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On the home front

Impact: Holiday Activities, Impact: Early Years activities, Impact: Shape Key Stages 1 and 2 By Ruth Merttens and Ros Leather Scholastic. Pounds 9.99 each Teacher Timesavers Maths Puzzles By John Davis and Sonia Tibbatts Scholastic Pounds 9.99 Maths Assessment for Key Stage 1 By Pauline Ball Cambridge Pounds 14.95 An ABC of Number Open University Pounds 18. Centre for Mathematics Education, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Gerald Haigh on resources which provide valuable back-up to primary class work. Each of these resources, in its own way, will be helpful to the hard-pressed primary teacher. The four Impact photocopiable resources from Scholastic continue the theme of building links between the child's home and the maths lesson in school.

Holiday Activities, written to provide activities suitable for long-term use over a school holiday, has nearly 100 child-friendly worksheets, with good lively drawings and clear instructions. The focus is on tasks around familiar objects and environments - the home, the neighbourhood, friends, car journeys - although there are also plenty of "quiet time" puzzles.

Typical of these is "How Much is Your Name Worth?", which says vowels cost 5p and consonants cost 2p, and then asks questions - "Who has the most expensive name in your family?"

By the side of each worksheet is a letter to the parent or carer explaining the activity and giving some guidance hints. The other three in this series - Early Years Activities and the two Shape books - adopt the same format, although the assumption is that they will be used as day-to-day homework. It is very important not to be misled by the "fun" appearance of these Impact resources into thinking of them as lightweight puzzle books or time-fillers. They are produced with a deep understanding of how children learn maths, and from a base of considerable research into how pupils can continue their learning at home. In each case, of course, the resource can be used in contexts other than those indicated by their titles. Thus Holiday Activities could be selectively adapted for term-time homework, and all four have obvious classroom as well as home-school applications. The first few pages of each book provide essential information and help for the teacher, who should ideally see the resources in the context of the Impact scheme as a whole.

The other Scholastic photocopiable resource - Maths Puzzles turns out to have rather more within it than its title claims. The word "Puzzles" together with Teacher Timesavers implies, at least for a chalk-dusted old codger like me, that they exist to keep the children away from the teacher's desk while she or he adds up the dinner money. Perhaps those days have gone, for this book is a lot more than that. It contains a range of worksheets intended to provide extension work in "using and applying" - that bit of the maths curriculum which causes so many staff-meeting headaches. This is a very realistic and helpful resource, relieving teachers of a lot of preparation.

Besides preparation, the other eater-up of teaching time is assessment. Maths Assessment for Key Stage 1 provides tests and activities, with recording sheets, to help with this. Since the book was written the national curriculum has been changed, and assessment requirements considerably eased. The publishers, however, clearly foresaw the changes - each recording sheet has a blank space to insert current national curriculum references, and the introduction contains a promise that whole class-record sheets will be updated by the publisher as necessary.

The point about continuous assessment now, however, is not that it does not have to be done but that the teacher can choose how to do it. In that context, the numerous well presented practical activities and recording sheets which Pauline Ball provides may, again, save a lot of evening preparation.

The Open University's An ABC of Number is, apart from anything else, a fascinating read. Take "transitive counting" for example. This section explores the hidden traps that spring shut when small children learn how to count a collection of objects scattered around on a table: "Children need to become convinced that an alteration or rearrangement does not change the number of objects", and "Infants frequently appear unsurprised that a second count of a collection of objects produces a different count from the first time." Perhaps you are a maths specialist and you knew that, but the point is that I am not - and the book was written for me.

The book has nine main sections on different aspects of number, including "Calculating", "Unfolding Spreadsheets" and "Calculator Workshop". In each case there is a well written exposition of principles, usually including some fascinating references to the history of mathematics and to number in other cultures. There are also lots of practical classroom examples - though again always supported by careful explanation of the under-lying principles and thus of the possible conceptual errors.

Teachers would, understandably, often rather not read theoretical books when they get home. This one, though, stands a good chance of holding the attention. And, of course, it will make an excellent focus for school-based in-service training.

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