All in the family;Reviews;Mathematics;Primary

13th March 1998 at 00:00
THE PAIRED MATHS HANDBOOK. Keith Topping and Judi Bamford. David Fulton pound;12.99.

THE PAIRED SCIENCE HANDBOOK. Keith Topping and Judi Bamford. David Fulton pound;12.99.


Regular maths homework - and the crucial role of parents in supporting their children's mathematical development - have been highlighted by the Government's numeracy task force.

This set of related texts consists of two A4 handbooks - one each for mathematics and science - and a third book giving details of the background to the other two.

In principle, each of the handbooks is a free-standing resource for teachers and parents wishing to adopt tried and tested approaches to parental involvement and peer tutoring.

The potential of such methods for enhancing the learning of all children is significant. These contributions to that movement, based on developmental work in Kirklees, ought to be welcomed.

The methodology for Paired Maths is securely based on using games as a means of peer interaction to promote the learning of mathematical content and strategy.

Evidence for the effectiveness of this approach is summarised in Section A of the handbook and elaborated in the background text. Section B is a useful, if unoriginal, addition to a range of existing resources of overtly or implicitly mathematical games, with the age-range nine to 12 in mind. Teachers will welcome the photocopiable instructions and boards for the games.

The extension into science is Keith Topping's more recent project, relatively untried, and the approach is very different. Since there is no parallel to mathematical games in science, the project is based on a number of photocopiable activity sheets - experiments using simple everyday equipment, with five to seven-year-olds in mind.

These are the basis for the motivation and "fun" element provided by the games in maths. The major problem here is the need for the parent to elicit or provide appropriate but faithful scientific explanations of the phenomena observed. Many parents will lack such knowledge themselves, but will need to take to heart the advice that the explanation printed on each sheet is not to be read as an explanatory script.

I found Parental Involvement and Peer Tutoring in Mathematics and Science to be an uneasy blend of research report and barely restrained promotional hype, and I found both aspects somewhat tedious to read.

The authors are at pains to explain the subtleties ofevaluation methodology and analysis; I wonder whether the actual readership needs to be told. I also found the recurrent, thinly veiled sniping at thewell-established and hugely successful IMPACT parent-child maths project (the competition?) distasteful and unjustified. On the other hand, the six resource appendices are useful guides to suppliers, books, Web sites and the like.

In his review of Keith Topping's earlier work on family involvement in literacy, Nigel Hall (The TES, February 9, 1996) was moved to offer qualified commendation, and my reaction to Topping's latest contribution to the parental involvement industry is not dissimilar. Readers looking for clear direction in setting up and implementing paired learning in mathematics and science will find the handbooks a useful resource. Those who have already made some progress with such practices will want to draw from the books somewhat selectively.

Tim Rowland lectures in primary mathematics education at the Institute of Education, University of London

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