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Better tricks than finger-checks

HOW TO BE BRILLIANT AT MENTAL ARITHMETIC. Brilliant Publications Pounds 10.95. By Beryl Webber and Jean Haigh

Essential Maths. Level 1 - 5. Stanley Thornes. Pupil Books Pounds 1.95 each. Teacher's Books 1-3 Pounds 9.95 each, 4-5 Pounds 12.95 each

Jon O'Connor reviews new resources for primary pupils

With the imminent introduction of numeracy hour, next to literacy hour, mental arithmetic will logically become the classroom equivalent of Thought for the Day. A regular slot for quiet reflection on what we really know, to start off the rest of the programming.

Brilliant Publications' reference to the "twin pillars" of mental recall and mental agility sounds almost spiritual. Their book provides an earthy collection of around 30 photocopiable worksheets. Factors, products, number bonds, timetables, money and weights and one or two measures, calculations and problems give pupils the opportunity to demonstrate whether their learning is transferable.

The writers offer hints on how to use shortcut addition, eg 67 + 9 converting to (67 + 10) - 1 and include maths magician trickery such as "Think of a number" trails leading to a pre-ordained result. The material is suitable for children from mid-way through key stage 2.

Essential Maths complements its basic skills series with mental arithmetic workbooks. The grading is enormously helpful, with mathematical levels corresponding to the national curriculum and language levels developing in appropriate incremental steps.

The coverage addresses explicit national curriculum references and extrapolates many implied mental processes which are key steps in mathematical investigations or problem-solving work. At the early levels there is an emphasis on visual recall, for example, so that children recognise quantities without laborious finger-checking. As the series progresses there is an increasing use of estimation and multiple processes, and more variety in the presentation of questions.

The introduction in the two teacher's books is thoughtful and well worth reading. Author Sean McArdle includes exemplar oral exercises, which will help many teachers pin down the real purposes of mental mathematics.

Answers to all the pupil tests are collated at the front for easy reference and there is a healthy dose of photocopiable supplementary reinforcement and assessment material. It's well organised, based on solid reasoning and it works. McArdle is definitely a pragmatist although the final question posed at Level 5 could have come straight out of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Draw the probability scale and label where "EVEN" is on it." Is the answer 42?

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