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Blow your mind

Developing Mental Maths. with 5-7 Year olds by Ros Leather. with 7-9 Year olds by Jan Kurta. with 9-11 Year olds by Tamara Bibby. Scholastic Pounds 8. 99 each.

Precious little help on developing children's mental fluency has been given to teachers in the past decade, despite many calls by Her Majesty's Inspectors and others for more mental calculation. These attractive books, however, give classroom practitioners exactly the practical guidance that's needed.

Each volume starts with a useful section about mental maths sessions: how to conduct a discussion, the differences between discussions and question and answer sessions, the critical waiting time between question and answer, making positive use of wrong answers, the use of praise, quality questions to ask children.

The remainder of each book is split into four chapters: "Counting and Ordering", "Addition and Subtraction", "Multiplication and Division", "Multistep and Mixed Operations". These are packed with activities to help develop mental fluency under the headings of "Teacher Directed Activities", "Contextual Problems", "Investigations", and "Games". Each is jam-packed - the book for nine to 11-year-olds alone contains over 60 activities.

The activities require minimal preparation and equipment and most - apart from some of the investigations - are estimated to take between five and 15 minutes. Each one would sit well as part of a longer whole-class numeracy session and each is flagged with the number of children it is suitable for, the approximate time it takes, the aims of the activity and the materials or apparatus needed (remember, these books are about developing, not testing, mental mathematical fluency).

A description of the activity is followed by suggestions for post-activity questions, variations and extension work. The activities for the nine to 11-year-olds contain suggested assessment questions, which would have been useful in all three books.

Paul Harrison is the co-author of Nelson Mathematics and Maths 2000, published by Thomas Nelson.

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