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Shaping up for maths

Multilink Number Rods, Set Pounds 29.95; teachers' handbook Pounds 9.95; set of activity mats, Pounds 15.95. Multilink mathematics 10-14, "Towards Algebra Through Structures" and "Rediscovering Fractions" , Pounds 9.95 each. From NESArnold, Ludlow HIll Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 6HD

Fractions and algebra hold no fear for Shirley Clarke. There seems no end to the versatility and potential of Multilink. Some creative thinking at NESArnold has now resulted in a set of number rods, using Multilink's building block system for maths. The rods are plastic, unmarked and packed into small cases. They come in 10 different lengths and 10 different colours, with a connector at each end enabling them to be clipped together and used with standard Multilink cubes.

The possibilities are endless. Children can build with them, sort, match, make trains and tessellating patterns, play swapping games, measure and explore equivalence of number. A simple and accessible teacher's book outlines these activities, showing clear evidence of thorough trials.

Although the rods, at first sight, may remind you of Cuisenaire, the differences are substantial. Apart from the fact that these rods are considerably larger, and therefore much more accessible to young children, the capacity to click in to each other and into Multilink cubes endows them with far greater maths potential.

It is important to point out, however, that one set of rods is needed for every group of four children, so unless you can afford lots of boxes, it will have to be the kind of resource you use with a range of other materials, and especially to supplement core scheme material. I would in any case recommend that it be used in this way.

The pack of 24 A3 activity mats is worth purchasing for use along side the rods. These are attractively designed and printed on durable card. They are based on the activities in the teachers' book, and provide interesting and challenging maths experiences.

Some of the mats, for example, have outline pictures which you cover with rods and cubes, clicked together into one whole piece. I was impressed with the range of number problem skills needed in order to do this. Like other construction materials, Multilink lends itself to trial and error, which is supportive for children learning about number. These mats are particularly good value.

Another welcome innovation is a set of books containing photocopiable masters and teachers' notes for maths with Multilink for 10 to 14 year olds. Multilink is an ideal medium for exploring fractions, shape and space and algebra, yet teachers often believe that it is meant for young children only.

Using cubes, prisms and isos makes the concepts much clearer and easier to understand. In the algebra book, for instance, children build quite complex patterns, continue them, then write a sentence to describe the repeating pattern. The book develops to building, predicting and describing sequences then generalising patterns, all the time using Multilink to model the algebraic ideas.

Similarly, Rediscovering Fractions covers wholes and parts, equivalents, fractions of shape and quantity, sums, problems and investigations. Many of the activities begin with children copying and building then analysing the fractional parts, or building new, related structures.

Algebra and fractions work is nearly always confined to dreary paper and pencil exercises, so these activities and materials could do much to bring the maths alive for children, apart from the other clear advantage of making the learning easier.

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