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Minus points for maths tutor video

My initial reaction to learning about this maths revision tutor cassette was three-fold, First, what a good idea. Many pupils want extra help in maths because they do not find it easy to work from textbooks.

Second, material boasting of its "computer-generated graphics" suggested a lively, appealing package. Third, there is a good market among exam candidates.

The "tutor" comprises two three-hour tapes covering topics in number, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. The tapes are divided into time-coded, cross-referenced sections, which are listed in the accompanying handbook, and make it easy for the viewer to find specific teaching material. The book also includes all the examples in the video, and the answers. The presentation is by Marsali Stewart from BBC Schools TV, with voiceovers by Paul Young, of Hooked on Scotland fame.

However, having viewed all of the material and test-run the tapes with pupils who will be sitting Standard grade exams at Credit level in May, I have some reservations.

First, topic coverage: the stated aim of the publishers is to provide revision material for GCSE and Standard grade exams. The first hour is given over to number work, most of which is dealt with in Sl and S2, and not what candidates want in S4. Some number work, yes, but not nearly as much as this. Several topics, such as variation and completing squares, which should have been included, have been omitted.

Second, the presentation: Marsali Stewart too often gives a verbal explanation with no graphic "back-up" on screen. All pupils commented on this problem, which was underlined by the fact that Paul Young's voiceovers were always accompanied by text on-screen, and were easy to follow.

Third, graphics and animation: I found these disappointing. The "graphics" were just well-drawn graphs. They were no better than what is achieved in class, and this was a huge opportunity missed.

Many methods were excellent, for example, compound proportion and indices were handled well. But some methods were cumbersome: multiplying out brackets and factorisation were heavy going.

The idea of a home video tutor in maths is excellent, but this one has not hit the target. Topic coverage needs to be improved, presentation difficulties overcome, dynamic graphics and animation used, and aspects of methodology altered.

* The writer is principal teacher of mathematics at Boroughmuir High School, Edinburgh

* Maths Revision Tutor Cassette - Video Package Flashback Communications, Glasgow Pounds 27.99

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