it just as much," he reasons.
Model making is the project's master key, and Peter uses a model car to fire imaginations - a scale model of a replica car he built in 1998, now Old Fred's car. Children, meanwhile, produce models of the barn (younger children a kennel for Old Fred's dog), before and after conversion.
This is the back door through which maths skills such as area, measuring, shapes and scale are introduced. Worksheets complement the model making. In measuring, for example, children must measure desks, tables, cupboards, doors, rooms and corridors, a skill later used when planning Old Fred's dream home. Other worksheets are supported by templates and plans for the model house.
Peter likens it to pure maths and applied maths; Old Fred's barn is very much the latter - for there is more to the project than measuring rooms. How much wallpaper will Old Fred require? Carpet? Flagstones for the patio? While much is left to children's imaginations, Peter has tried to retain a sense of reality. "I want them to understand a little bit about the real world," he explains. "If you have an old barn, you can't just put doors and windows where you like."
Thus, what once was a large door for the tractor may now have to be glazed (how much glass would be needed?) to enable a smaller door (measurements again) to be fitted.
"Children always like to see an outcome," says headteacher Avril Williams, adding that in maths it is sometimes merely a tick in an exercise book. "Here they have actually seen that the maths they have used has had a wonderful outcome."
Initially aimed at key stage 2, Peter admits that some work borders on KS3. Having said that, teacher input and project refinement means it has been used throughout the school.
Teacher Francesca Nayler has adapted the concept for work in Reception and Years 1 and 2, making old Fred a farmer who wants to move home. "The children loved it. We made it totally cross-curricular," she said.
The youngest made animal masks (design and technology, shapes), while Years 1 and 2 set up an animals' estate agent, involving role play and literacy skills. The maths element involved costing the homes and dealing with money.
Deputy head Alison Bulmer has used it with Year 5. She emphasises how teacher input enabled the concept to take shape. "It was quite exciting because the original project was very much based on measurement, but we have taken it into data handling, spreadsheet work, number work and different areas of maths," she says. "It also made the children realise that maths is important and fits everyday situations."
Peter says: "It's not designed to be a project that you start at the beginning and work your way through. It's a resource you pick things from when they are appropriate."
In addition, it is easy to master.After an hour's presentation, you can take it away and use it. It will also be constantly improved in light of teachers' experience.
The next stage is to roll the concept out across the county, and there are several teacher workshops this term.
Back in the present, models completed and Old Fred the proud owner of a dream home, one thing remains - a house-warming party. Using spreadsheets, two classes budgeted for it and made shopping lists, noting quantities required and what might happen if more people than envisaged attended. They visited a superstore, selected goods, paid for them and checked their change. "Very much a problem-solving approach to basic maths," says Peter.
You have a party in school at the end which, in any child's book, can't be bad.
Setpoint SussexTel: 01273 642023 www.setpointsussex.org.uk National organisation Setnet Tel: 0800 146415 www.setnet.org.uk