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Emphasis on the inevitable

MATHS FOCUS Number Kit 1 and 2 Scholastic Pounds 60 each

The big issue in mathematics is whether children can successfully apply their skills and knowledge. Many published schemes amount to little more than maths by repeated immersion, with scant material to help teachers provide practical contexts.

Maths Focus attempts to fill the gap by supporting the assessment and enrichment of number skills at key stages 1 and 2. It provides a range of contexts, including games and puzzles, stories, and problems in which children use their numeracy skills as a matter of routine. There is an emphasis on thinking skills and mental arithmetic is an inevitable activity.

The first two kits to be published include six books, together with 18 colourful A4 laminated poster mats in a library box. The multiple copy mat sets feature games and problem solving activities which require little more than counters, dice and good conversation. They are reproduced in black and white photocopiable versions to make recording children's work easier.

At each key stage, each book focuses on one of four aspects of number: the number system, calculating processes, relationships and data handling.

The books include teacher guidance, diagnostic assessment, reinforcement and enrichment activities. All the work takes into account the national curriculum, using an intelligent precis of the key intentions for learning, which manages to avoid slavish cross-references.

The reinforcement activities are a model of planning clarity, with aims, resources, and organisational details effectively providing a scheme of work for number. Without feeling constrained, the detailed lesson planning gives a clear lead on teaching strategies. The text also identifies the critical intervention and questioning which teachers must use in order to focus accurately on the stage of learning which children have achieved.

Kit 1, for example, elucidates the mystery of how to teach the basic processes of subtraction and addition by exploring the three overlapping perspectives of taking away from a set, difference and inverse or complementary addition. Photocopiable worksheets are accompanied by explicit teacher instruction, including precise examples of how to phrase instruction and discussion points. The second kit provides a similar approach to teaching multiplication and division.

The efficient and direct manner in which teaching aims are expressed is a tribute to the authors, who include Sheila Ebbutt, director of the BEAM Be a Mathematician project, and more than 20 practising UK teachers and advisers. The presentation is the result of equally fresh and thoughtful design from illustrators such as Val Biro of Gumdrop fame.

Guidance on extension is provided with each activity, while the assessment material allows for a manageable before and after check on progress. Maths Focus is highly recommended: it is a simple-to-use, cost-effective package which will enrich mathematical teaching and learning.

Jon O'Connor is headteacher of Parkside First School, Hertfordshire

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