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Rescuing the lone learner

SMP 11-16 HANDLING DATA TEACHER'S GUIDE. Cambridge University Press Pounds 5.95. 0 521 43955 8.

SMP, The Schools Mathematics Project, has responded to curriculum change by addition rather than revision. Such accumulations, patching and repackaging can be weighty, but they provide a department with the encouragement to spring clean. In particular, more recent publications address criticisms about an excessive use of individualised learning in maths lessons. Lone coursing through booklets has provided little incentive for pupils to discuss their work. Motivation and understanding now seem fairly firmly linked to the quality of talk and questioning that goes on in the classrooms. Discussion points are highlighted in this guide.

The Handling Data Teacher's Guide surveys previously published material and suggests tasks that could replace some booklets. The lateness of this publication need not matter, since many ideas are collected together in a valuable resource that is timely for teachers who may be more inclined to look for whole class or group lesson teaching approaches. It may also be timely in that OFSTED (1995) have identified this area of maths teaching as a cause for some concern.

Materials follow national curriculum categories: Collecting and recording; Representing and interpreting and Probability. Following the quoted Cockcroft advice, there are many practical tasks; cross-curricular work is alluded to; some concepts are acknowledged to be difficult and some relevant data is to be collected by pupils themselves. Various data sheets are provided in photocopiable pages and, as elsewhere, useful reference is made to other publications (though DIME materials are neglected). Some use is made of the GRASS database (rather than a commercial standard) but the "deterministic" doubting of computer simulations and no mention of graphical calculator programmes are a little perverse. The new programmes of study are specific about the uses of computers as a source of large samples and as a means to simulate events. Rightly so, dice rattling and aggregations of whole class data rarely provide the lengths of run that a simulation programme will meaningfully provide for pupils. By using IT, pupils can extend their results to include those of other schools and classes, and long-run simulations assist an awareness of making confident predictions. Many of the presented tasks are sketchy and it might have been helpful to provide some examples of actual classroom use, particularly with cross-curricular work. A lack of theoretical consideration within the probability section conveys a view that tasks should only be considered practically at this level.

Experimentation is clearly helpful in the growth of statistical ideas but some analytical listings can provide necessary opportunities for seeing why, for example, you obtain a seven more often than other totals when adding two dice.

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