A number of moral issues

6th December 1996 at 00:00

The Charis Mathematics Units cover a wide range of worthwhile mathematical topics while also raising a series of broader issues for pupils to debate or reflect on individually.

The first unit, for example, uses data from the 1991 census for work with large numbers, calculating percentage errors and interpreting results.It reveals that, apparently, about 1.3 million people were found to be missing from the returns and uses this fact to ask more general questions about society's "invisible" people.

The second unit looks at real mortality statistics and explores the origins of life assurance. While handling lots of data, pupils are invited to reflect on their own life expectancy and death.

In a later section, they are encouraged to think about the connections between mathematics, nature and beauty through a study of fractals.

There are simple instructions for drawing versions of many of the famous fractal patterns, although, oddly, there is no mention of the power of the computer language Logo for exploring such ideas further.

Another unit effectively links work on prime numbers to questions of proof and the meaning of truth.

All the units are well written with clearly presented sections for pupils and teachers. They encourage a range of teaching styles, particularly discussion involving pupils' personal opinions, which are sometimes missing in mathematics lessons.

The topics are certainly applicable to the target group of intermediate and higher level GCSE candidates and could usefully be incorporated into a key stage 4 scheme of work. With simple modifications, many of the ideas and activities could successfully be used with other age groups.

The units offer pupils the chance to see mathematics put to real effect in contexts where it matters. They raise important moral, spiritual and cultural issues, but the extent to which individual teachers will feel willing or able to pursue them will obviously vary.

In the many schools now encouraging whole school approaches to such matters, this pack will prove to be a valuable resource.

Linton Waters is Shropshire county adviser for mathematics.

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